Get the Most Value from Your Vet Visits

Going into a vet visit can be a scary and stressful time for you and for your cat. Visits can be even more stressful if you feel unprepared, or if you’re left with too many unanswered questions at the end.

Suggested Reading

Working With Your Vet is a really informative page that has lots of ideas on how to talk to your vet, as well as advice on what to look for in a vet if you find you need to switch vets or find a vet to provide a second opinion.

Evaluating Vets on the Internet has some advice on what to look for if you’re evaluating a new vet.

Questions to Consider When Choosing a New Vet has some good information to help you decide if switching vets makes financial sense as well as some additional details for how to evaluate a vet based on internet information.

Speaking for Spot is a book written by a veterinarian that focuses on how to be a good medical advocate for your pet. The book focuses on dogs, but the same principles apply to cats as well. There’s also a related website with (free) additional information, including Advocacy Aids and a list of published articles you may be interested in reading.

Come Prepared

Lists of what you’re doing now

Whether you’re seeing a familiar vet or seeing a new vet for the very first time there are some things you should always bring to your visits.

  • List of current medications and/or supplements including:
    • Name (e.g., Prednisolone)
    • Dose (e.g., 2.5 mg)
    • Frequency (e.g., every day or QD [QD is the pharmacy abbreviation for Every Day])
    • Reason for taking (e.g., chronic diarrhea)
  • If your cat was previously taking a medication or supplement that has been stopped, be sure to include that in your list with the date and reason the product was stopped
  • If your cat is taking a supplement that has a lot of possible varieties, such as B Complex, bring a copy of the label of the specific version you are using
  • List of regular food and treats, and, if you measure food, list the amount used at each feeding
  • Records of any home monitoring you do, such as blood sugar results, weight history, blood pressure, etc.
  • If this is your first time seeing this particular vet, providing them with a complete patient history is important
    • You can provide copies of your own records for this, or ask your previous vet to send a copy of your full file to the new vet
    • If this is a specialist vet or a new primary care vet, giving them copies of the records a few days before the visit will give them a chance to review you cat’s case before meeting you
    • Optionally, you can provide them with the list of your questions ahead of time too

Lists of your questions/concerns

Before your visit, write down every single question you have for your vet. If the question occurred to you based on something you read somewhere, make note of where/what you read so you can refer to it later. Keeping track of exactly where you found the information you’re questioning will also help you so that you can go back and review what you read and compare that with your vet’s answers. Give yourself space to write answers to your questions too. Ideally, bring 2 copies of this with you, one for the vet, and one for yourself. When you’re with the vet:

  • Ask every question on your list, one at a time
  • Write down the answer the vet tells you
  • Ask clarifying questions
    • If the vet says something that you don’t understand, don’t just say “okay” and move on to the next question. Tell them that you don’t understand and ask them to explain it again
    • If you don’t understand a second time ask them to explain it differently
    • If you’re not sure if you understand something correctly, try explaining it back to the vet in the way you heard/understood it so that they can correct you
  • If you’re shy or nervous about asking questions, practice first
    • Take the written out list that you have and practice reading the questions so you get comfortable with saying them out loud
    • Don’t be embarrased if you don’t know how to pronounce something

Citing “Dr. Google”

The following advice was taken from Fear Free Happy Homes

Very often it’s not what you ask, but how you ask that gets the most out of your veterinary visit. The staff may become frustrated by pet parents who base questions solely on “Dr. Google” research that may not be applicable or that could be dangerously wrong.

That said, veterinarians want pet parents to be invested in caring for their cats and dogs. Recognize that the doctor and many of the staff studied for many years to attain the expertise to offer medical advice and care. You know when something’s “off” about your pet—but the vet has the tools and ability to figure out the cause and what to do about it.

By all means, explain to the doctor your concerns, and what research you may have done. Here’s how to ask:

“I found out (XYZ) from (what source). Could that have any bearing on what’s happening with my pet?”

Citing Random Internet People

Another frustration vets often face is when a pet parent quotes (or mis-quotes) a random internet person’s advice. This problem can be especially prevalent if you’re part of an online support community and receiving advice from many people.

If you’re bringing this information to a vet visit there are a few things you can do to make sure your questions are taken seriously.

  • Start with your internet person and ask for their sources or rationale behind what they are advising
  • Do your own research to see if the suggestion makes sense before bringing it to your vet
  • When asking your vet, start off with saying something like “I’m not sure if this is true but I heard…” or “I don’t know if this really applies to my cat, but I was told….”

Leave Prepared

When leaving the vet’s office it is important that you understand your next steps.

  • Are you waiting on lab results?
  • Do you need to schedule your next appointment now? Or are you waiting on something (test results, trial of a new medication, etc.) before scheduling?
  • Do you have any “homework” to complete for the vet?
    • e.g., monitoring blood sugar for a set period of time, making diet changes and logging the results, etc.
  • Are you waiting on a new medication?
    • Is this something you will get from your vet? Online? Local pharmacy?
  • Were all your questions answered?
    • If not, is the vet going to be following up with you on the outstanding question(s)?
    • Do you need the vet to give you a written summary of the visit and the answers to your questions?
      • Most vets won’t offer this, but if you ask they should be able to do it
      • Summaries of visits can take a couple days to be completed, so don’t expect to walk out of the appointment with a printed copy the same day
  • Did you remember to get copies of any test results that were covered that day?
    • Keeping copies of all test results is important, so get in the habit of asking for copies every time you have tests done.