Sunday, May 20, 2012


As discussed in previous issues of Questions On Dogs and Cats, your veterinarian is a very important part of the total care package that you envision for your pet.  In addition to the input from your veterinarian, many of you will also have occasion to require the services of a pet groomer, a pet boarding facility, perhaps a pet trainer, and even a professional pet walker.  Helpful Buckeye's point of view is that you first need to keep your pet healthy so that you and your pet can take advantage of all those other services.  

If you are acquiring your first pet, if you are moving to another location, or if you feel that a change of veterinarian is necessary, this issue will address all the considerations you should think about.  If you are pleased with your current veterinarian and the service they provide, that's a good thing.  Keep doing what you're doing!

You and your veterinarian – working together to keep your pet healthy

Keeping pets healthy requires teamwork. As a pet owner, you know your pet better than anyone else. When you know something is wrong with your pet – or maybe you just know that something's not quite right – you rely on your veterinarian and their staff to find out what's going on and work with you to develop a plan to address the problem and help your pet live the happiest, healthiest life possible.

How do you choose a veterinarian? What do you look for in a veterinarian or what questions do you ask? There are several factors to consider when choosing a veterinarian.

You can find a veterinarian by looking in the yellow pages, searching the internet or by word-of mouth. An effective method is by asking your friends or neighbors which veterinarian they go to and for their recommendations.

Other factors to consider:

Is the practice convenient - is it close to your home? Find out which practices are close to your home.

How does the practice handle emergencies? Do they have someone on call or do they refer to a local emergency practice? If so, where is the emergency practice? Note: In many case, veterinarians that refer to local emergency practices may be better for your pet unless their practices staffs technicians and doctors around the clock. Make sure the veterinarian doesn't just see and hospitalize emergencies and leave them in the hospital where no one will be watching them all night.

How do they handle hospitalizations? Are they staffed at night or do they refer to a 24-hour emergency clinic?

How many veterinarians are in the practice? One-person practices are nice but multi-doctor practices may have extended hours and generally someone is always available if you have a pet problem.

Regardless of how you choose a veterinarian, developing a relationship takes work. Make sure you understand everything your veterinarian says. Don't be afraid to question anything and keep questioning until you fully understand the answer. If you do not feel comfortable with your veterinarian, try to resolve the issues. If you do not see any way to resolve your problems, consider seeking a different veterinarian.

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Take the time to find the right veterinarian

Dear Christopher Cat and Daisy Dog: I just moved to the area, and I need to find a new veterinarian for our cats and dogs.  Our last vet doesn't know anyone in our new locale. How should I go about finding someone as wonderful as he was?

Christopher and Daisy respond: Ask for recommendations from your new friends and neighbors as well as local animal shelters, specialty hospitals and veterinary schools. In addition, visit to find practices accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association.

Evaluate several veterinarians, taking one or more of your pets to each vet for a wellness exam and consultation.

When you visit the animal hospitals, notice how organized the office seems and how clean the hospital looks and smells. Are the receptionists friendly? Do they treat clients as though they are guests in their own homes?

Ask how many veterinarians are on staff and whether you can schedule your appointments with the vet you want. If your preferred veterinarian is off duty when your pet is sick, are you comfortable seeing another vet in the practice?

Inquire about appointment length to get an idea of how much time the veterinarian will spend with you. Usually, it's 15, 20 or 30 minutes for well visits, and sometimes longer for sick visits.

In the exam room, note the skill and respect with which the doctor and nurses handle your pets.

Try to get a sense of how committed the veterinarian is to educating you about your pet's health care.

Does the vet give you educational handouts and suggest websites to consult for more information?

Is the vet willing to review and discuss information you've collected?

Does the veterinarian focus on preventing disease? Does he take a thorough history, asking about your pet's lifestyle, diet and medications?

Does the vet counsel you on dental care, recommend parasite control and advise you if your pet is overweight?

Ask about after-hours emergencies to be sure the arrangements suit your needs. Are nurses or doctors on-site when patients are hospitalized overnight?

Does the veterinarian participate in online education, such as through the Veterinary Information Network? Do any of the doctors or nurses have special training or offer ancillary services?

How many of them attend more than the minimum number of required hours of continuing education?

Do the veterinarians in the practice discuss challenging cases with each other, so that when your pet is ill, you benefit from the expertise of all the vets on staff?

Once you find a veterinarian you click with, you'll feel at ease discussing the medical issues that arise with your pets.

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Finding a veterinarian

Finding a veterinarian is can be relatively easy, especially if you're using  to search. Recommendations from family and friends can also be of great help. However, finding the right veterinarian for you and your pet is what's really important.

Check out prospective clinics and veterinarians by paying them a visit, with or without your pet. Is the clinic/hospital clean and orderly? Ask if you can take a tour of the clinic.

Pay attention to how the veterinary team talks to clients and how they act toward the animals in the clinic. Are team members readily available to answer your questions or address your concerns? Do they answer your questions in a way you can understand? One of the most important considerations is how the veterinary team makes you feel – ask yourself if you would be comfortable having your pet in their care. Trust your gut feeling – if you like a veterinary team but can't pinpoint why you like them, you're probably in the right place. If you're there with your pet for an actual visit, do the veterinary team's explanations of the exam findings and treatment plans make sense to you?

Are the clinic's office hours compatible with yours? How do they handle after-hours emergencies – do they see them, or do they refer you to an emergency clinic (it's best to find this out before you need to know it in an emergency situation)? Do they accept your preferred form of payment? If you have pet insurance, does the veterinary hospital accept that plan?

When choosing your family's veterinarian, use the same care and criteria that you would in selecting a physician or dentist. Think about what is important to you. Location, office hours, payment options, and the range of medical services provided are all important considerations. For many pet owners the most important factor is the friendliness and commitment of doctors and staff. Your goal should be to find the veterinarian who you believe can best meet your pet's medical needs and with whom you feel comfortable in establishing a long-term relationship.

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8 things you should consider when choosing a veterinarian

1. Are the clinic's office hours compatible with your schedule?

2. How do the veterinarians and staff treat you and your pet?

3. Are the clinic's payment options/plans acceptable to you?

4. If your pet is insured, does the clinic accept your insurance plan?

5. How are after-hours emergencies handled?

6. How do they handle referrals to specialists, if that's necessary?

7. If you have a non-traditional pet, does the veterinarian have experience with that species of pet?

8. A referral from a trusted friend or family member can be helpful.

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10 things you can do to make veterinary visits better for everyone

1. Accustom your pet to its carrier and to traveling in the car;

2. If your veterinarian doesn't already have your pet's medical record on file, bring it with you or have your previous veterinary team send or fax the records – or, at a minimum, bring your own notes on your pet's health and medical history;

3. Arrive on time or a few minutes early for your appointment;

4. Unless your children can sit quietly without distracting you or interfering with your veterinary team's ability to examine or treat your pet or talk to you about your pet, consider leaving your children with a babysitter while you take your pet to the veterinarian;

5. Turn your cell phone off while you are in the exam room;

6. Know what medications your pet is receiving (including supplements), as well as how much, how often and how long it is given, and/or bring them with you;

7. Share your observations and concerns with your veterinarian – after all, you know your pet better than anyone else does;

8. Ask questions. Ask until you understand;

9. Ask for handouts, brochures, or even reputable online sources of information about your pet's condition;

10. Follow your veterinarian's recommendations. They're given for one very important reason – to keep your pet healthy.

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Questions You Should Ask Your Dog's Vet

By: Debra Primovic

To get the most out of your visit with your veterinarian, ask questions. The answers and advice you receive will help you to provide the best possible care for your pet. Here is a list of questions to consider:

1. How much does he weigh? Find out what your puppy weights and make note of it. Keep track of the weight and notice any study change.

2. What is his body condition score? What this really means is... if he is too fat or too thin. The body condition score looks at the amount of fat on a dog's frame relative to his overall size. If he is too fat, ask your vet what you can do to help him loose weight. They may recommend that you cut back on his portions or table scraps, change his diet, or increase his activity by going on more walks. If he is too thin, ask for recommendations to address this issue.

3. What should he be eating? Ask your veterinarian their opinion on the best food to feed your pet. Most vets recommend a good quality premium pet food that offers good quality control and has AAFCO approval formulated to meet the needs of your dogs life stage. For example, if you have a puppy, a common recommendation would be AAFCO approved food to meet the growing demands of puppies. Additionally, it can be further segmented into growing large or small breed dogs.

Depending on your dogs' sex, age, weight and overall health, your veterinarian may recommend a formula for less active dogs or a prescription formula that may be beneficial in the presence of an underlying medical condition.

4. Was his physical examination normal? This may be the most important part of your pets visit to the veterinarian. The examination can help to identify problems early when conditions may be more treatable. Ask if his heart and lungs sounded normal, if his abdomen felt normal on examination and if he overall appears healthy. If not, what is wrong? What can be done?

5. How do his teeth and nails look? Should you be brushing his teeth? Trimming his nails? If so, will they show you how if you don't already know?

6. Is he getting the vaccines he needs? Make sure your pet is getting what needs but not more than what he needs. Depending on where your dog lives, his age, and his lifestyle, vaccine recommendations may vary. There are some vaccinations he may not need or he may be at risk for Lyme disease and some other diseases that may be prevented with a vaccine. If your pet boards at a kennel, additional vaccines may be recommended. Rabies is required by law.

7. Does he need heartworm prevention? Dogs that live in warm climates are at risk for heartworm disease. This can be prevented by a monthly medication. Find out what he should take and when he should take it. Some vets recommend a seasonal approach and others a year around medication.

8. Does he need tick prevention medication? Depending on where your dog lives and his level of risk, he may benefit from tick control medications. Ticks can carry diseases that can cause severe illness.

9. Does he have worms or need a dewormer? A fecal examination can help determine if your pet has gastrointestinal worms. Some pets may be routinely dewormed. Some of the heartworm preventative medications also treat gastrointestinal parasites.

10. Should he have any "routine testing"? Are there any routine tests that should be done to monitor his health for his age? Dogs age differently depending on their breed, size and weight. Some large breed dogs, such as Great Danes, are considered "senior" at 6 or 7 years. Some smaller breed dogs, such as Dachshunds, are not considered senior until 8 or 9 years of age. Many veterinarians recommend routine blood work to assess your pet's organ function on a periodic basis.

11. How do you handle emergencies? It is always easiest to ask this when you don't have an emergency. Find out what number to call if they handle their own emergencies and if not, find out the number and location for their emergency clinic of choice. Hopefully you won't need it, but if you do, you will be glad you have it.

12. What is the best way to communicate? Do they accept and answer emails? Can you renew prescriptions or order food in this manner? If so, which address should you use? Or is all their business handled over the phone?

13. How about microchips? Should your pet have a microchip and if he already has one, can they test it to make sure it is working properly? Microchips are small devices implanted under a dog's skin that helps to identify them if they are lost. Make sure you document the number and the microchip company and number. Ask if the chip is registered to their practice or to you. It is far better to have it registered directly to you.

14. Is there anything you can do to make your pet more comfortable? This applies most often to senior pets. Does your veterinarian think your pet is in pain? If so, is there something they recommend? There are many new arthritis medications that work well in dogs. Some additional comfort measures may include a special bed for arthritic pets or a ramp to aid arthritic pets to get in and out of the car.

15. Is your pet at risk? Is your pet at risk for anything that you can prevent or any disease that you should know about? For example, unsprayed dogs are at risk for life-threatening uterine infections that can be prevented by spaying. Some dog breeds are at risk for arthritis and certain types of cancer. Ask what problems your pet might be at risk for and symptoms you should watch for.

Tips on Getting the Most Out of Your Visit

To get the most out of your vet visits, make sure you have information about your pet to help the vet better understand your pet and your dogs problems. If you are visiting your veterinarian for any type of ailment, make sure you know details about the ailment. Your veterinarian will want to know when the problem started, how often it is a problem, and if there are associated symptoms. For example, if your pet is vomiting, they will want to know when it started, how frequent it occurs, if there is blood or other abnormalities, and associated symptoms such as if there diarrhea, if your pet is not eating, or if your pet is acting lethargic?

Finally, make sure you are honest. Don't underestimate what table scraps you feed or anything else about how you care for your pet. If you missed a dose of medication, don't be embarrassed, just tell them the facts. Your veterinarian is there to help you to provide the best care for your pet and they can only do that if they know the facts.

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Signs of a Vet Who's Not Right for Your Pet

To me, one of the signs of a really good veterinarian is the willingness to say, “I don’t know,” followed by, “but I’ll find out.”

Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, has grown and advanced to the point where it’s simply impossible for a single doctor to know everything. And though your physician needs to know only one species — homo sapiens, as in us! — we veterinarians come out of school with the foundation for treating anything on four legs, plus birds. That’s why when people tell me they’re worried about a veterinarian who says, “I don’t know,” I tell them they should worry about the veterinarian who always has the answer. That’s just not possible, and even the best specialists are sometimes stumped at first.

But if not having all the answers isn’t a reason to wonder about your veterinarian, what is? Here’s what I look for in a veterinary hospital, because it says a lot about the standards of care throughout the practice. In discussions with colleagues, I wasn’t surprised to see versions of the same come up repeatedly.

Rule No. 1: Bad odors are a bad sign. Though smells do happen in hospitals, they shouldn’t stick around. I am big on the concept of “odor-neutral.” While I kidded the folks at the VCA specialty center in Sacramento about a couple of oh-so-slightly crooked diplomas, I was noticing something else. Or rather, not noticing it. There was no smell. Despite being a large, 24/7 operation with pets in exam rooms, surgery suites, the intensive care unit and kennels and cages, the entire operation smelled like … clean. Not cleaning supplies, just clean. I was so impressed I asked to meet the maintenance supervisor and gave him my compliments.

Rule No. 2: I always say, "Don't trust a live pet to a vet with dead plants." When I bring this up to veterinarians in my talks, I tell them I realize they they're not typically the ones taking care of the waiting room greenery. They may even skip the front entrance and come in through a staff entrance so they don’t get a “pet’s eye view.” I get that, but I don’t buy it: If a veterinary hospital's staff doesn’t notice the plants need water, I have a hard time trusting the place to be attentive to my pet’s needs while he’s there.

My attention to detail is well-known, but I’m not alone in this. My colleague Dr. Bruce King, owner of Lakewood Animal Hospital in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, regularly sits in the bathrooms to check out the view. Cobwebs? Get the broom! And I once visited the spectacular VCA Sacramento Veterinary Referral Center and pointed out only half-jokingly that a couple of the many, many frames with impressive credentials weren’t hanging absolutely straight. The next time I visited, I couldn’t find a single frame that was a millimeter off — and I tried.

Rule No. 3: Communication problems are trouble. I touched on this in my article about working with the same veterinarian as often as possible, but the issue of rapport is just as important with a veterinarian you’re meeting for the first time, such as in an emergency clinic. You need to feel comfortable asking questions, and you should be offered all the options for your pet’s care to consider. This is true even in an emergency situation, when the veterinarian will ideally get your pet stabilized and then go over the situation and options with you.

What if your veterinarian breaks one of these rules — or all three? I wouldn’t leave over an occasional lapse. We’re all human, after all. But a consistent problem with "know-it-all-itis," a lack of attention to detail and an inability to communicate? Chances are that veterinary practice is out of practice when it comes to being the best they can be. It may be time to look elsewhere.

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The 7 Things Pet Owners Do That Drive Veterinarians Crazy

It’s a tough subject to tackle. After all, veterinarians do plenty of annoying things, too. But this particular post is all about you — well, not you, but the annoying yous among you. Not that most of you deserve this, but some of you just might! So without any further hedging, let me launch into the most annoying things pet owners do.

1. Answer Their Cells

Need I say more? Is there anything more annoying and disrespectful than answering a phone call while your vet is delivering her state-of-your-pet’s-health address? OK, it might be worse if you dug out your phone to initiate a call midexam, but only by a smidge. They’re both just plain rude.

2. Kids Behaving Badly

I dearly love children (mine mostly, but yours can also be cool), but very young or badly behaved children are an unnecessary liability in a veterinary environment. It’s hard enough to keep pets safe — much less kids. So unless your children are old enough and/or chill enough to hang out in a vet setting, they should probably stay home.

One exception: If your pet has an emergency and you have no one to care for your kids, you are most definitely excused. We’ll understand. Call ahead and we may even assign an employee to keep tabs on them so you can concentrate on what’s wrong with your pet.

3. Let Their Dogs Run Amok

This is not the dog park. And, for the record, retractable leads should remain in the shortest, locked position for the duration of your visit. After watching an innocent human get taken down in the lobby by an overlong retractable line, I decided there should be a law against these in vet hospitals.

4. Carry Their Cat

I've never been able to fathom why some owners insist upon bringing their cats to the vet hospital without carriers. Some will use harnesses, which won’t help them when faced with a truly motivated dog. And, honestly, I’d never blame a dog for attacking a cat in a veterinary hospital environment. After all, these cats are probably giving off cornered prey vibes that some dogs can't ignore.

Cats are more comfortable in uncertain environments when they’re enclosed.

5. Deny, Deny, Deny

It drives us crazy. These clients effectively employ us to be their experts, then they put up roadblock after roadblock: No, my pet is not fat. No, my pet’s teeth are not rotting. No, he’s too old for surgery. No, her claws are not too long. It’s exasperating!

I can understand why you might (and should!) question your veterinarian about health care issues that are important to you, but why come to the vet if you’re unwilling to have an open dialogue about what your pet needs and doesn’t need?

6. Refuse to Pay

It happens more often than you’d think. Pet owners agree to hospitalization and procedures — and later refuse to pay. Sometimes they say that they forgot their checkbooks. Other times they claim to have misunderstood the payment policy, even though there’s a sign in almost every veterinary hospital in the United States that explains payment is expected when services are rendered. I even had a client cancel her Amex payment after we saved her anemic cat’s life with a blood transfusion.

7. Don’t Follow Through

There’s no shame in admitting that you can’t medicate your difficult cat or trim your unruly dog's toenails. Veterinarians are pet owners, too. We absolutely understand why you might not be able to manage these not-so-simple tasks.

But you’ve got to let us know if you can’t, don’t or won’t do what we say. After all, we have plenty of alternatives to offer. And there are few things more frustrating to a veterinarian than failing to treat a patient who could have been helped if only the vet were able to employ some ingenuity.

Want to give your veterinarian the best holiday gift ever? Resolve to be a more honest, open, conscientious, cat box-carrying, child care-finding, cell phone-shirking client. For my part, I promise to offer you a New Year’s post on my personal mea culpa. It’s a fair trade, don’t you think? That is, as long as I do as I say and follow through.

The LA Dodgers continue to pile up the wins, having just completed a sweep of a 3-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals...a team we've always had trouble beating.  We still have the best record in the Major Leagues...even though 4 of our regular players have gone on the disabled list.  Team play has really come into focus as a different player seems to be the initiator each game.

The San Antonio Spurs have a 3-0 game lead in the 2nd round of the playoffs, with the 4th game being played as I am finishing this issue.

I've been nurturing a basil plant for the past 3+ weeks...outside during the day and inside at night.  We've grown quite close during that time, with me referring to him as "Rathbone" would be nice to keep him around for the whole summer!

~~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.~~

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