How to Make the Most of Your Vet Visit
Reviewed By Amy Flowers, DVM
Bringing your pet’s health records, or having them transferred ahead of time, is one of the most important things to do.
Over the years, your pet may see more than one vet, and possibly also go to emergency or specialty hospitals. Records from these visits have information about your pet’s drug allergies, sensitivity to anesthesia, and baseline blood values. Some veterinarians make these records readily available. Others require signed releases.
“Ultimately, having access to complete medical records is essential to quality of care,” says Gene Bailey, who owns The Animal Hospital of Peak Plaza in Apex, N.C.
Also, if it’s your pet’s first visit, ask the staff:
- How to contact the staff if your pet has an emergency
- Whether they offer after-hour emergency appointments
- If they can give you contact information for local emergency clinics and poison control
- How you should contact them (phone, text, or email) with questions that aren’t urgent
Note Foods, Medications, and More
For routine visits, bring a list of your pet’s food brands and medications, details of any special diets and treats, and how much food your pet gets each day.
Be specific. “‘A handful’ doesn’t mean anything to me,” says Ken Werner, DVM, who owns Werner Animal Hospital in Morris Plains, N.J. His advice: Use a measuring cup so you know exactly how much food you’re giving your pet.
Tell your vet, too, about any change in your pet’s water drinking habits, appetite, playfulness, energy level, or other behaviors and any vomiting or diarrhea.
Discuss Any Symptoms
Think your pet may have a serious illness? Try to remain calm and objective. Be prepared to give your vet details of the symptoms and how long they’ve been going on.
Note changes in your pet’s thirst, bowel habits, or urination.
“If people don’t give me a history, I’m very handicapped because I can talk to these dogs and cats all day and they’re not going to answer me,” Werner says.
If your vet asks for a stool sample from your pet, ask how much they need, collect a fresh specimen, and bring it to the appointment in a sealed bag. Likewise, if your dog is having a urinary issue, don’t let him relieve himself when you get out of the car, because the vet will want to get a sample.
Ask your vet about signs you should watch for to see if your pet is getting better or worse. Be ready to answer questions about whether you can give recommended medications or treatments. For instance, if you don’t think you could give your pet pills or shots, tell your vet.
The office visit is also a good time to ask for handouts or Internet links to good sources that might help you learn more about your pet’s illness.
Your dog should be on a leash and your cat in a carrier when you go to the vet. In the office, “there may be other strange animals that are not friendly, and they can become frightened or may even fight,” Bailey says.
If your dog is enthusiastic or assertive, tell your vet’s staff in advance. Check that collars, harnesses, and leashes are secure and “comfortably snug,” Bailey says.
If your pet is young, new to the clinic, or fearful, consider stopping by between health-related visits for a weight check or a tasty treat. You can also take your pet in when you pick up medication. That gets your pet familiar with the clinic and the staff.
6 More Steps to Take
- Be on time for your appointment.
- If you’ve made an appointment for one pet, “just bring one pet with you,” Werner says.
- Call ahead to see if your vet is on schedule. The first appointment in the morning might be more likely to be on schedule than one later in the day.
- List your questions ahead of time. “This goes a long way to helping the client avoid getting sidetracked and making the most of the pet’s visit,” Bailey says.
- Ask for an estimate, particularly if your pet has a major health issue. “We can do so much in veterinary medicine now,” Werner says. “But it’s not uncommon to need… procedures that can outstrip what the average person can afford.”
- Know what medications you have at home. “If your cat has an ear infection and you still have medication at home, there’s no need for me to dispense more medication, and it will save you money,” Werner says.