We all want our pets to be healthy and get the best medical care possible. DogWatch went to the experts to get their recommendations on how to ensure that!  Here is the ‘Top 10’ (plus a few more) list of what your vet would like you to know:

Ozu the cat at his first vet appointment. Photo by Greg Dunlap via Flickr.1.  Please don’t be late for your appointment!
Promptness for appointments is an absolute must. Vets are usually allotted only 15 minutes per appointment, so every minute counts.

2.  Unless they ask for your help, leave pet-handling to the pros.
We know you love your pet and that you know how to handle it, but at the vet’s office, they are the experts. The vet and the vet staff can learn a lot about your pet by interacting with it, so leave the pet handling to them. They will let you know if there is something you can do to help.

3.  Plan ahead!
If there are specific things you want your vet to know, write them down and bring your list to your appointment, or better yet, drop it off or email it to the vet in advance. This is particularly important for first-time visits.

DogWatch's Vet Visit ChecklistSame goes for questions. If there are certain things you want to ask, write them down so you and your vet can go through them systematically. For help with this, see this checklist we’ve created. You can use this to write down your questions, concerns, and pet’s symptoms before each appointment so you don’t forget to ask.

Also, if your pet has records from a shelter or previous vet, it is very important to get that information to the new vet so he or she will have a thorough understanding of your pet’s health and history.

4.  Ask your questions. Don’t hold back.
As the old adage goes, the only stupid question is the one not asked. If you have questions, just ask them. You’ll feel relieved to have all the answers, and your vet will better understand you and your concerns as a pet owner.

5.  Be wary of the web.
As we all know, the Internet has tons of information and forums related to pet concerns and illnesses. While there are some excellent and trustworthy websites, there are also many that provide information that is not as reliable. Many sites and posts are authored by people who are not veterinarians or animal care professionals. The information they provide is often based on their own experiences and opionions and/or information that has been gathered from other sources, which may or may not be accurate.

The Internet may be helpful in determining if your pet’s symptoms require immediate attention, but we STRONGLY encourage you to call your vet’s office or your local emergency animal hospital if your pet begins displaying any behaviors or symptoms that are out of the norm or otherwise concern you. While your vet most likely won’t be able to diagnose anything over the phone, they CAN advise you as to the appropriate course of action, i.e. waiting a day or two and seeing if symptoms improve or bringing your pet in ASAP. Please believe us when we say that diagnosis is best left to the professionals.

Some signs that your pet needs medical care immediately can include: Trouble breathing, open wounds, vomiting/diarrhea that won’t stop, collapse, and inability to walk (as opposed to general lethargy, which can also be concerning and, depending on the circumstances, may require a vet visit).

Dog at the vet. Photo by Heather Hopkins via Flickr.6.  Your pet needs routine care, too!
Preventive care such as routine physicals, dental hygiene, and flea/tick/heartworm medication is the best way to prevent your pet from developing many common illnesses. While routine care can’t prevent all illnesses, an ounce of prevention in many cases can save a pound of (potentially expensive) cure.

7.  Don’t “self-prescribe.”
Just because your pet may be displaying symptoms it has had in the past does not mean it’s OK to treat it with medicine you have leftover from its last illness, or with “people” medicines like aspirin or antacids. Prior to giving your pet ANY medication, ALWAYS check with your vet; never give your pet any medication that a vet has not prescribed, whether it is prescription or over-the-counter.

Treating a pet with the wrong medication, or a medication not meant for pets, can be just as harmful, or more so, than not treating the pet at all! In fact, some “people” medications can be dangerous or deadly to pets. This includes common medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), which can be dangerous in dogs and fatal in cats.

8.  Please be honest.
Lying to or misleading your vet about how an injury or illness occurred isn’t helping anyone, least of all your pet. Accidents happen. People look away for a minute and a puppy eats something it shouldn’t. You forget to shut the screen door and your cat gets out and gets into a fight with another cat. You accidentally step on your cat’s tail and injure it (don’t laugh, it happens all the time; as you know, cats have an uncanny knack for silently showing up where you don’t expect them). Fact is, even the most responsible pet owners have pets that get injured. Please don’t worry about what the vet or techs will think of you; their concern is getting your pet better, not passing judgment.

9.  Make sure your pet gets vaccinated appropriately.
Indoor pets may be able to get away with only their kitten or puppy shots (ask your vet), but for outdoor pets, vaccinations are a MUST. Not only is it THE LAW in terms of rabies vaccines for dogs/cats, but it’s also just a good idea that can save your pet from developing several nasty and fatal diseases. The risk of rabies, distemper and feline leukemia are worse than the possible repercussions of the vaccines (such as reactions or vaccine-associated cancers in cats). While vaccines for outdoor pets may be expensive, we guarantee that the treatment for the diseases these vaccines prevent will cost you far more.

10.  Please warn your vet in advance if your pet is aggressive, and keep your pet restrained.
This is a must. An aggressive pet (and its person) needs training – but that is a topic for another blog. If you have an aggressive pet, let your vet know in advance. With advance knowledge, your vet may want to provide sedatives Cat in carrier at vet. Photo by Paulo Ordoveza via Flickr.for your pet that will make the appointment MUCH easier for all involved.

Also, when bringing your pet in, aggressive or not, please make sure it is properly restrained for its own safety, the safety of other animals, and the safety of you and the vet and technicians. Cats should be in a carrier designed for them; not in a cardboard box or on your lap. Small dogs can be in a carrier, or on a short, sturdy leash. Large dogs MUST be on a short, sturdy leash, NOT a retractable, flexible one. And if your dog is prone to barking (or biting!), please muzzle him or her. Many vets bear scars from improperly restrained pets.

11.  Pick a Vet that is right for you and your pet.
Picking a vet can be tricky, especially with the mixed messages online reviewers can give. Personalities and personal histories inevitably influence individual perceptions, so it is important to factor that into whatever you read. Asking people you know and trust who they would recommend is probably a more reliable way to start the process. And from there, our advice is to follow your gut. You can evaluate educational credentials, but even the most decorated diagnosticians might not be the best doctors or the best fit for you. Ultimately, you want a vet with whom you feel comfortable and who provides both you and your pet(s) with the kind of care and interaction you require. Don’t be afraid to call several local veterinary offices and ask about the vets there and the practice in general. If you have a pet with special needs, this is a particularly good idea, as you want to make sure the vet you choose has the ability and technology to care for your pet properly and thoroughly.

12.  Consider purchasing pet insurance. It can be a life (and money) saver.
Pet insurance is absolutely worth it. Think of the money you save on doctor’s visits with your health insurance. Why wouldn’t you have health insurance for your pet as well? It allows you to pay co-pays for vet visits, not the entire amount, and makes testing and complicated procedures and surgeries much more affordable. Having pet insurance could ensure that your pet receives a life-saving surgery that you might not otherwise be able to afford. There are many companies out there that offer pet insurance, and at a pretty reasonable cost for pets without risk factors or pre-existing conditions. Ask fellow pet owners or your vet for recommendations.

13.  Understand how and when to use emergency veterinary hospitals.
Fact is, general veterinary practitioners’ offices can’t be open 24/7 like emergency hospitals. In addition, there are some conditions that just can’t be properly handled by a general veterinary practitioner; Kingsford being treated for a urinary tract blockage at Animal Emergency Care in Acton, MA. Photo by Theresa A. Grenier.not because they’re bad doctors, but because they don’t have the time, equipment, technology, or support from specialists that ER vets do. Animal emergency hospitals generally have the most extensive and up-to-date equipment so that they are prepared to handle any condition or emergency, which can be critical for seriously ill pets.

Having to take your pet to an emergency hospital can be a scary and stressful experience, we know. We’ve been there ourselves. When you get to the hospital, try to remain calm. The vets know you’re scared and stressed and absolutely appreciate and understand your concerns. Being calm is the best way to help them help you. They deal with emergencies all the time, and will take the best care possible of your pet.

Also, please understand that, like trips to a human ER, animal ER trips can take a significant amount of time. Each animal that is brought through the door needs to be triaged and assessed before treatment can start. If there is an animal that is in more serious condition than yours, the doctors need to see that animal first. They will get to your pet as soon as possible. If you see your pet taking a turn for the worse while waiting, let the front desk know, and they can relay that to the doctors or techs, who can reassess your pet and determine if it needs to be seen more quickly.

Terence A. Krentz, DVMDogWatch would like to thank Terence A. Krentz, DVM, for his insights and contributions to this post. Dr. Krentz graduated from Western University of Health Sciences in 2008 and completed a rotating surgical and medical internship at Bay Area Veterinary Specialists in San Leandro, CA, followed by a surgical internship at Vetcision in Waltham, MA. He currently practices at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Woburn, MA, and his special interests include emergency and critical care, surgical oncology, and orthopedics.

Photo credits (top to bottom):

Greg Dunlap via Flickr.

Heather Hopkins via Flickr.

Paulo Ordoveza via Flickr.

Theresa A. Grenier