Your pet 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 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.
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 is still young, get him used to the routine by doing some would-be examinations at home, holding his head still, and inspecting his ears, eyes, and mouth.
Stay in Control
Keep your dog on a leash or in an escape-proof container. Veterinarians often prefer carriers that open from above, which makes it easier to remove and examine the pet.
Restrict your dog's socializing in the waiting area, since some animals may have communicable diseases; others may be aggressive; and none need added excitement or agitation.
Leave small children at home 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 – and that they realize a veterinary clinic isn't a petting zoo.
What to Bring
Make a careful written record of the chronology and frequency of your pet's symptoms. For example, "Was vomiting preceded by discharge from the eyes and nose?" asks Harmon Rogers, a small-animal practitioner in Washington state. "Did diarrhea occur before and/or after you heard your dog's stomach rumbling?" Putting your observations on paper will save time and help your veterinarian decide which problems to tackle first.
Previous medical records will help if you're visiting a new veterinarian. If you have copies of records, bring them along, or else have them forwarded ahead of time.
Collect a stool sample, to test for worms, when your puppy comes in for shots and tests during his first month or two of life.
If you suspect your pet has ingested a toxin, rat poison, for instance, or prescription drugs, bring in its identifying container or a sample, so doctors can treat your dog accordingly and quickly.
If your dog is on medication, know the drug's name, as well as the dosage he receives. To simplify things, bring along the container.
Don't hesitate to ask your veterinarian to clarify a point or explain terminology. Asking questions is crucial to the success of your visit.
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 keep you from running up a burdensome bill.
Know the Plan
When you leave the clinic, 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 out the treatment plan.
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 problems persist.
Finally, if your pet's doing well after treatment, let your veterinarian and staff know. As often as not, they develop attachments to pets and they wonder how things are turning out. "The best phone calls I get," says Angell Memorial's Rider, "are the ones that say everything is going great."