You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Apr 21, 2010 : 10:35 a.m.

Getting the most out of your pets' veterinary visits

By Lorrie Shaw

dog, wirehaired, pointer,

Lorrie Shaw / Contributor

Have you ever taken your pet to see the veterinarian for a routine (or not so routine) visit and really didn't know what to expect, what to ask - or where to start? You're not alone! It can be a little overwhelming when taking your pooch or cat in, especially if you're a new pet owner or you think that your pet might be ill.

Here are a few simple recommendations to greatly improve the quality of your time in the exam room:

*When calling to schedule, be sure tell the staff the nature of your visit. If it's for a checkup and vaccinations, tell them. If you're bringing in your pet because you've noticed something might be wrong, be specific. Typically more time will be scheduled in those cases. Also, if your pet has a cough, do not hesitate to say so before bringing your pet in.

*If you are seeing the vet for the first time, request that your previous vet send your pets' records over before your visit, or bring them with you.

* If there are physical or behavioral changes, and you're unsure if they may or may not be an issue, make a point to jot some notes down before your visit and bring them with you to discuss. Even better, keep a journal of things that you notice - includes dates, times of day, frequency, etc. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember everything, and it will help. Talk about any changes like eating habits (less or more food, vomiting), water consumption (again, less or more), behavioral changes (think about anything out of the ordinary... tendency to hide, acting withdrawn, hyperactivity, lethargy, appearing confused, bumping into things, etc.)

* Know what kind of food your pet is eating - brand, type, quantity.

* Regularly check the integity of your pets' stool. Yes, really. After a bowel movement, have a look at the consistency. Is it firm, loose, milky, signs of blood, grainy, tarry/dark? This should be done on a regular basis; a lot can be surmised from what is present. Conveying this to your vet can be extremely helpful in diagnosing problems. I give a BM report in my daily logs to clients when I'm pet sitting, for that reason.

*Weight changes can tell a lot about health. Talk about any ups or downs that you notice. Weight loss/gain, even without an increase or reduction in food consumption, can signal something that needs attention.

*Bring a list of medications that your pet is taking. This includes supplements - even glucosamine or fish oil. Bring the bottles in with you.

*Don't be alarmed if your pet behaves differently during your visit. I recall on one occasion years ago, our cat Silver was suddenly deathly ill... not eating, high fever and lethargic one morning. After arriving at the vet, he seemed completely capable.

Along with the aforementioned tips, Dr. Amanda Critchfield, DVM of Chelsea Animal Hospital also gave me more ideas to help you partner even more effectively with your vet. When asked what one of the biggest difficulties that she finds in her practice is, she noted, "The Internet. It's great to be informed, but it's important to not believe everything you read." She went on to say that there is a lot of information out there, and it's not all accurate. She suggests that if you do read something, print out the information and bring it with you so that it can be discussed.

Dr. Critchfield, who - along with Dr. Paula Rode, DVM - practices largely with canines, felines and occasionally rabbits - offered that logging onto is an excellent resource for pet owners to research for general animal health and medical conditions, medications, therapies, surgery and behavior. The site is fueled with information by specialty veterinarians, so you get the accuracy that you need.

Another aspect that makes getting resolution to problems difficult in the doctor's experience: non-compliance. When your pets' doctor recommends a solution to a health problem, it's important to follow that advice, treatment plan and prescription directions. She noted that things can seem overwhelming, or you can be uneasy about administering medication, like at-home injections for diabetes. If you don't understand, or don't feel comfortable - do not hesitate to speak up. There might be a more palatable way to deal with an issue or room for adjustment in giving medicine or even tips on how to deal with a fussy, uncooperative pet to help you help them. Whatever the reason, follow the vets' advice to get the best outcome.

Equally important, speak up if there are other factors affecting the way that your pet can be cared for - especially if the reason is financial. In this economy, when a crisis arises with your pet, you might find it hard to pay for the care that they need. Voice your concerns. Your vet may be able to put together a treatment plan that is less expensive, and/or better understand where you are coming from. Communication is key.

What were the best pearls of wisdom that I got in my discussion with the doctor? YOU know your pet better than anyone. Although it might feel as though you're all thumbs when it comes to addressing your pets' welfare, you are the first line of defense in arming your vet with the information that they need to make decisions in putting together a treatment plan that is effective. "Be confident in your knowledge about your pet; trust yourself." Sage advice, I'd say.

Look for more on my discussion with the doctor in a forthcoming post. Chelsea Animal Hospital has office hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 8 a.m. -8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

Following her bliss, Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting and lives in Dexter Township with her family that includes a small brood of pets. As a contributor in the pets section for, she's always striving to provide interesting, fresh information on pet related topics. A ravenous foodie, in her free moments Lorrie can be found huddled in her kitchen standing over a hot stove and listening to any good music. Contact her by e-mail.



Thu, Apr 22, 2010 : 7:24 a.m.

Fantastic information and something every pet owner should read. Non compliance is a real issue and from my years as a veterinary technician, I noted that MANY people would end a course of antibiotics early or skip doses of heartworm prevention in order to save money. I really liked the point about poor information on the Internet. Another trusted source is where more than 100 veterinarians are available in a dynamic pet forum community to help with your specific pet concerns. And...the best part is that it's absolutely free!!

Kevin Poulter

Wed, Apr 21, 2010 : 3:20 p.m.

I completely agree. I also recommend getting good written instructions before leaving to make sure what you heard was what was said. Kevin