By Caitlin Ultimo
As dog parents, visiting the vet is an important part of keeping our four-legged family members happy and healthy throughout their lives. We visit our vets, at a minimum, once per year, and many of us wind up seeing them for a variety of other reasons beyond a check up throughout the year. And while we are there, we’ve all seen (or have been!) those people in the waiting room who are not prepared or whose dog is misbehaving.
A trip to the vet’s office can be tense, especially if your pup is sick or hurt, so why add any more stress to the situation? For the sake of your dog (and yourself), the next time you visit your vet’s office, avoid making these common mistakes:
Your pet may be well-trained off leash in most circumstances, but that doesn’t mean he should waltz into the vet’s office footloose and leash-free. “Having your pet off leash upon arrival is particularly frustrating, as everyone is typically on edge,” said Dr. Stephanie Liff, medical director of Pure Paws Veterinary Care in Brooklyn and New York City. “It is best to respect the personal space of other pets and owners and keep your dog close to you.”
Even if your pet is typically well behaved off the leash, his stress or anxiety levels may be heightened and he may not act as you expect. “Your dog may be happy to be out and about on a ‘vet adventure’ or he may be frightened by all of the strange smells that emanate from a veterinary office,” said Dr. Susan Konecny, RN, DVM and medical director of Best Friends Animal Society®. To avoid any potential issues, remember that it is always necessary to leash or harness your dog while in the lobby of your veterinarian’s office.
If you know your dog is not particularly social, or is frightened or aggressive around other dogs, speak up. Your vet should be able to accommodate you and your pet, as their goal is keep everyone in the office safe and well. “No veterinarian wants to have a fight or an injury occur in the place where pets come to be treated, so make certain you don't contribute to this by avoiding a potential problem before it happens,” Konecny said.
Even if your dog is typically friendly, he could be overwhelmed by a waiting room filled with other animals, so try to be aware of your dog's attitude and how it impacts the room, Konecny said. If your dog is very frightened or gets aggressive, you might consider waiting outside or in the car and asking the staff to call you when they are ready to move into an exam room, she said.
Liff added, “in our office, we try to plan for any patients with special needs – if they don't like other dogs, they can go straight to a room instead of sitting in the lobby with other pets.”
An aggressive or unfriendly dog is one thing, but an overly-social pup can also cause problems in a veterinarian’s office. “There may be other pets waiting that are just not that into making new friends,” Konecny said. “Or they may have an illness that causes them to be painful or even aggressive. [A friendly] dog also might accidentally knock smaller pets over or terrorize a kitty in a carrier on the floor.”
If your pet is a social butterfly and you don’t think you can contain his desire to make new friends, ask to be escorted to an empty exam room while you wait, or tell the receptionist or nurse to call you when they’re ready and wait in the car or outside the office.
This may seem like an obvious mistake, but that doesn’t make it any less important. “Arriving on time helps us to stay on schedule,” Liff said. “We can accommodate emergencies more easily if everyone else arrives when we expect them to, but once the appointments start to come in very late, it throws off our entire organization and then it is harder to fit things in.”
This can also lead to longer waits for everyone, which can make pets and clients more anxious. Make it a point to leave early if you have a vet appointment and try to arrive with a 15-minute buffer if possible. This way you can better ensure that things run smoothly for everyone.
“It sounds simple, but we are all so connected that we have a hard time putting down the phone,” Konecny said. “Please put your phone away so you can focus on your dog, what to tell your vet and what your vet is saying. This is important as it can be very difficult to know if the message is being heard when someone is texting.” So, even if you are texting your spouse, parent or friend to let them know your pet is okay, try to wait until after your appointment.
Along the same lines, if you don’t think you can concentrate on what your veterinarian is saying with your children in the room, consider making arrangements to come without them.
This is probably the most important thing of all, according to Konecny. “We need full disclosure [so] if you don't tell your vet that you feed your pet his food and 12 pecan cookies after dinner, [he or she] is going to look for a metabolic cause for a weight problem rather than nutritional causes, so please tell us everything that you know about your pet.”
“Lying is not always as much of a problem as clients not realizing what information is pertinent to us,” Liff said. “We have created posters in our office that help to lead clients to think of what might be important to ask or what information we need to know and have trained our staff to ask questions in ways that help the owners to answer more informatively.” So, be aware of your surroundings while at the vet, as there may be information in the waiting or examination rooms that can help you explain your dog’s ailment more clearly.
If you’re making a visit to a new veterinarian, make sure you bring your pet health records with you, or better yet, have them sent ahead to give the doctor a chance to review them prior to your appointment. Your vet needs to know your pet’s health history and be aware of any medications and supplements that you are giving in order to make an accurate diagnosis and plan safe and effective treatment.
You may want to do anything to get and keep your dog healthy, but sometimes doing so can be easier said than done. “If you are not able to provide the three-times-a-day medicine your vet is thinking of prescribing, it is not going to help your dog, so be honest if you absolutely cannot do something we recommend,” Konecny said.
If you let your vet know your limitations or issues with the method that they are recommending, they can adjust their approach, which is better than adjusting the prescribed plan on your own after you’ve missed doses or exercises.
Your veterinarian wants you to understand what is going on with your pet’s health care. If anything isn’t clear, ask. If it still isn’t clear, ask again. It can be hard (if not impossible) to absorb all the information you are given during a veterinary visit. Ask your vet for written instructions and handouts that you can refer back to when you get home.