I follow a number of veterinary pages on Facebook, and it is interesting to see the frustrations and they can face on a day to day basis that as a pet owner, just hadn’t occurred to me. I thought it would be an idea to write this article to help pet owners make life easier for their veterinarians as well as our pets.
Google doesn’t make you an expert
Don’t Google your cat’s symptoms and announce to your veterinarian what is wrong with our cat. While I do believe in intuition and advocating for our pets, there is a fine line between researching and suggesting a possible cause and telling them outright what is wrong.
An evening spent browsing the Internet doesn’t replace the many years spent at University. Yes, of course, it is possible that we are right but it’s also possible that we are not, a bit of tact and grace must always be applied. If you don’t agree with a diagnosis, you have every right to seek a second opinion.
Provide videos, photos and samples
Most of us own or have access to a smartphone which we can use to help the veterinarian reach a faster diagnosis by taking photos or videos.
If your cat is coughing, or sneezing or displaying any other clinical signs, record it. Sometimes it is hard to describe a symptom especially if it comes and goes. A picture (or in this case video) is a thousand words.
Bring along a fresh stool or urine sample if the issue is related to a change in toilet habits.
If your cat has eaten something he shouldn’t have, bring along the packaging or a sample.
No veterinarian can diagnose a cat over the phone
Not only is it illegal for a veterinarian to diagnose a cat without seeing him, but it is also impossible to give a diagnosis. If your cat is sick, he needs to be examined by a veterinarian. There are 101 reasons your cat may be vomiting or coughing, describing what is wrong over the phone isn’t going to narrow that down.
Your veterinarian can’t give you prescriptions over the phone
Your veterinarian cannot prescribe medicine without a physical exam. Just because he was given antibiotics last time he developed a cough, doesn’t mean those antibiotics will work for this cough. He may have a completely different medical condition. They are not doing this to earn easy money; the buck stops with them.
As with giving an over-the-phone diagnosis, veterinarians are breaking their licensing regulations giving over the phone prescriptions. If anything goes wrong, they can lose their medical license and their livelihood.
Don’t save up multiple ailments for one appointment
Veterinary surgeries run a tight ship, with set appointment times. If you do have a few issues to discuss, let the receptionist/veterinary nurse know at the time you book the appointment, they may schedule a long consult.
Always make an appointment
Unless it is a medical emergency (see below), always schedule an appointment. They have many patients, as well as surgery time and writing up notes and can’t be on call for walk-ins. Also, be respectful and arrive on time. If this is the first visit for you or your pet, allow an extra 10 minutes to fill out paperwork.
Bear in mind that emergencies do happen. Sometimes the veterinarian may be running late if a very sick patient needs to be seen.
If you have an emergency, call ahead
The exception to the rule is that sometimes a medical emergency will occur that can’t wait. In this instance call ahead to let them know you are on your way and what the problem is (if you know it), which can give them a vital few minutes to prepare.
By emergency I mean just that, don’t wait all day with a vomiting cat and then decide five minutes before the surgery closes that you should go to the vet. Some emergencies are obvious, sometimes it’s not so black and white if you are in any doubt call the practice.
Tell the truth
If your cat has accidentally ingested something he shouldn’t have, you have administered a non-prescribed medication, you have not been giving him his prescribed medication, he has had that lump in his eye for six weeks tell the truth. Be honest about what you are feeding him and HOW MUCH food he is being given.
Not only will this save your veterinarian time diagnosing the problem in an emergency, but it can also make a difference between life and death in many cases.
A veterinary surgery isn’t a charity
I understand that medical care can be expensive. We recently had to find $1400 for our cat who suddenly fell ill (sadly he died). But every pet owner needs to be aware that these medical emergencies can and do crop up.
It costs a lot to run a veterinary practice, rent, staff costs, expensive equipment, medications, laboratory costs and much much more. I don’t think many if any veterinarians are bringing home big bucks. It is an extremely stressful job with a high suicide rate for not much pay. If medical expenses are an issue, the best recommendation is to take out pet insurance which can help with those unforeseen circumstances.
In 2016, the average student loan debt for veterinarians is $143,757, which can take decades to pay off.
Don’t delay seeking veterinary attention
I’m the first person to recommend a wait and see approach for specific medical complaints, but no longer than one or two days, and that is in the absence of accompanying symptoms. But delaying medical care is not only frustrating to your veterinarian, but it prolongs your cat’s suffering, and an untreated disorder will continue to progress and often complicate the issue.
Do take an active role in your cat’s health
Prevention is better than cure, and your veterinarian wants you to play a role in this. Feed a high-quality diet, never medicate a cat without veterinary instructions, never give your cat human medications unless you are told to do so, treat your cat for parasites and keep an eye on your cat’s overall health. We are the ones who spend the majority of time with our pets, and we all need to be on the ball with subtle changes such as withdrawal, weight loss or gain, sudden increase or decrease in appetite, bad breath, changes in litter box habits, sleeping more, crying, obvious pain, drinking more water. In isolation, these may not look like much but can be a clue that your cat is not well.
If your cat or dog is nervous or may bite, warn your veterinarian
It costs you nothing, to be honest about a cat or dog who may potentially be a biter. Pets can and do act out when they are fearful, and it is our responsibility to warn a veterinarian of this. It’s not going to be held against you if you are truthful, but it does give your veterinarian a chance to take proper precautions to ensure their safety and that of their staff.
Don’t expect an immediate diagnosis
When our cat was admitted to the veterinary hospital recently a friend asked what was wrong with him when I explained that the vet thought he had cancer, her reply was ‘what do you mean he thinks your cat has cancer?’ Sometimes it is easy to diagnose a condition on the spot, but in the majority of cases, tests will need to be carried out, often necessitating outside laboratory reports which can take a day or two.
Your cat’s treatment doesn’t finish once he leaves the surgery, you will be given instructions by your veterinarian on how to care for your cat, and often this will include administration of medications. Ensure you give your cat his medicine as prescribed and ALWAYS finish the drug schedule. If you are having problems giving your cat his medication, speak to the veterinarian. There are ways around this. Long-acting injections or using a compounding pharmacy.
Sometimes despite your veterinarian’s best efforts, a pet can’t be saved
No matter how hard they try, it is not possible to save all cats. It’s devastating to hear those words, but please remember your veterinarian worked his best. Sometimes a disease or an injury is impossible to treat.
Don’t be rude
I know it’s stressful when our pet is sick, but it’s no excuse to be rude to a veterinarian or their staff. You don’t have to like your veterinarian; you don’t have to use them if you are unhappy, find another one. Please remember that most veterinarians are in this job for their love of animals, it’s not a well-paying job, they’re not ripping you off, they are highly qualified professionals who are trying to do the best they can for your pet.
Do you have any further suggestions to add to this list? I would love your feedback.