Does a cat really have nine lives? Are dogs allergic to chocolate? Why does the littlest member of my family eat her poop? These are just some of the questions Googled by pet owners looking to learn more about their pets. Needless to say, there is plenty of information available on the internet. In fact, a search involving the first query above produces an astonishing 54 million hits!
Still, while the World Wide Web may be a great place to find answers to many questions, when it comes to matters of health, especially those involving your pet, your best bet is to check with specialists – veterinarians and other healthcare professionals – who have in-depth knowledge, training and experience regarding the needs of animals, not those who simply hold themselves out as experts online. This is especially true when it comes to issues that could prove life-threatening.
Acting on this advice isn’t always easy. As many pet parents are already aware, speaking with a veterinarian (or any seasoned healthcare professional) can be a bit intimidating. Indeed, new owners of a dog, cat or other little animal, as well as those who are looking to switch providers because they have moved to a new area or their regular vet has decided to retire, may find the search for a replacement to be unsettling and even nerve-wracking. Even so, it needs to be done.
Making a plan
As with any challenging task, it generally helps to have a clear-cut plan of action. In the case of finding a new vet, this might start with identifying potential candidates in your area, either through referrals, reviews, online searches or other resources. The next step is to do a quick prescreen by phone or online to see if services, hours, and other relevant aspects work for you.
Once you’ve established a short list of vets, it’s time to speak with them on the phone or, better yet, arrange a visit to their offices to learn more. To do this properly, you should focus on those areas that are relevant to you, your pet and your family’s needs. While that can mean focusing on any number of things, there are likely to be certain topics that most owners will likely be wondering about. Below are five potential key questions that can serve as a good starting point:
What resources does your clinic have available, and do you provide emergency/weekend care?
Most, if not all, veterinarians offer a range of services, but some undoubtedly have more advanced capabilities and facilities than others. While it might not seem like a big deal, for instance, if a particular clinic can’t do bloodwork or x-rays onsite, it can turn into a big hassle or added expense later on. The same holds true with respect to emergencies and surgeries. Can the vet perform procedures in house? Is boarding offered? You may also want to ask about the difference in price between weekday and weekend office visits.
What are your appointment and payment policies?
It’s important to know how many veterinarians work in a clinic and how they handle appointments and walk-ins. Some may only see patients by appointment while others may be more flexible, even when busy. There are also variations in how services are paid for. Does the practice in question require upfront payment? Does it offer payment plans and, if so, what are the terms? Will it take pet insurance and, if not, will it process reimbursement claims on your behalf? These are some of the various questions you probably need to ask.
How often should I bring my pet into the office for preventative care?
Owning and taking care of a pet represents a significant commitment that can quickly drain your time and financial resources. As with humans, regular doses of preventative care can help keep dogs, cats and other little ones healthy and secure, as well as lower the risk that you will face hefty emergency care bills down the road. You should ask the vet how often he or she likes you to bring your pet in and what procedures/vaccinations will be completed during such visits.
Does my pet need any vaccinations and which ones do you recommend?
You’ll also want to ask the bet about any recommended preventative care services, including vaccinations, your pet should have. Because of the expense involved, some owners may skip certain treatments, and their pets end up paying the price. In addition, a medication that may be viewed as optional in colder regions during certain months may be a regular necessity in warmer parts. A good vet should be able to give you honest advice about the benefits and risk of various options, including over-the-counter and natural alternatives.
How can I modify or “fix” this behavior?
Because they serve as the focal point of the visit, medical care and health issues usually take center stage when selecting a veterinarian. However, your provider will likely also be your go-to source regarding pet behavior issues. Is you puppy showing signs of aggression? Is your cat grooming more often than usual? Does your pet have less of an appetite than before? These are the kinds of questions you should feel free to ask your vet about. In fact, since even small changes in behavior may stem from medical problems, you’ll probably want to keep them up to date as a matter of course.
In your quest to find the right healthcare professional – or professionals – for your pet, it makes sense to start by jotting down the above questions and any others that come to mind. Many of us tend to forget certain things under pressure, so having a cheat sheet in front of you to avoid “going blank” when chatting with your vet makes sense. It’s also a good idea to take notes during your discussion for future reference.
As in all areas of life, asking the right questions can help ensure you’ve made the kinds of decisions you can feel good about. And when it comes to your pet’s health and wellbeing, the questions you ask your veterinarian can serve to build a relationship between you and that individual that is undoubtedly in your pet’s best interests.