The Well Cat Book: The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care - Terri McGinnis (1996)
Chapter 6. YOU, YOUR CAT, AND YOUR VETERINARIAN
HOW TO FIND A “GOOD”
Choosing a veterinarian is one of the most important decisions you will have to make concerning your cat’s health. Just as in any profession, there are bad veterinarians as well as good ones. There are no specific rules for finding the best one for your cat. However, considering some of the following points may help you in your search.
Find a veterinarian with whom you feel comfortable. No matter how skilled the veterinarian, you cannot make the best use of the services of someone you dislike personally or feel uncomfortable being around.
A good veterinarian explains things thoroughly and in a manner you can understand. However, veterinary medicine is a career that puts great demands on an individual’s time, and your veterinarian may sometimes seem rushed or fail to explain things thoroughly to you. This is understandable, but if it happens routinely and you are disturbed about it, let your veterinarian know. There is no need for your veterinarian to give explanations in totally technical terms. Medical terminology is more exact but can be confusing, so most matters should be explained in general terms that you can understand. Veterinarians who continually rely on technical language when discussing your cat’s health may be on an “ego trip” or trying to “snow” you, but because they are so familiar with medical terms, sometimes the reason is simply that they forget that you aren’t. Let your veterinarian know if you are having trouble understanding and request a simpler explanation.
Good and bad veterinarians exist in all age groups. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that an older veterinarian knows more and a younger one less, or vice versa. In general, veterinarians who have been in practice for a while have more experience; but remember, not everyone learns from experience. A recent graduate often has better knowledge of new techniques, but may seem clumsy or insecure. Keep these things in mind and try to evaluate your veterinarian on the quality of care your pet receives. The best veterinarians are always improving their skills through continuing education acquired through courses, videos, and journals. The demand to update medical skills continually will sometimes call your veterinarian away from practice when you wish he or she were in. However, a good veterinarian will always provide a referral or a replacement veterinarian for you at those times.
One way to evaluate a new veterinarian is through your first office call. You should see the veterinarian personally, not be required to leave your cat and “check back later” or have veterinary assistants take care of the whole problem. The people who handle your pet, both the assistants and the veterinarian, should seem capable and use a minimum of restraint on nervous animals unless they have made an attempt to “make friends” without success. A thorough physical examination should be performed and questions regarding your cat’s medical history should be asked. Unless your cat sees the veterinarian extremely frequently (more than once a week), a general physical should always be performed at each visit. (Since cats can’t tell us their problems, we have to look for them, and new problems can easily arise from one visit to the next.)
A clean office and new equipment are often indicative of good veterinary care. But don’t be mislead by a fancy “front room.” Most good veterinarians will allow you to see the whole hospital at a convenient time. One who won’t may have something to hide. Some veterinarians have fancy equipment but don’t use it or use it improperly. Veterinarians in small towns or rural areas may not have enough demand to necessitate expensive, specialized equipment in their offices, but even a simple veterinary clinic should be clean and orderly. Again, try to judge your veterinarian on the kind of medicine practiced, not entirely on appearances.
It is as difficult to judge a veterinarian by his or her fees as it is according to the kind of equipment in the office. What is a reasonable fee varies between geographical areas and types of practices. In general, it is fair to expect to pay more for veterinary services at hospitals, where the latest equipment and specialized services are available, since it costs the veterinarian more to maintain such services. (Remember, most veterinarians, unlike physicians, don’t have large central hospitals for patients who need special care and so must maintain their own). If you are concerned about the fee, be sure to ask your veterinarian about it if he or she doesn’t bring up the matter first. Most veterinarians assume it is their responsibility to practice medicine, the client’s responsibility to inquire about the costs. A better rapport is established if you tell your veterinarian at the outset whether there will be monetary limitations. If so, a thorough discussion of what limitations this will place on achieving a diagnosis or a successful treatment can take place before proceeding with a medical plan. (In some states third-party payment, i.e., pet health insurance or pet health maintenance plans may be available. Medical costs are spread among pet owners and can result in lower individual costs for veterinary care. However, many veterinarians believe that the traditional fee for service in veterinary medicine has actually helped keep overall veterinary costs for pet owners lower, since the individual pet owner remains conscious of the actual costs of services, unlike in our human medical system, where patients are covered by medical insurance.) Should there be a fee or treatment dispute you cannot resolve with your veterinarian, contact the ethics committee of your local or state veterinary association and/or the American Veterinary Medical Association Judicial Council in writing. Serious issues of medical competence should also be referred to your state’s veterinary medical licensing agency.
Veterinarians who don’t maintain specialized equipment and expertise must refer some cases. A good veterinarian recognizes his or her limitations. Veterinarians who won’t make referrals when requested may be trying to hide their own inadequacies.
Choose a veterinary clinic that provides emergency service or will be able to refer you to emergency care when necessary. Some communities have central emergency services that work closely with the local veterinarians; others do not. Find out what your veterinarian or the community provides while your cat is healthy so you won’t waste precious time when a true emergency arises.
HOW TO BE A “GOOD” CLIENT
Since veterinarians are people and as such aren’t infallible or tireless, they appreciate consideration on your part. If you keep a few simple courtesies in mind and try to practice them, these signs of appreciation will make most veterinarians respond with their best efforts.
If your veterinarian makes appointments, try to be on time. This keeps the veterinarian on schedule and helps prevent a long wait for others. Avoid “dropping in” with your cat without an appointment; call ahead if you have a sick pet and cannot wait another day. Never drop in for routine preventive care such as vaccination or deworming unless your veterinarian chooses not to use an appointment system. When you make appointments, your pet can be scheduled at the best time for a thorough and efficient evaluation of the problem and you can be saved a long wait. And when you do come in, be sure to bring your cat in a secure carrier or on a leash to prevent mishaps and disturbances in the waiting room.
Avoid dropping your cat off for care unless your veterinarian specifically directs you to. Most people would never consider dropping their child off at the pediatrician’s, but many seem to expect that veterinarians should provide “one hour, one stop” service. Your cat usually receives better care if you discuss the problem with your veterinarian as the examination is performed. If your animal is very sick and it is impossible for you to wait during an office visit, call ahead and discuss the problem with the veterinarian first. He or she may be able to advise you on home treatment, may be able to make an appropriate drop-off arrangement once the history of the problem is clear, or at least may be able to deal with the problem more calmly than if you show up in a rush hoping to leave your pet.
Do not disturb your veterinarian for nonemergency matters at night, on holidays, or during his or her other time off. If you have any doubts about the emergency nature of an illness, call, but don’t call just for general information.
Don’t expect your veterinarian to make a diagnosis over the phone or solely on the basis of a physical examination. And don’t expect the veterinary clinic to be a drugstore, supplying drugs on demand. Competent veterinarians interested in your cat’s health want to examine your pet and may require laboratory tests before prescribing drugs or making a diagnosis, no matter how sure you are of what the problem is. They do this not to “hassle” you, but to protect your cat as well as themselves. If you think the doctor may be performing “unnecessary” diagnostic tests, clarify the situation with a thorough discussion of the information expected to be gained by performing them. Though most veterinarians won’t diagnose over the phone, don’t feel that you can’t even call your veterinarian for advice. Just be prepared with some solid facts. If you can tell your veterinarian whether or not your cat has a fever, what the basic signs of illness or injury are, and how long they have been present, he or she will probably be willing to give you some help over the telephone in spite of a busy schedule. If you can’t supply such information, though, don’t be surprised if you are told that it is impossible to help you over the telephone.
Don’t let signs persist for several days without or in spite of home care before consulting a veterinarian. It is extremely frustrating for a veterinarian to see an animal die from an illness that could have been treated successfully if professional care had begun sooner. And once you have consulted a veterinarian follow directions. It is quite irritating to a veterinarian to have someone complain that a treatment didn’t work, only to find out later that the medication was not used or was used improperly. If you are having trouble, notify your veterinarian, but don’t stop treatment without his or her advice.
A long-term relationship with an individual veterinarian is ideally developed over the years of a cat’s life starting in kittenhood. The veterinarian becomes the cat’s “best friend” in the veterinary clinic and has an excellent opportunity to become familiar with the cat’s normal health and behavior as well as with any medical problems. The cat owner and the veterinarian have the opportunity to develop mutual understanding and respect, which are difficult to establish if you first meet over a serious medical problem. Learn to use your veterinarian as a resource for your animal’s health. Know that help is there when you need it, but use this book, your patience, your common sense, and your intuition to take most of the responsibility for your cat’s health. This book is intended as a tool to help you determine the limits of your responsibility and when you should draw on the veterinarian’s resources. By using it in this way you will be practicing preventive medicine and may forestall illness and extra medical costs before they develop. Remember, your relationship to your cat, your moods, and your attitude toward his or her health and well-being are vital factors in the health of your pet and the effectiveness of your veterinarian. If you can temper your concern for your animal with an objectivity acquired through the knowledge you have gained about health care, you will avoid needless emotional upset and promote the growth of the three-way relationship of health among you, your cat, and your veterinarian.