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10 easy steps to successful vet visits

Owners pay for a veterinarian’s expertise and shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions

[From Tufts July 2011 Issue]

Whether you’re taking your dog to the veterinarian for a routine checkup or treatment of a chronic health problem, you want to get the most from the appointment. Follow these 10 simple steps and you’re on your way to a successful visit:

1 Be aware of your dog’s normal behavior. “A veterinarian will ask about subtle changes in a dog’s behavior,” says John Berg, DVM, at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Cats can hide illness very well, but when dogs have a health problem, it tends to be more obvious.”

2 Be prepared to explain your concerns, but let the veterinarian take the lead in asking questions to focus on the current problem.

3 While many Internet resources, such as those from veterinary schools and the American Animal Hospital Association, may be reliable, others — like a dog owner’s personal blog —

may not. “The problem with the Internet is that much of the information found on it is not particularly good, so owners shouldn’t go into an appointment expecting that their veterinarian is necessarily going to recommend something they found online,” Dr. Berg says.

4 If possible, begin acclimating your dog to vet visits from puppyhood by scheduling regular wellness checks and physical exams. Also, ask the clinic if you can stop by for informal, non-medical visits so he can become comfortable with the staff and surroundings.

5 Always take your dog for a brisk walk around the hospital grounds before appointments so he can relieve himself and release pent-up energy.

6 Take notes during the exam and ask for clarification on any points you don’t understand.

7 If your dog is ill, be patient. It may take some time to reach a diagnosis. There is often a degree of uncertainty in medicine. “It might take two to three days of testing to reach the proper diagnosis,” says Dr. Berg.

8 Ask for advice to help you put the problem in perspective. “Sometimes owners aren’t sure if their dog’s problem is something they should worry about,” Dr. Berg says. “It’s perfectly acceptable to ask a veterinarian, ‘Is this serious?’ or, ‘Is this a problem I should be worried about?’ Owners are paying for information — for a veterinarian’s expertise and knowledge — so they should feel very comfortable asking questions.”

9 If owners aren’t satisfied with a diagnosis, they should seek a second opinion. “A good veterinarian will not be offended by an owner asking whether a second opinion or a referral to a specialist might be appropriate,” says Dr. Berg.

10 Don’t hesitate to discuss treatment costs and options. “Some people feel guilty if they consider finances when determining a course of treatment for their dog,” says Dr. Berg. “For the most part, vets tend to be very good at factoring in finances. Most won’t recommend only the most expensive procedure — they will offer options. As long as an owner understands the potential downside of a less expensive option, it’s OK to make decisions that are partly financially driven.”

The bottom line is that while veterinarians’ primary focus is always the animal, most are sympathetic to owners’ concerns. Be clear about your questions and expectations and you can work as a team.

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