More than a year ago, Helpful Buckeye wrote about some suggestions for how a pet owner can go about choosing a veterinarian for their pets. In that discussion, we followed some guidelines that were presented by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which you can read at: http://questionsondogsandcats.blogspot.com/2008/09/canary-in-coal-mine.html
The Humane Society of the United States has just recently published their recommendations for choosing the right veterinarian for your pets. By comparing these ideas with the previous listing, any pet owner should be able to make an informed choice that will help pick the right veterinarian.
Choosing A Veterinarian
A veterinarian is your pet's second-best friend. When selecting a veterinarian, you're doing more than searching for a medical expert. You're looking for someone to meet your needs and those of your pet, a doctor who has people as well as animal skills. The worst time to look for a vet is when you really need one, so plan ahead and choose wisely. Veterinarians often work with a team of professionals, including technicians and qualified support staff, so you'll likely want to evaluate the entire vet team's competence and caring (Helpful Buckeye has more information on this aspect further down the page). You should also consider the hospital's location and fees when making a decision. Driving a few extra miles or paying a bit more may be worth it to get the care you want for your cat.
How to find the right veterinarian
The best way to find a good veterinarian is to ask people who have the same approach to pet care as you. Start with a recommendation from a friend, neighbor, animal shelter worker, dog trainer, groomer, boarding kennel employee or pet sitter. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Veterinarians" and "Animal Hospitals," where you can likely find important information about hours, services and staff. You can also search for veterinarians in your area online. If you're looking for a specialist, ask about board certification. This means the vet has studied an additional two to four years in the specialty area and passed a rigorous exam. Once you've narrowed your search, schedule a visit to meet the staff, tour the facility and learn about the hospital's philosophy and policies. This is a reasonable request that any veterinarian should be glad to oblige. Write down your questions ahead of time.
What to look for:
- Is the facility clean, comfortable and well-organized?
- Are appointments required?
- How many veterinarians are in the practice?
- Are there technicians or other professional staff members?
- Are dog and cat cages in separate areas?
- Is the staff caring, calm, competent and courteous, and do they communicate effectively?
- Do the veterinarians have special interests such as geriatrics or behavior?
- Are X-rays, ultrasound, bloodwork, EKG, endoscopy and other diagnostics done in-house or referred to a specialist?
- Which emergency services are available?
- Is location and parking convenient?
- Do fees fit your budget, and are discounts for senior citizens or multi-pet households available?
Be a good client
Having good client manners encourages a happy relationship with your vet.
- See your vet regularly for preventive visits, not just when your pet becomes ill.
- Learn what's normal for your pet, so you recognize the first signs of illness.
- If a pet's not well, don't wait until she's really sick before you call your vet. It's frustrating for a vet, and heartbreaking to owners, to see an animal die of an illness that could have been treated successfully if professional care had begun sooner.
- Schedule appointments and be on time. Lateness is rude and wreaks havoc with the office's timing.
- For your pet's safety as well as that of other clients and pets, bring your cat to the veterinary office in a carrier.
- Don’t disturb your veterinarian during non-working hours for matters that can wait, and don't expect your veterinarian to diagnose a pet's problem over the telephone.
- Even if you have an emergency, call ahead to ensure that the veterinarian’s available.
Breaking up is hard to do
If you feel that your veterinarian isn't meeting your needs as a client or the needs of your pet as a patient, it may be time to find a new one. But sometimes simple misunderstandings cause conflicts, which you and your vet can resolve by talking things out and looking for solutions. If you've been happy with a certain veterinarian, make the effort to reach a mutually satisfying resolution.
When you visit your veterinarian's office/hospital/clinic, you most likely will encounter several different staff members, in addition to the veterinarian. Each member of the staff is an important part of the daily functioning of the hospital. The AVMA has put together a good overview of the staff members and what they do to contribute to the overall operation.
The Veterinarian – Leading the Team
Veterinarians are doctors trained to protect the health of both animals and people. In a clinical hospital environment, veterinarians work with large and small animals to evaluate animals' health, diagnose and treat illnesses, provide routine preventive care (such as vaccines), prescribe medication, and perform surgery. Like physicians, some veterinarians specialize in areas such as surgery, internal medicine, ophthalmology or dentistry. In addition to opportunities in clinical practice, veterinarians may choose to work in zoos, wildlife parks, or aquariums; or focus on public health, regulatory medicine, or research. Personal attributes that contribute to a successful career as a veterinarian in clinical practice include a strong science and math education, the ability to work well with animals and their owners, basic business and management training, and leadership and organizational skills.
The Veterinary Technician
Veterinary technicians perform valuable medical and non-medical services in clinical practice. They are graduates of an AVMA-accredited program in veterinary technology usually leading to an Associate or Bachelor degree. The veterinary technician is educated and trained to support the veterinarian in surgical assisting, laboratory procedures, radiography, anesthesiology, prescribed treatment and nursing, and client education. Almost every state requires a veterinary technician to pass a credentialing exam to ensure a high level of competency.
Some veterinary technicians pursue specialties in emergency and critical care, anesthesiology, internal medicine, animal behavior or dentistry. Personal attributes that contribute to a successful career as a veterinary technician in clinical practice include a strong science background, ability to work well with people and animals, and good communication and decision-making skills.
The Veterinary Hospital Manager
Most large veterinary hospitals find that having a hospital (or practice) manager greatly improves the team's efficiency. This person is responsible for managing the business functions of the practice. Depending upon the size and type of hospital, the manager's duties could include personnel hiring and supervision, budget and inventory management, accounting, marketing, and designing service protocols. A strong business background, computer knowledge, and desire to work with people are key attributes for success as a hospital manager.
The Veterinary Assistant
In some hospitals, a veterinary assistant supports the veterinarian and/or the veterinary technician in their daily tasks. The assistant may be asked to perform kennel work, assist in the restraint and handling of animals, feed and exercise the animals, and spend time on clerical duties. There is no credentialing exam for the veterinary assistant; however, training programs are available (see http://www.navta.net/). The ability to listen, communicate efficiently, and handle multiple assignments are skills that make a veterinary assistant an important member of the hospital team.
The receptionist or client service representative is usually the first person to welcome a client into the hospital and the last person the client sees when they leave. The interactions he or she has with a client can determine how the client perceives the quality of medical services being offered. A good receptionist must have excellent communication skills and be able to handle a variety of questions and requests from clients and the public. In addition to setting appointments, responding to inquiries about hospital services, greeting clients, and managing callbacks, a receptionist may also perform accounting, marketing, or client counseling duties. A customer service attitude, the ability to manage multiple tasks, and professionalism under stress are important attributes for a hospital receptionist.
Other Team Members
The hospital team may also include an adoption counselor, a grief counselor, administrative assistant, kennel worker, and part-time volunteers. Everyone has an important role to play in assuring the health and well-being of the hospital's patients and the owners who care for them.
Designer collars, faux-mink coats, doggie donuts―you may love the novelties, but do your pets really need ‘em? The bucks we spend on those little extras for our animal companions add up—and in fact, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, U.S. consumers spent over $36 billion on their animals in 2005. “A tremendous amount of the growth in pet industry sales have probably been due to things people don’t really need for their pets,” says Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, Ph. D., Executive Vice President, ASPCA National Program Office. While it’s great to pamper Fifi and Fido, it’s also important to budget for the essentials. Otherwise, that couture pet carrier could leave you with empty pockets when the emergency veterinary bills come. We checked in with Dr. Z. for his take on easy ways to cut pet care costs. “The basics are still the same,” he says. “Quality food, litter for cats and good medical care.” Bottom line? Stick with the basics, and remember—preventative measures are excellent money savers!
- Go to the Vet! “A number-one money-saver is preventative veterinary care,” says Dr. Z. Annual veterinary exams can catch health crises early on and can save you a lot of time and money. This includes heartworm preventative treatment, flea and tick control, and a thorough check-up of your pet’s gums, teeth, heart, lungs and internal organs. If it’s been a year or more since your pet has seen a vet, make that appointment today!
- Give Your Pet Regular Check-Ups Weekly home checkups are a great way to nip potential health problems in the bud. - Check under your pet’s fur for lumps, bumps, flakes or scabs. Check your pet’s ears and eyes for signs of redness or discharge. Make note of any changes in her eating or drinking habits. If something seems off, call your vet right away. - Learn how to clean your pet’s ears, especially if your dog is prone to ear infections. - Brush your pet’s teeth regularly with a toothpaste formulated for pets, and check his gums. In some cases, this can help prevent the need for dental cleanings, which can run up to $200 per visit. - Check your pet’s breath. Bad breath can indicate a digestive problem that’s better dealt with sooner rather than later.
- Vaccinate Wisely “Although certain vaccines are required by law, there is no longer automatically one policy for all animals,” says Dr. Lila Miller, Vice President, ASPCA Veterinary Outreach. “Veterinarians are now advised to assess each individual animal's risk of exposure when designing a vaccination program.” So before subjecting your pet―and your wallet—to general vaccinations, ask your pet’s vet which vaccines he or she recommends.
- Spay/Neuter Your Pets “Spaying and neutering your pet will have a dramatic impact on their health,” says Dr. Z. “For females, it dramatically reduces the potentiality for breast cancer, and ovarian and uterine cancer disappears.” Neutering also reduces chances of testicular cancer in males. Not only will spaying or neutering save you on future health care, but it will significantly diminish your pet’s desire to wander―and will save you the surprise of an unplanned litter.
- Invest in Training “A lot of people don’t think about dog and cat training as a way to save money,” observes Dr. Z, “but a well-trained dog will be easier to walk, will be calmer in most situations and will be less likely to get into things he shouldn’t.” Teaching your dog to stay by your side and to come when he is called proves far cheaper than paying for expensive emergency care caused by his running off―possibly into the street―and eating items that he shouldn’t.
- Consider Pet Insurance “One of the reasons why medical care has become so expensive,” explains Dr. Z, “is the recent growth spurt of procedures your pet can undergo―MRIs, cat scans, cancer treatments. Kidney transplants, though life-saving, are a $15,000 surgery that also typically requires the pet owner to adopt the donor animal.” Accidents, too, can be costly. Pet insurance is one way to take some sting out of the bill. The cost of a policy typically runs about $300-$400 per year and many cover both regular and emergency visits.
- Save Up for the Future & Pet Emergencies Invest the money you spend on toys and extra snacks into a fund for possible emergencies, and deposit a fixed amount into it every two weeks. If no emergencies arise, you’ll be all the richer, but if something does come up, money will not stand in the way of getting your pet the care she needs.
- Elderly Pet Care The great news is that pets are living longer, thanks to better nutrition and veterinary care. But this often entails more frequent trips to the vet, blood screenings tests, special food and medication. “Very often you see people bringing older pets into shelters because they are confronted with bills they can’t manage,” says Dr. Z. You can avoid an ambush of sudden bills by saving up while your pet is young.
- End-of-life care Caring for your pet at death could cost between $300 to $1,000, depending upon the services you choose. Some insurance policies cover the cost of euthanasia and cremation, but it is a smart idea to put aside a savings account that will cover those bills. This way you won’t have to haggle when the time comes.
- Serve Healthy Food in Moderate Portions “Buy a good, premium-quality dog or cat food,” advises Dr. Z. “Don’t go crazy,” he says, but remember that cheaper foods will set you back in the end. They are full of less digestible filler material and artificial colors that offer no nutrients and can contribute to allergies and digestive problems. A high-quality, age-appropriate food results in a healthy coat, more energy and fewer costly trips to the vet.
- Don’t overfeed This includes resisting the urge to spoil your pets with too many treats! “You don’t need to feed your pets as much as people do,” Dr. Z. reminds us. “One of the things we’re confronting is a huge obesity problem. Serving moderate portions not only saves you money on food ―it also reduces the likelihood of obesity.”
- Veterinarians and Hospitals When looking for a reliable, cost-effective veterinarian’s office, check out a few before you settle on one. Ask for recommendations from pet owners you know. Most vets’ offices also offer multi-pet or senior pet discounts. Compare fees and be sure to find out what is covered during a routine visit in each office.
- Pet Supplies Buy supplies online or in bulk. Just keep in mind that it’s wise to get product recommendations from your vet first. Online or store-bought products that you know nothing about could prove to be harmful or of poor quality. And if you rotate your pet’s toys, they’ll stay interested without you having to buy new ones every few months.
- Groom Your Pets at Home Save the price of a visit to your groomer with regular brushings. While you’re at it, you’ll reduce the hair around your home and your cats will have fewer hairballs. Trim your pet’s nails on a regular basis. It’s not hard to do, and you’ll likely save yourself the cost of new furniture and curtains.
Still got visions of your dog gliding down the cat walk in a couture collar? Face it, your pet could probably care less whether she’s wearing Gucci. “A good quality leash and collar with a nylon braid should run you no more than $10 and should last for years,” advises Dr. Z. “You don’t need to buy all the fancy stuff.” Yes, your pets love toys and an occasional treat, but the best gift you can give to your furry loved one is your attention!
P.S. Well, we didn't lose our power after all...although, the lights did flicker a few times. Considering that I spent a fair amount of time shoveling what ended up being 76 inches of snow from our driveway between Tuesday morning and Saturday morning, I made an executive decision and decided to publish this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats as is. Hope you enjoyed it...we'll get back to our regular format next week.
~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~