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.