Fear Free Vet Visits

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Have you ever dreaded going to the vet, knowing that your pet is going to be stressed out or not behave as well as you would like?

Good news! With Fear Free, it’s possible for most dogs and cats to have a pleasant or even enjoyable trip to the vet. Veterinary professionals and practices who are Fear Free Certified have extensive training in how to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress—ensuring that you and your pet have the best experience imaginable.

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How to Become an Exceptional Veterinary Client

Earlier this year, my 15-year-old cat, Ivan, had a behavioral upheaval that required several veterinary visits, tests, medication, and weekly follow-up calls to his veterinary team. Because Ivan's condition required tweaking until we found just-the-right remedy, I felt like a nuisance until my trusted veterinarian gave me the highest compliment. She said I am a loving, responsible caregiver to Ivan and Natasha and a good, valued client they enjoy working with. Her words touched me but they also reinforced my belief that I chose the best veterinary partner for my cats' health care. Your cat or dog is a member of your family and you want to ensure he has the highest quality of life possible by giving him the best of everything: food, enrichment, and veterinary care. Following the suggestions in "Use Your Senses When Choosing a Veterinarian," you've researched your surrounding area and found the veterinarian who best shares your philosophy about caring for your pet. Whether they have fur, fins, feathers, or scales, all pets require veterinary care, and you and your veterinarian are partners in making decisions about your pet's health and wellbeing. Below are some tips that make you a better partner in your pet's health care and make the veterinary team look forward to seeing you and your pet.

Be Considerate

Arrive on time, or a few minutes early, for scheduled appointments. If you're running late, give a courtesy call to let the clinic know when to expect you. If you need to cancel a scheduled appointment, do so as soon as possible so your original time slot can be given to another client. Once you've checked in for your appointment, turn off your cell phone as a courtesy to everyone. This helps you and your veterinarian focus on your pet’s visit without interruption. Transport your cat in a carrier and leave him in it until you're in the exam room. Cats feel vulnerable away from their home territory and levels of fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) normally rise. The carrier offers cats security and safety from other cats and dogs, and limits exposure to infectious diseases. Write a list of questions/concerns ahead of time. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification. It's important to your pet's health that you fully understand all the information you're given. Write down the answers so you don't have to rely on your memory for all the given information. "Having a written list of questions ahead of time helps me know we've gone through all of your questions before I wrap up, and then my nurse doesn't have to come find me in another appointment. It expedites our time together and ensures that I am focused on your concerns and then I can focus on the next patient and client," says Amy L. Pike, DVM, DACVB, owner, Animal Behavior Wellness Center and Fear Free certified professional.

Step Up

Take your pet in for regular or semi-annual exams, not just for vaccinations or emergencies. It's responsible care and it helps establish the vet-client-pet relationship (VCPR). You get to know your veterinary team better, they get to know your pet better, and your pet gets more comfortable with the veterinary experience. If your veterinarian prescribes medication for your pet, give it as directed. Dr. Pike says: "If that means a course of antibiotics, use the entire amount given as not doing so contributes to antibiotic resistance in pets. If it's a psychotropic medication to help your pet, I do not need to or want to see them ‘natural.’ If I have prescribed it to you, use it." We're all human and life happens. If you missed a check-up, forgot a dose of medication, or your pet got into some funky substance, legal or otherwise, be honest about it. Truthful information helps ensure your pet gets the best treatment possible.

Communication and Trust

In the VCPR, the focus is first and foremost on the health and welfare of the pet, not egos and eccentricities. Healthy communication is the cornerstone of mutual trust. Effective communication is essential between you and your veterinarian. Conversations and information sharing must be an open, two-way flow, in a clear, concise manner. Listening well is an integral part of communication. Email and texting are excellent forms of communication because they provide a written record for both partners. For example, with Ivan's new medication I kept a daily log that included date, medication name and dose, time administered, and a note of any behavioral changes. At the end of each week I emailed the log to my vet to be part of Ivan's medical record. It made the weekly follow-up phone calls easier because we could discuss his progress based on the observed behavior, tweak the medication, or change it, if necessary. We have to make many difficult, and sometimes heartbreaking, decisions for our pets whether it’s about nutrition, vaccinations, medication, or a procedure. We can make the best decision possible when we fully trust our veterinary partner and they trust us. Dr. Pike says, "This job is really tough on us emotionally so knowing that we are partners in your pet's health care helps us do the best job we possibly can. Knowing that the client trusts us implicitly and will follow all of the directions and asked all the needed questions gives me and my staff joy; it reiterates to us why we do this job--to help pets and their people." This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed, is an award-winning writer and 2017 recipient of the prestigious Fear Free Pets Award. She writes about pet care, health and behavior, and cats in the arts. She’s also the author of “Cats for the GENIUS.” Her feline muses are Tsarevich Ivan, a joie de vivre silver tabby Siberian, and Natasha Fatale, a full-time diva dressed as an “anything but plain” brown tabby. You can read more about Ramona and her work at www.RamonaMarek.com.
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Use Your Senses When Choosing a Veterinarian

Finding the best veterinary care for your cat care is critical. The veterinarian you choose will be a crucial contributor to your cat’s wellbeing throughout life and should be someone you can work with to ensure that your cat receives the best care. But what are the indicators to look for when vetting a veterinarian? Here are some ideas, gathered from my 20-plus years of caring for cats with an assortment of veterinarians.

Good Management

Put your senses of sight, smell, and hearing in gear when you walk in the door. Your observation skills, your nose, and what you hear from staff, other clients, and animals in the lobby will all provide you with impressions about a veterinary practice you are considering. Is the clinic clean? Do staff members take steps to ensure pet comfort, such as separating dogs and cats, even if it’s just with a visual barrier, or taking animals into an exam room right away? Do the staff seem happy to be there, and do they radiate that good attitude when dealing with animal and human clients? Do records and billing seem organized? Are queries to staff answered clearly and within a reasonable amount of time? Does the practice seem to care about customer service? Do administrators and veterinary personnel work together seamlessly, at least from a customer perspective? Make an impromptu visit sometime when you don’t necessarily have an animal to bring in, perhaps to pick up a retail item. How do operations seem to be flowing at that moment? Is the staff harried or on top of their game? (Recognize that a day at a busy vet office is often stressful and fast-paced, but use your intuition. Are you picking up good vibes, or not-good vibes…and why?)

Are Cats Respected?

I have had instances in the past where it seemed that the veterinarian and staff regarded cats as second-class citizens. What does your veterinarian know about cats? If it seems that you are more interested in or possibly more knowledgeable about some aspect of cat care than a potential veterinarian might be, that may be a warning sign. Take a look at the retail area, if the practice has items for sale. Are there cat-related items or food for sale? Are they things that you would consider buying? More important, how does the veterinarian interact with your cat? Do they understand feline quirks and qualities? Do they know how to put a cat at ease in a veterinary situation? Is it obvious that the veterinarian likes cats? Watch interactions between your veterinarian or the staff when they handle or interact with your cat. Remember that cat-savvy veterinary teams may play hard-to-get or act aloof with your cat in an attempt to seem less threatening, so don’t be put off if they don’t seem to give your cat a lot of love.

Question and Answer

Does the veterinarian answer your questions fully? Be prepared with good questions ahead of time; it’s easy to forget what you wanted to ask about when you are in the middle of a visit. And remember that asking good questions is just as important as finding a veterinarian who will take time to give you good answers. Your veterinarian should not make you feel rushed when you have questions and should not indicate that your questions are a bother. You are the voice for your cat, and your veterinarian needs to allow space for that to happen. Practice good observation of your cat at home, so you can share your observations with the veterinarian and help add to the picture of your cat’s care. If you have an idea for something related to your cat’s care or diagnosis, is your veterinarian willing to take it into consideration? Is your veterinarian willing to collaborate with other providers or specialists if needed and keep you in the loop? While you may actually have to experience a certain amount of care before you can form an opinion about your veterinary provider, these criteria can give you a sense of the quality of the veterinary care over time. Your veterinarian should always fully explain procedures, options, and choices, and you should feel that you are being listened to without being rushed.

Word of Mouth

Referrals can be a great way to evaluate a business. Ask friends, neighbors, or coworkers if they use a particular veterinary practice and what they think about it. Ask why they like the practice. Consider the source. You’ll probably want to listen to the opinion of someone whose standard of cat care is similar to yours. Your veterinarian is a critical member of your cat’s team. Make sure you’re using your powers of observation to vet your vet! This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Catherine Holm is the award-winning author of cat fantasy fiction and cat-themed memoir. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and six well-loved cats. Learn about her work at www.catherineholm.com.
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Get The Most From Vet Visits: What Questions To Ask And How

Ever get home from a vet visit and realize you aren’t really sure when to start that medication or what exactly the next step is for your pet’s treatment? Happens all the time. Here’s how to get the information you need. When I worked as a veterinary technician many years ago, pet parents asked questions all the time, but rarely to the veterinarian. Folks often acted embarrassed, or waited to telephone from home hours or days after the appointment. Perhaps they felt intimidated by the doctor or feared their questions were dumb. Maybe the busy schedule of the clinic offered little opportunity to ask. Whatever the reason might be, remember that there are no stupid questions when it comes to your beloved cat and dog. As your pet’s top advocate, it’s up to you to arm yourself with expert advice and information to provide the best care possible. Here are some tips to be fear free when asking your vet questions.

Why You Should Ask Your Vet

My career as a veterinary technician began long before “Dr. Google” or “Alexa” answers. Today, some pet parents rely too much on the Internet to answer questions or only seek the opinions of friends. Even though I am not a vet, I often am asked pet health or care questions. Here’s what I say when ask about pet health or care concerns. While some online resources like vet schools are terrific, they can offer only very general information and nothing specific about your pets. Your veterinarian has personally examined your dog and cat, possibly run additional tests, knows what treatments have already been tried, and has the most specific and detailed information available.

When To Ask Your Vet

The veterinarian may have a busy schedule, so plan ahead for your questions. The best time to ask questions is at the beginning of the exam. Ask follow-up questions at the end of the visit before the doctor leaves the room. If you’ve researched from the Internet or friends, you may think you know what’s needed, but ask anyway. Your pet is unique and could have very different needs than Aunt Freda’s dog’s. Once the doctor has examined your pet and explained any treatment, be sure to ask for any necessary clarification before you leave the clinic.

How To Ask Your Vet

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?”

What To Ask Your Vet

Specific questions vary depending on why your pet needs veterinary care. Whether the exam is routine or you have a health concern or emergency, consider asking some or all of the following questions, depending on the situation: Is my pet a healthy weight? Should I change my pet’s food? How and why? What can I do to help him/her maintain dental health? Which preventive flea/tick products do you recommend, and why? How often should he/she receive vaccinations or titers for which diseases? Why does my pet (fill in the behavior), and is that normal? What can I do about it? Can you recommend a trainer/behaviorist/groomer/boarding facility? When should I be concerned about (behavior, activity, appearance/demeanor) change? What are the testing or treatment options? Will they cure, manage, or delay the problem? How much will the test/treatment cost? Can you please explain the bill to me? If this was your pet, what would you do? When a pet suffers an emergency or a serious diagnosis, even when you ask questions and receive answers, it can be hard to remember everything. Many doctors provide written reports but they may be written in technical language harder to understand. Most folks these days have the ability to record conversations. So before your veterinarian starts explaining, ask: May I record our conversation to refer to later? When would it be convenient for me to call back with any questions? Your veterinarian will appreciate your concern for your pet and your zeal to understand more about his health or condition. And your pet will be the winner because you will be better able to make good decisions about care. This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
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