Veterinary etiquette

If you’ve noticed that your pet’s behaviour is off or they are showing worrying symptoms, don’t hesitate to call the vet and schedule an appointment. However, this is just the first step in your responsibility towards your pet and in dealing with a veterinary practice. Your pet’s condition may cause you to act emotionally or to forget important symptoms or information.

To make your vet visits – especially in emergency situations – as smooth and calm as possible (for you, your pet and the veterinary staff), we’ve compiled this handy guide on how best to approach your next veterinary appointment.

Before the vet visit

Pet care costs money. However, do not put off a visit to the vet because you are worried about what it will cost – if your pet has worrying symptoms and needs medical attention, putting it off can make matters much worse and lead to an emergency, which will inevitably cost a lot more. Find out about pet insurance to cover any medical care before it becomes a necessity. This will save your budget and – more importantly – could save your pet!

Make an appointment

You cannot predict nor prevent medical emergencies when it comes to your pets, but for anything else, phone the veterinary practice and make an appointment. Whether your pet has a niggling problem that doesn’t seem to be going away on its own and you just want to ‘pop in’ to get the vet to check it out, or you are scheduling a routine procedure like a dental cleaning, it is vital that you make an appointment with the vet so they can give you and your pet the time and attention required to do the check-up, testing and diagnosis your pet might need.

Simply arriving at your vet’s practice and expecting to be seen immediately is discourteous. The vet may be in surgery or have other appointments to honour. The best way to ensure you and your pet will be appropriately attended to is to phone the practice ahead of time and make an appointment.

What if you arrive on time for your appointment, but the vet is not available?

Veterinarians often have to attend to pet medical emergencies, so there is a possibility that you arrive on time for your appointment, but the vet is not available. Try to understand and to be patient until the vet can see you and your pet. Put yourself in the shoes of the pet owner who has the emergency and realise that you wouldn’t want it to be you, but if it was, you would want others to be empathic and understanding and patient. If you need to wait while the vet is busy, being snippy or rude to the receptionist and support staff does not make the time go any faster or endear you to the practice.

Prepare for your appointment

The vet needs as much information about your pet’s symptoms, the timelines in which they occurred and any behavioural changes you may have noticed. Your pet relies on you to speak for them, so keep a record of any changes in patterns and behaviour you may have noticed. If your pet is vomiting or has diarrhoea, take note of the frequency, colour and consistency, as well as your pet’s behaviour before and after each episode. It may be helpful to take a small sample for the vet to test, but if you are not able to, the next best thing is to take photos with your phone to show the vet. Being able to give the vet as much information as possible about your pet’s behaviour and condition can positively influence the time it takes to make an accurate diagnosis and administer the appropriate treatment.

Remember to bring your pet’s vet card, any medication they have been receiving and any other information necessary. Write it down so you can discuss everything with the vet.

If your pet is scheduled for anaesthesia

If your pet is undergoing spaying/neutering, a dental cleaning or any other procedure for which anaesthesia is required, the vet will ask you to stop any food and water intake the night before the procedure. It is VITAL that you adhere to this instruction. Your pet’s stomach needs to be empty during surgery to decrease the risk of vomiting and then aspirating the stomach contents, which can be life-threatening. Listen to the vet.

During the vet visit

As with any medical appointment, it is important that you be on time for your pet’s veterinary appointment. If something happens that causes you to be late for your appointment, you probably can’t help it, but then phone the vet practice to let them know you are going to be late and confirm the time when you will arrive. If you are late, it’s not the vet’s fault, so don’t expect them to see you immediately when you arrive late. You may have to wait a while before the next open appointment slot. Again, patience and courteousness will ensure you, the vet and your pet have a good experience under the circumstances.

Be your pet’s voice

If you come prepared with the abovementioned information regarding your pet’s symptoms and timelines, it will help the vet to get to the most accurate diagnosis. If the vet needs further evidence, there are palpation and blood tests that can be done, and X-rays and other diagnostic tools that can be used. But the more information you can give, the better, as you know your pet the best.

DO NOT WITHOLD INFORMATION from the vet out of fear that it will make you look bad. For example: many pet owners of obese pets leave out the part where their pet eats table scraps or they can’t resist giving their pets treats or human snacks. Be honest about your pet’s diet and behaviour as this will allow the vet to give your pet the best treatment to restore their health.

Ask for clarity if you don’t understand

When the vet makes a diagnosis and explains it to you, they will try to communicate as best they can what’s going on with your pet. If you don’t understand the veterinary terms and need a better explanation, tell the vet so they can break it down. This communication is vital so that you can understand your pet’s condition and both administer the treatment (where necessary) and change your pet’s behaviour (if necessary). If you don’t understand or if the vet does not explain it well, it’s not in your pet’s best interests to leave the appointment without total clarity.

Home treatment

If your pet’s diagnosis requires you to administer treatment at home and you are inexperienced or uncomfortable with the process, ask the vet for help or clarity. The vet will not expect you to automatically know how to (for example) administer eye or ear drops, change bandages or give your pet oral or topical medication. If you ask for help, they will appreciate that you are actively involved in and dedicated to your pet’s healing or health management.

What if your pet requires hospitalisation?

Make sure the vet practice has your most up-to-date contact information and make sure you are available to receive calls while your pet is in hospital. There are few things more frustrating to a vet than urgently trying to get hold of a pet parent and they are not available or their contact details are incorrect. Make sure you are easily contactable.

After the vet visit

Pay your invoice. The vet has delivered the service for which you called on them, so don’t delay in paying for that service. Like any other business, the vet practice costs a lot of money to run, so when you use the vet’s service for the wellbeing of your pet, it’s only logical that you pay for it timeously and not put the practice under financial pressure.

Follow home treatment instructions to the T

If the vet has given you medication to use to treat your pet, like a course of antibiotics, make sure you administer the medication properly. Make sure your pet finishes the course of antibiotics to avoid the risk of reinfection or complications that may result in an emergency. For any other medication, if the instructions are one pill twice a day, follow those instructions. If you have any doubts after a day or two of treatment, don’t change the treatment at your own discretion – phone the vet to discuss any concerns.

If the vet places your pet on a new diet (for obesity, food allergies, sensitive tummy, or any other medical reason), DO NOT alter that diet. Many pet parents give in to their cat’s mewling or their dog’s pleading eyes for a treat or a bit of human food, thinking they will win their pet’s love with food, when they are actually jeopardising their pet’s health and can even cause them harm. Always follow the vet’s instructions.

Share the care

Work with the vet to care for your beloved pets. They do the best they can to ensure your pet is healthy and happy, as do you, so let that be the goal in your experience with any veterinary practice. Open communication, courtesy and respect go a long way to ensuring your pet’s wellbeing.

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