You always have the best intentions when you take your pet to the vet. Whether you are proactively bringing in your dog for his annual exam and vaccines, or bringing in your cat after a bout of vomiting and diarrhea; ultimately, you care about your pet and want to do what is in their best interests. It is all too often the case, however, that pet owners leave their veterinarian’s office feeling disappointed and frustrated by the experience. Perhaps your veterinarian didn’t address all of your concerns. Perhaps she didn’t address any of them! Or worse, they seemed to address problems you didn’t even know existed, and can’t even begin to understand. Suddenly, fifteen minutes later, you’re walking out the door with nothing but an irritated pet and a big fat bill—so much for good intentions.
Luckily, this isn’t the way it has to be. There are actually a few simple steps that every pet owner can take to ensure that their time at the vet’s is time well spent:
1. Make Time
One of the biggest complaints people have about their veterinary visits is not getting to spend enough time talking to the vet. You might think that this is out of your control—how can you help it if the vet has twenty other clients in the waiting room and has to rush you through? Well, actually, it’s pretty easy. Schedule your appointment for a time when you know this will not be the case, or book a longer appointment. Some vets will allow you to book a longer appointment (at a surcharge) say 30 minutes. If this is for a normal pet exam, it gives you plenty of time to ask questions and not feel rushed or pressured. The busiest times at most veterinary clinics are early morning and evening appointments (the times before and after people have to go to work). People schedule these appointments for their apparent convenience, but instead end up with longer waiting times and less quality time with the veterinarian. If you make your appointment for mid-day, the veterinarian will be less pressured to move you through quickly and your experience will be more worthwhile (note: do not try to squeeze an appointment in over your lunch break—then you will be the one checking the time and hurrying the appointment). Of course, this means that you might have to take a little time off of your own work or other daily activities, and not everyone is able to do this. Moreover, in the case of an emergency, you certainly won’t be able to pick and choose your appointment slot. Don’t worry. There are further steps you can take which will help you make the most out of every appointment, even on a ten minute time limit.
2. State Your Objectives
Your veterinarian will likely start your appointment by asking you the reason for your visit. Although you may have one primary concern, there are likely a number of additional issues which you would like for your veterinarian to address. Sure, your cat is due for vaccines, but you’ve also noticed that she’s been urinating a lot and that she seems to have gained some weight. These are not things that your vet will necessarily be able to detect during his physical exam; unless you make a point of mentioning these concerns, they might go un-discussed. This will not only leave you feeling dissatisfied, but more importantly, will potentially compromise your pet’s health. Writing out a list for yourself prior to the appointment can ensure that you don’t miss anything or get side-tracked. Then, let your veterinarian decide which issue is the most pressing (you might think your cat’s limp is the biggest problem, but when you mention her frequent urination and weight gain, the possibility of diabetes becomes the number one health concern). This is not to say that you should let your vet make the agenda. Rather, you should state your agenda, and work with your veterinarian to determine a list of priorities.
3. Be Specific
Especially for those appointments under strict time constraints, being as specific as possible will help both you and your veterinarian save time and stay on task. For example, when you say your cat is urinating ‘a lot’, what do you mean? Is she urinating a greater volume or just more frequently? How many times a day? How many times a day did she used to urinate? The more specific you are in your initial description, the less time your veterinarian will have to spend asking these sorts of questions. Also, be careful not to interpret symptoms or jump to any conclusions. It is always tempting to try to find a diagnosis for your pet as soon as possible, but if you are stuck on your own idea of what the problem is, it may end up distracting the vet from what is really going on. On the other hand, your diagnosis may be right on the nose, but if your veterinarian comes to the same conclusion without you biasing their examination in any way, you will be all the more confident that your pet’s problem has been correctly identified.
4. Ask Questions
Undoubtedly the most important thing any pet owner can do is ask questions. Don’t forget that your appointment is just that— yours. It is your pet, your money, and your time, and it is absolutely your right to ask questions if there is anything you are uncomfortable or unsure about. This includes asking one of the most dreaded questions: how much will it cost? Nobody wants to put a dollar value on their pet, and people feel extremely guilty about asking these kinds of questions. In reality, however, this will likely be an important factor in determining what treatments will and will not be a possibility for your pet. Going along with everything your vet says, only to realize later that you can’t afford even half of it, is not going to lead to the best outcome for your pet.
Finally, don’t let your appointment be ruined over simple miscommunication. If you missed something your vet said, by all means ask them to repeat it. If they throw in too much medical jargon, make sure you get them to translate for you. Too often, pet owners feel embarrassed asking these sorts of questions, when really, they are some of the most crucial. If anything, your veterinarian will feel embarrassed for not communicating as effectively as he/she should have, and will be impressed that you are taking your pet’s health so seriously.
Not all veterinarians are expert communicators, and not all veterinary clinics have time for hour long appointments; but all caring, responsible pet owners, deserve an appointment that they can feel good about. By remembering these simple steps you can ensure that your next vet visit is a good one, and that you and your pet are getting the kind of care you both deserve.
By Alison Norwich – Pets.ca writer