Here's a great article by Pamela Babcock of WebMD's Pet Health on how to get the most out of your visit to the veterinarian, and how to make sure your vet has all the information he or she needs to ensure the health of your furry best friend.
If you're a first-time pet owner, going to a new veterinarian because you've moved, or seeing a specialist, one of the most important steps is to bring your pet's health records or have them transferred ahead of time.
Gene Bailey, who owns The Animal Hospital of Peak Plaza in Apex, N.C., says records you have on hand are helpful. But "ultimately having access to complete medical records is essential to quality of care."
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During their lifetime, companion animals may be seen by multiple vets and at emergency and specialty hospitals. Records from these occasions have information about your pet's drug allergies and anesthetic sensitivities as well as baseline blood values. Some veterinarians make them readily available. Others require signed releases.
The first visit is a good time to ask the preferred method of contact -- phone, e-mail, or text message -- if you have follow-up questions. Bailey says he prefers e-mail for non urgent questions because "it allows time to give a thoughtful response as well as to attach reference material."
Ken Werner, DVM, owner of Werner Animal Hospital in Morris Plains, N.J., agrees and says it beats playing phone tag: "The majority of people do not abuse it and have bona-fide questions."
It's also a good time to ask how to contact the staff during emergencies, whether they offer after-hour emergency appointments, and if they can give you contact information for local emergency clinics and poison control.
For routine visits, bring a list of food brands and medications as well as details of any special diets and treats and how much food your pet gets each day.
"A handful doesn't mean anything to me," Werner says. "Use a measuring cup so we compare apples to apples."
It's also important to note any change in your pet's water consumption, appetite, playfulness, energy level, or behaviors and whether there's been vomiting or diarrhea.
Think your pet may have a serious illness? Try to remain calm and objective. Be prepared to give an accurate description of the symptoms and how long they've been going on.
"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.
The office visit is also a good time to ask for handouts or Internet links to legitimate sources that might help you become more educated about your pet's illness.
Taking notes in advance can help. Jot down things like increased thirst, changes in bowel habits, or increased urination. If your vet asks for a stool sample, ask how much they need, collect a fresh specimen, and transport it 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.
You'll also want to ask about signs you should watch for to see if your pet is getting better or worse. And be prepared to answer questions about your and your family's ability and willingness to give recommended medications or treatments.
Let the vet know if you don't think you can administer pills or injections to your pet.
Bailey will never forget the day a Shar Pei visiting his clinic slipped off its leash because the collar was too loose. The dog darted into the street just as the owner reached the clinic's front door.
The dog spent a day and a half on the run and died of heat stroke shortly after it was found.
Dogs should always be on a leash and cats always in carriers. Bailey says, "There may be other strange animals that are not friendly, and they can become frightened or may even fight."
Give staff a heads-up if your dog is enthusiastic or assertive. And be sure 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. Familiarizing your pets with the clinic and the staff will help set them up for success in the future.