Have you ever left your vet’s office after struggling to calm and control your nervous and stressed pet only to remember an important question you forgot to ask? Have you ever been halfway home when you realized that you didn’t have the prescription refill you need? Have you ever questioned your memory regarding information the vet gave you because you were distracted by your children, your ringing phone or your panicked pet? These are common occurrences and we have all experienced them. However, these occurrences can be detrimental to your pet’s health and can be easily avoided by adhering to some simple steps.
Whether it is being proactive in making and keeping routine well-being check-ups or scheduling emergency appointments due to accidents or illnesses, pet owners need to partner with their vets and work as a team to ensure the best possible outcomes. The following suggestions will help you get the most out of your veterinary appointment.
First, good communication is the backbone of good veterinary care. Keep originals of your pet’s medical records at home in an easily accessible place and always bring a copy of them to the vet’s office with you. Ensure that the records are up to date with any recent illnesses, conditions and current medications. Sometimes pets are treated by more than one veterinary practice and records may not be shared between offices. As a pet owner it is your responsibility to be sure records are accurate and up to date. If this is a first time visit to a vet, mail your pet’s records in advance of the appointment so the staff has time to review them before your arrival.
Most veterinarian offices have multiple staff members performing various roles and services. You will likely interact with several staff members during your visit. Your initial contact will probably be with the receptionist who will schedule your appointment and gather some basic information such as the reason for the visit. Is there concern about a possible illness or injury or is the appointment routine? Do you need medication refills? Are your pet’s vaccinations up to date? These questions are asked to determine how soon the pet needs to be seen and the amount of time needed for your appointment. It is important to be specific about your expectations for the visit. If there is something worrying you that you want to discuss with the vet this is the time to make it known so additional time can be built into the appointment. This is also the time to ask about the vet’s fees and whether or not financial arrangements can be made to pay over time or if any discount programs exist within the practice.
Arrive at least ten minutes early for your appointment. Bring a written detailed list of questions to be discussed with the vet and have one copy for you and another copy for your vet. Your dog should be in a harness or on a short locked leash, securely controlled, unable to jump or reach another pet or owner. Cats should be in carriers. Check in with the receptionist and complete or review the info on the requested forms. Keep your pet close to you and under control at all times in the waiting room.
When your pet’s name is called, you will likely see a veterinary technician before you see the vet. This staff member fills the role of nurse or nurse practitioner at your doctor’s office. They will check weight, pulse, temperature and give your pet a quick once over. This is the time to express your concerns and ask the questions on your list. Be specific and be prepared to answer detailed questions about your pet including the foods and brands usually eaten, how often and how much food, weight loss or gain, changes in eating or drinking habits, changes in bowel or urination patterns, changes in energy or lack thereof, vomiting or diarrhea or unusual behavioral changes.
Once again a written list is an asset in providing accurate information. In the case of unusual behavior, if possible take a brief video of the behavior in question on your phone. A picture is worth a thousand words and a visual will give the vet a clear example. The veterinary technician will then meet briefly with the vet and fill him or her in on the reason for the visit and all the information you discussed.
When the vet enters the exam room he or she will reiterate the tech’s information to ensure accuracy and ask for more detail or clarification. There vet will perform a thorough exam and may explain what they are looking for as the exam progresses. If there is no explanation it is appropriate to ask any questions you may have. The vet will then discuss their findings with you and recommend any further tests needed, medications ordered, or follow up visits required. Pay close attention to the vet’s advice and ask for specifics. If an illness has been diagnosed, ask for information in writing, brochures or website links to provide more information. You should leave your vet’s office with a plan in place for a course of treatment.
At times the prognosis is dire and tough decisions have to be faced regarding how much treatment is beneficial and when enough is enough. Since these are very emotional decisions for pet owners, rely on your vet to determine the benefit of additional diagnostic tests and treatments. There may also be some financial concerns as serious illness or end of life treatments can be expensive. It is acceptable to ask your vet how they would act if it were their pet. Remember your vet is your partner in caring for your pet and tough decisions can be made together.
At the conclusion of your visit, check out with the receptionist and be sure to schedule any follow-up or routine appointments as well as any diagnostic tests recommended. Leave with written prescriptions if they have not already been called in to your pharmacy. Ensure that you have the office phone number and a number for after hours emergencies. Clip all of this paperwork together and put it in a folder or envelope for safekeeping.
Lastly, follow your vet’s advice. If you strongly disagree with the vet’s advice, then find another vet who is more compatible with your thinking. Non-compliance is the cause of many serious medical conditions in animals. Keep your routine check-up appointments. Preventive care catches disease at early stages and is an ally in keeping your pet healthy. Be careful not to diagnose your pet based on Internet information. Some websites offer good information, others are inaccurate and unreliable. Rely on your vet’s vast knowledge and experience for a correct diagnosis that is based upon your pet’s overall general health.
Just like a parent of a young nonverbal child, a pet parent needs to be observant to changes in their pet’s behavior and be willing to speak up and advocate for them in health related situations. No one knows a child better than its parents and no one knows a pet better than its owners. Since they cannot speak for themselves, our beloved companions depend on us to speak for them and keep them healthy. Good communication with your vet and good record keeping equate to productive vet visits.