Getting the Most Out of Your Cat Visit to Your Veterinarian

A trip to your veterinarian can be harrowing for you and your cat. Here are some tips that will make the experience go smoother and help your cat to receive the best care possible.

Your cat retreats to the shadows beneath your bed and refuses to budge. He's trembling as if he just saw Big Foot. And, now that you think about it, your stomach is doing a little rocking and rolling itself. It's OK. Visiting your veterinarian can be stressful for all involved. Your pet's health is at the heart of the matter and, of course, a little anxiety is understandable.

Know, however, that it's important for you as the owner, to pay strict attention and take an active role, whether you're at the animal clinic for an emergency or, on a routine matter. After all, a lot of information gets passed back and forth in a short period. Medical terminology can be confusing. And even the best of us can forget details, misunderstand directions, or simply be overwhelmed in the moment.

Take heart, though. Getting the most out of your veterinary visit is eminently possible. What it calls for is some old-fashioned planning, a willingness to voice concerns, and, like a good golf swing, follow-through.
Stress Busters

Familiarize your pet with the clinic, suggests Cory Rider, a veterinary intern at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston. If your pet tends to be nervous, bring him by your veterinarian's office occasionally to receive friendly pats and perhaps a treat, rather than the usual needles, pokes and probes. If your pet's young, train him by doing some would-be examinations at home, holding his head still, and inspecting his ears, eyes, and mouth.

Have Control

To avoid mishaps, keep cats and other creatures in appropriate escape-proof containers, such as cat carriers or nylon Sherpa bags, which resemble duffel bags. (Veterinarians often prefer carriers that open from above, which make it easier to remove and examine the pet.)

The Waiting Room

Restrict your cat's socializing in the waiting area. Some animals may have communicable diseases; others may be aggressive; none need added excitement or agitation.

Consider leaving small children with a caretaker. You may face difficult decisions about treatment or euthanasia and restless children only add to the confusion. If you do bring them, make sure they're on their best behavior. Also, parents should understand that a veterinary clinic isn't a petting zoo.

Make a List

If your cat becomes ill, take a moment to write, as specifically as possible, the chronology and frequency of his symptoms. "Was vomiting preceded by discharge from the eyes and nose?" Harmon Rogers, a small-animal practitioner in Washington state, asks. "Did diarrhea occur before and/or after you heard your pet's stomach rumbling?" Putting your observations on paper will save time and help your veterinarian better decide what problems to tackle first.

What to Bring

Be Involved

Often, your cat will perk up around strangers and no longer seem lethargic, for example, or show lameness. It's your job to describe your cat's symptoms seen at home. Try to be as specific, yet as pointed as possible.

Don't hesitate to ask your veterinarian to clarify a point or explain terminology. Asking questions is key to your visit.

Money Matters

Be candid about your finances. If cost is a concern, your doctor may work with you or tailor treatment accordingly. Most veterinarians will provide a cost estimate. If they fail to provide one, ask. This will help in weighing your decisions about treatment and to head off what could become a burdensome bill. "Clients need to think about what this is going to do to them financially, what their pet is going through and how well and much longer he'll live," Rider says. "Those are hard things to balance."

Know the Plan

When you leave the clinic with your recovering pet, make sure you understand what's expected of you. Know, for example, when and how many pills are to be given or if you're expected to return for follow-up tests or X-rays. If necessary, have your veterinarian write it out.

Follow-up Visits

Obey instructions precisely. Antibiotics should be administered to completion of the prescription. A pet whose activity needs to be restricted, should be restricted. Make sure to return to your veterinarian if recommended or if the problem persists.

Finally, if your pet's doing well after treatment, let your veterinarian and the staff know. As often as not, they also develop attachments to pet's and their clients and they wonder how things turned out. "The best phone calls I get," intern Rider says, "are the ones that say everything is going great."