Written by Jenni Davies
Every animal deserves to be looked after well, including their health. This means regular check-ups, dental care, vaccinations, parasite treatment, and sterilisation, as well as getting prompt treatment if they are ill or are injured. Bottom line: if you have a pet, you need a vet.
Veterinary care 101
A veterinarian (vet) is a medical professional trained to treat animals; they are usually assisted by veterinary nurses and orderlies. The key to a good vet visit is to be prepared and be open to discussion – your pet can’t speak for itself so it’s up to you to do your best for them.
Always bring your pet’s medical information/history, vaccination booklet, and notes of any concerns and questions. In some cases, you may need a stool or urine sample (in a sterilised, screw-top container). If they’ve eaten something potentially toxic, bring the packaging. Always be clear before you start about what you want from the visit and, if your pet is sick or injured, how far you are willing and able to take things (financially and practically).
Start by telling them about any changes you’ve noticed, physical or behavioural. In a general exam, the vet will examine your pet from head to tail, checking for anything unusual, like bumps, swellings, bald patches, runny nose, and so on; they also check heart rate and breathing, look at mucus membranes, gums and teeth, check inside ears, take their temperature, and weigh them. If your pet is sick, the vet can focus attention on those areas that are affected, and look for clues as to the cause.
Adult animals need yearly check-ups and, sometimes, booster vaccinations; those with chronic ailments or seniors may need more frequent visits. Puppies and kittens need to go three times before 16 weeks for vaccinations, and then, again at six months for sterilisation.
If treatment, surgery or medication are needed, discuss the cost ahead of time and be sure you understand exactly what is wrong and what treatment entails. Ask if you can try home treatment and if there are generic drugs available.
Your vet should treat you and your pet in a kind, professional, non-judgemental manner. They may not be a ‘people person’, but, if they treat your pet gently, kindly, and with care, then that’s what counts. If you feel rushed, brushed-off, or the vet mistreats the animal, and you have discussed this with them with no improvement, find another one. But good medical care for your pet goes both ways, so be involved and engaged in their care – ask questions, listen, make notes, and discuss how you can get involved in treatment.
Practise good vetiquette
Just as you expect good treatment from the vet, your vet expects the same from you. Be punctual, book for what you need (i.e. don’t say you need a quick claw clip and then demand a full exam), and be polite.
Dr M., a vet with over 20 years’ experience in private practice, says that one of the main things vets wish people understood is that keeping your pet under control is critical. Keep cats, birds, and small animals in secure cat carriers covered with a towel/blanket, and dogs on short leads. Your cat may love being carried at home and your dog prefers walking off-lead, but unfamiliar and stressful surroundings unsettle even the calmest of animals, leading to fights, lost pets, or injury. If your pet is uncontrollable or afraid, wait outside and ask to be called when it’s your turn. Remember, not all animals are friendly and some may be contagious, so do not approach other animals without asking first.
Avoid bringing children, and, if you must, keep them calm. Children running around, approaching other animals, and making a racket unsettles already scared animals, could lead to bites or fights, and is distracting to you and the vet. On the subject of distractions, leave your phone in the car; talking on the phone or having it ring while your pet is being discussed is disrespectful to both the vet and your pet.
Dr M. adds that another vet peeve is people just plopping the animal down, standing back and asking ‘what’s wrong with it?’ Help lift them onto the table, hold them still during the exam, and tell the vet what’s going on. And, importantly, if your dog bites or your cat is a whirling dervish of claws – or you’re the least bit unsure if he will or not – just be honest.
In a nutshell: good manners, as always, will win the day and ensure good treatment for your beloved pet for years to come.
A vet is like a super GP, able to treat multiple species, perform surgery, help with behavioural problems, do lab tests, fix broken bones, prescribe drugs, provide a shoulder to cry on – and so much more. A good vet cares about animals; for them, it often goes beyond a mere ‘job’. Keep them posted on how your pet is doing and thank them. If you and your vet work hand in hand, your pet will get the good treatment they deserve. And if you’ve found a good vet, hang onto them: they’re worth their weight in gold.
Vet visit Do's & Don'ts
- Do keep your pet under control in a proper travel carrier or on lead.
- Do note down a history and, with complex or serious conditions (such as epilepsy), keep a diary of symptoms and bring this along.
- Do be honest about whether your pet bites, even if you’re unsure.
- Do ask questions and be involved in your pet’s treatment.
- Do be willing to wait outside; having owners present in the consulting room can make nervous pets more upset.
- Do get a proper examination and diagnosis from your vet, and then go to reputable sites to research and inform yourself, rather than the other way around.
- Do discuss everything, from when the problem started to your pet’s diet and how much exercise they really get.
- Don’t be nervous to ask questions; you are your pet’s advocate – it is your responsibility to understand exactly what’s wrong and what the plan is.
- Don’t expect something for nothing; vets work hard and have a right to expect prompt payment (yes, even for that stray puppy you picked up and decided to keep).
- Don’t leave problems until the last minute and then expect miracles; the sooner you bring your pet in, the better.