I’m OK, You’re OK (How to Improve Your Vet Experience)

Feb. 6th | Posted by 24 comments

My daughter is writing a blog post relating to being a good client so I thought I’d put my two cents here. There are several things you can do to improve the experience you have when taking your loved one to the vet. In this post I am going to go over some common gear grinding things that can occur at the veterinary office and how to prevent them.

The Office Hours. Be very familiar with your clinic’s hours. Some clinics have rotating staff so that they have fresh staff no matter the hour. Others do not. So realize that if you rush in just before lunch time or closing you are dealing with people who are hungry and/ or have somewhere to be such as picking up a kid. If you just got home from work and your vet closes in 20 minutes and your pet is sick by all means call or go in. Just be very polite and ask if there is somewhere they would like to send you. They will probably be grateful and bend over backward to help you. Then if you have to go see someone like me at an emergency clinic you can also grab a copy of your medical records.

The Owner. We legally have to have the owner bring the pet in and OK treatment. If it’s just a stray you feed in order for us to treat it you will have to take financial responsibility. Oh and a big source of frustration to vet offices is having five different people calling wanting updates on a particular pet. Please pick one person in the family to be the communicator. It will really help the patient care.

The Estimate. We legally should give you an estimate. It allows you to sign for and OK the procedures we want to do. Please do not be offended. Blame the lawyers. Also it protects the veterinarian from getting attacked by the staff or the medical board if someone were to complain he or she was not offering some test or another that someone else thought was standard.

Fluffy White Dog

How much is my bill?

The Bill. Once again related to the estimate. Be upfront with the doctor. If you only have $250 to spend let them know. The worst feeling is running blood tests and x-rays then finding out there is no more money to treat the pet. I have a saying, “X-rays are not therapeutic.”

The Specialist. If you are interested in going to a specialist, be very upfront. We can decide what is best for you and your pet more quickly. For example I will sometimes wait to have specialists do the x-rays sometimes as they may have a certain view they wish and I don’t want you to be double charged.

The Office Visit. The office visit charge is simply to have a physical exam. If you only have that there is not a lot we can do for the pet. Medications will cost at least something. I qualify this by saying that if the pet is not too sick an office visit may help head things off at the pass. But realize the longer you wait and the sicker your pet is, the more effort it will take to right things. I always hate the 6 pm Sunday to 8 pm Sunday slot at emergency. Frequently the pets brought in at that time have been sick all weekend and the owners are now wanting it fixed in an hour so they don’t miss work. This is super frustrating.

Last but not least. Keep a copy of your pet’s records. In particular, the blood tests and medications your pet has been on. You can even now get CD’s of your pet’s x-rays. This can save untold trouble and expense.

24 comments Add a comment

  1. D Bingham

    Great post – just common sense, really. Sad to say common sense doesn’t seem so common anymore.

  2. Valerie

    I forgot to put anything about aggressive dogs. There have been so many bites and near bites when the owner didn’t tell or downplayed a dog’s tendency to snap.

    • Jessica

      Hi, great read! I also really really loved your daughter’s post :)

      I have a question regarding “aggressive dogs”. I have a 1 year-old French Bulldog I adopted from the FBRN. He lived with two Frenchies as a foster and his foster mom never spoke of any issues regarding aggression. We frequently visit the dog park where I stay VERY close to him at all times to ensure that nothing bad is going down. We have never had a problem beyond a few times him being bullied by bigger dogs.

      My fur babe and I are currently enrolled in a dog manners class… the trainer told me and all the other dog owners there that my dog is aggressive. She makes a point to make sure my dog is not anywhere near the other dogs during our sessions. Is “aggressive” a fancy term for excited or does she really think my dog will bite another dog? Is she seeing something that I am not and do I have a right to upset that she is stigmatizing my dog this way? The class is taking place out our favorite doggy boutique. My pup and I used to love to visit and peruse the treats especially now when it’s too cold for the dog park. Now, I’m scared to take him to the store bc people may be afraid of him.

      Sorry for such a long specific question.. this has just been bothering me a lot for 3 weeks and I’m trying to convince myself that I am overreacting and being sensitive.. Since you have experience you are probably better person to ask than my friends ;)

      • Valerie

        Hi. Well I am puzzled too. Frenchies are not usually known for instigating trouble, but they certainly would stand their ground. A dog manners class sounds like a very responsible thing. I would ask the trainer why she says that your dog is aggressive so you can learn to detect some of the signs for yourself. Overall the really upsetting bites I see are when the 2 dogs who get angry at each other are different sizes. As far as the vet offices go we have specific instances where the owner knows the dog has snapped at people and they don’t let us know. This doesn’t sound like your case.
        Oh and food, food is the major reason I see for dog fights. Even when the dogs have been friends for a really long time. But hey look at the fights our kids have gotten into over Halloween candy.

      • Nanette

        I work at a dog training centre and in training lingo your dog would be classified as “reactive.” I would definitely ask the trainer her experiences in dealing with reactive animals & if it’s limited, if she could refer you to a reputable behaviorist/veterinarian like Dr. Sophia Yin. Best of luck!

        • Valerie

          I just checked out her website. http://drsophiayin.com/. I didn’t have time to spend on it now but I like that it seems to be more about being in communication with the animal vs drugging them. The DVDs might really be what you are looking for.

          • Jessica

            Thanks for all the good pointers! We’ve been going to the manners class a few weeks now so I think I finally feel comfortable speaking to the trainer about what she means by “aggressive”. Like you said, I should learn more so that I can pick up on those social cues she may detect that I may not. We went last night and I noticed that there seems to be several shy and timid dogs so perhaps my dog putting off the “I will stand my ground” vibe makes them feel more uncomfortable. Again, I just wish she would use another word or describe to the other owners that she doesn’t necessarily fear that he’ll bite them or the dogs (or if she does.. I need to find out why she thinks this).

            I will look into the website and again, thanks!!

        • Joseane

          Absolutely! But, as Bree said, it also depends on the owner. In fact, there are some pets that vets can’t even treat pprleory, where it is up to the owner completely (hermit crabs, for example).A very good book for any dog or cat owner to have is Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs Cats by, you guessed it, Richard H. Pitcairn. It talks a lot about proper feeding and how you can give them a balanced diet without buying packaged foods. And even if you’re not up for making their food, there is a great wealth of information on different diseases and the symptoms, even a guide for animal cpr.Good food is always good help. (I recommend any of the Natura foods like Innova, California Natural, and EVO.) Take the chemicals out of the food and they are much healthier for much longer. They even cause less allergic reactions to those who are allergic.

      • Lisa

        Sometimes the instructor warns the other people in the class that your dog may be aggressive (reactive is generally more like it) and to give them room just to prevent anything negative from happening. I have a cattle dog I do classes with all the time, if she gets bored in class she looks around the room and picks out the most submissive dog and then decides she’s going to have them for lunch. My job is to never let her get bored, because when she’s focused on me she’s amazing, and when she’s not she’s a terror. Am I embarrassed my dog gets called out? A little, but I get over it and it makes me work that much harder on her training to overcome her re-activeness. I’d rather have people give us space then have someone park their dog right next to her and get an ugly surprise.

        • Akki

          Yes, but only if you are very lucky and if you NEVER let your pet be around other pets. Animals pass colds and many other ilneslses, some more serious, even deadly, than others. Example: Puppies can easily pick up the fatal Parvo virus from contact with other dogs’ feces i.e. anywhere anyone else’s dog has pooped if not adequately vaccinated. If you feed premium quality food, keep the pet at a healthy weight, brush its teeth frequently, provide exercise, etc. you increase your chances of not needing vet care, but animals have genetic predispositions to diseases, just like people so sometimes no matter what you do, they get sick- you hear of people who never smoke getting lung cancer, etc. It’s really not fair to the pet to not get checkups, vaccinations, etc. in my opinion they are totally dependent on your care and cannot speak for themselves. As always, preventative care is the best approach.

      • Khan

        It depends on the owner.But it is POSSIBLE.But a lot has to do with the care and kngldewoe of the owner.Those who have good long experience with animals are usually the ones who can take care of a pet without seeing a vet.BUT,the animal will most likely only live up to its AVERAGE life span but not its MAXIMUM life span,which are two very different things.I will not write a long answer to you as I know it will bore you and I will be out of topic.Just to simply answer your question:YES,it is possible for an animal to live a good long and healthy life without any vet appointments.cheers!

  3. Pingback: How To Be A Good Vet Client « Pet Project February 14, 2013

    [...] mom has also written a piece on her own blog on being a good vet client.  I was really struck by this piece of advice: Be upfront with the doctor.  If you only have $250 [...]

  4. Catlover from the Northeast

    Thank you. That is an awesome point about letting the vet know your budget and they will be willing to work with you. I remember when my oldest cat had 3 broken ribs and 3 hernias. I only had a part time job and was living off my parents. The vet referred us to a specialist. My divorced parents were splitting the bill, my mom said my dad could set the limit on what they would pay, and my dad told me to call up the specialist and tell them “we” would pay for treatment as long as it was under $1000. So I called and the receptionist answered and I said that and she started asking me questions and telling me sensible things like payment varies with treatment and I burst into tears because that was all my dad had told me to say and I didn’t know what else to say and all I could do was just tell her that. This was *after* I had had a huge argument with my dad to just let me take my beloved cat to the specialist. (Quote: “You know, in the 50s, cats didn’t get medical treatment, things just…happened.” Meaning they let them die.) The day of the appointment came and we drove for 45 min to get to the specialist’s clinic, they did tests, and we waiting for the estimate. I had been spending the whole time trying to figure out a way to get the (male) specialist vet alone because I was sure my dad wouldn’t pay and I was literally going to try to offer sexual favors. I hadn’t had intercourse yet so I thought it might be worth something, and I would totally suffer pain if it would save my cat’s life. I couldn’t even look at the vet when we were waiting for him to speak and then he gave the estimate – at exactly $1000. I looked up like he’d thrown me a lifeline.

    Sometimes the family is divided on whether or not they want to be assholes, and sometimes people lose their jobs after having adopted pets. It can be hard to defy your family members also, especially if you just got out of a stint at the psych hospital some months ago.

    All I can think of is that whole time would have been so much easier if my dad had assumed the vet would be decent enough (I won’t say “human enough”) to work with him and we could have all been upfront about things and actually communicated like we had common sense.

    My cat is still alive today and going strong. He stayed in a huge dog cage in my room for several months so he couldn’t leap or climb on things and then stayed inside my apt for several months for recovery before I let him out again. (He was very unhappy about this.) He has an area on his left side where there are no ribs between his skin and his internal organs, and he STILL gets in fights, he spent his whole recovery time playfighting with my younger cat (the only other cat he has ever liked) so he could develop a fighting style that let him protect his vulnerable spot. And then he resumed his happy life going around intimidating all the other cats on the block. I love him. He is so tough that I found him after he broke the ribs (I still don’t know how he broke them) because he waited a couple days to see if he’d live, then he WALKED HOME. I didn’t know this was unusual until the specialist told me. This cat is still my favorite living creature in the world.

    • Valerie

      What some people don’t understand is that some of the things we do are very costly to us. For example the supplies to do a blood transfusion. Therefore I simply cannot give that away. However I can offer a less certain course of therapy that could save your animal as it is worth the risk.

    • Michelle

      Absolutely, but this takes a lot more effort and knoelwdge on the owner’s part.For example, an un-spayed cat will have to be watched carefully so she never escapes and breeds. Or a dog with no parvo shots, would have to live in a pretty isolated, yet still safe and proper environment away from other dogs, and should always remain on leash control. The owner also must be away of proper nutrition, and be able to answer any questions they have with their own research, rather than simply asking a vet.If an animal does get sick, it is very easy for it to die. This is the same case as way back in the day when people used to live to 30 years old, and died from having the flu. So it is a little silly to let your pet die when a preventative shot is all you would need to do, but it is al part of the risk. For non-lethal illnesses, there are some homeopathic helpers (depending on the animal and sickness) than may help cure the animal.So not impossible, but downright stubborn. Animals are able to survive in nature, so if you imitate those conditions, then it’s not impossible.

  5. Adrienne Barnard, DVM

    Dr. Sophia Yin is an excellent behaviorist, and has many videos and explanations on how to deal with behavior. She’s multi-talented also, and is the author of the Small Animal Veterinary NerdBook. :) Any information you can obtain from her, or her pupils is terrific. These days I see way too many trainers that took a “2-week training course” or still believe in the old-school punishment theories. Positive reinforcement/benign neglect is coming around slowly, but I wish it’d come faster.

  6. Saiph

    Thank you for this article. I think all pet owners should read it. As an ER vet tech, I’ve seen all of this in action-these attitudes are the #1 cause of compassion fatigue in the veterinarian and the hospital staff when it comes to emergency work.

    Regarding Cat Lover’s post-please don’t think about offering sexual favors to vets in exchange for a break on a bill! I have seen clients do this before. You can get fired as a client for that, plus you’re putting the vet in a REALLY awkward position! Most vets working in a group practice, whether specialty or not, have no control over the prices of the procedures they are recommending. Prices are determined by the practice owner, whether an individual or an organization (such as VCA or Banfield) Veterinary products are not overpriced-they are often the same treatments, procedures, and medications that people receive. Think about how much an orthopedic surgery would cost you if you didn’t have health insurance, and you will realize that the price of that $5,000 TPLO surgery on your dog is actually very reasonable for the quality of care your pet will get.

    Please discuss with your vet what your budget is, and they can often find alternative diagnostics and treatments to match that budget while still helping your pet. (Now don’t expect miracles-vets can’t treat for free, either.) The estimate simply reflects the ideal/recommended course of treatment. It is not set in stone.

  7. Doc Ellis 124

    Greetings Dr Valerie

    Shared on my FB site, along with the ‘HOW NOT TO BE A DICK AT THE VET HOSPITAL’ article by your daughter, Claire Lower.

    Thank you for writing these essay.

    Doc Ellis 124

    btw- Doc is my name because I exhibit propensities toward polymorphene usage…

  8. Doc Ellis 124

    I wrote these. I meant to write this.

    • Dairell

      It’s possible. I have a nbmuer of pets myself, and I can’t afford regular check-ups and such for every one of them. However, you should always have a minimum of $200 emergency money, because accidents do happen, and you can’t always fix them yourself. Vet bills are very, very expensive, and you’ll be glad you had atleast some money put away if something does happen.

      • Aldo

        Yes, this is very possible!! But you also must unrndstaed that sometimes they get illnesses that you can’t prevent, such as dog cancers and such.BUT, take chinchilla’s for example; they rarely ever, ever need to go to the vet and they can live up to 20 years!!Yes, this is VERY possible, if that’s what’s meant to be.

  9. ErikaF

    Something I went thru last year – be realistic about your pet. When my cat was getting on in years (16+) he had chronic kidney disease and had gone blind. I told my vet that much as I loved him (the cat, not the vet (tho he is cute… but I digress) considering my cat’s age and condition, I was not going to go thru major life-prolonging measures. I couldn’t afford it, my cat would have been miserable (if not worse) and it would not have prolonged his life much. So when he got heart disease on top of everything else, I simply put him in hospice care at home. I researched the conditions, I spoke with my vet, and I knew the realistic scenario. If your pet is in the final stages of kidney disease, think hard about the expense and effect that major treatment will have on it and you and assess it realistically. I’ve had friends spend thousands (5000+) for chemotherapy on a dog’s aggressive cancer with a recovery rate of less than 20%. Being realistic about this is not fun by any means, but it has to be done.

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About Me

Dr. Valerie Patton, DVM
After decades in animal medicine, I've experienced everything from C-sections on cows in rural Mississippi to emergency room care in sunny California. I hope my funny escapades and pet care advice helps to make life with our furry friends all the more enjoyable!
-Dr. Valerie Patton, DVM