Insider tips for a Successful Vet Visit

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it feels like to be on the other side of a situation until you are. Recently, I was sitting in the lobby of my dentist’s office waiting for my name to be called. I was feeling anxious because I needed to have a filling done and am a huge baby about needles and dental drills, which is ironic since, as a veterinarian, I perform dental surgery on animals. I can dish it out but I can’t take it. Thankfully, everything went well. But it got me thinking, is this what my clients feel like while they are waiting in the lobby prior to their appointments or to bring their pet in for surgery? A sense of anxiety about what is going to happen? Concern that they may forget to ask about something that is important to them? So I wanted to provide some tips for clients from an insider perspective to hopefully make their next visit to the vet a success.   

Be clear about what you want to bring your pet in for when scheduling an appointment. So often, people call to schedule routine exams for vaccines but they really want to discuss behavioral, skin and other medical issues. The receptionists need to know why you are coming in order to schedule the appointment properly. They may also be able to give you tips on things like what times are less busy at the vet clinic if your pet is anxious or if you would prefer to come in at a quieter time. They are the gatekeepers of the schedule and can be really helpful to ensuring your appointment is scheduled appropriately.

Maintain control over your pet in the lobby. My stomach drops when I see someone come into the lobby with a cat in their arms and not in a carrier (or at the very least wearing a harness and leash). Or an excited dog on a retractable leash several feet away from their owner while a nervous dog in the next chair is trying to hide from the other dog. Consider fixing the retractable leash to a shorter setting or using a fixed leash to keep your dog close to you. Part of my job is to think worst case scenario. And one of the worst things I can think of would be a cat leaping out of their owner’s arms and getting hit by a car outside, or a dog getting bit in the lobby because the owner didn’t have them close by.

Be early. Or at least punctual. Until I started seeing patients on an appointment basis, I didn’t realize how important timing is to seeing appointments on time and not falling behind. No one likes feeling rushed during their doctors appointments. And I don’t want to have to rush through an appointment because a client was 15 minutes late and be worried about passing that delay onto the rest of my day’s appointments. I want to make sure I have enough time to address a client’s concerns about their pet and being late to your appointment can make that challenging. 

Write things down. Know what medications your pet takes and if in doubt, bring the medications with you to the appointment.  Bring a list of questions if you have specific things you want to discuss. If you are not the primary caregiver for the pet you are bringing in, ask the person who is to give you any questions they have. You can take notes on things the doctor tells you that you want to make sure you remember.  

Put down your cell phone. We live in an era of constant contact with our phones. But, if possible, save the Facebooking and texting for after your pet’s exam and discussion with the vet. You have brought your pet in for an appointment and will be paying for an examination. If you can’t pry yourself away from getting to the next level of Candy Crush during the exam, you are only doing yourself a disservice. 

Know your pet’s past. If you are new to a veterinary practice, bring copies of your pet’s medical records. Tell the receptionists who your previous vet was when scheduling the appointment so we can call them to get the records in advance. Knowing pertinent medical history like previous illnesses and surgeries can help ensure we are making the best decisions for their future care. 

Ask questions. Veterinarians go through many years of training, continuing education and learn a lot of things over the years. We love animals and are eager to answer people’s questions about their pets.  Sometimes we may not know the answer. We can research your question and get back to you. It can also be helpful to ask your questions in the beginning of the appointment to make sure we have time to address each one. 

Don’t be afraid to discuss finances. Capitol Hill is an expensive place to live. And as veterinary medicine has advanced, the costs associated with this higher level of care can come at a higher price tag.  You can ask for an estimate prior to services to make sure you are informed about the cost.  If you have financial concerns, ask if there are any less expensive options to a proposed diagnostic or treatment plan. The recommended plan is the one that the veterinarian thinks is best. But, over the years, veterinarians learn how to make a plan A, B and C tailored to each case and each client. We want to work with you to make sure you are able to make informed financial decisions about your pet’s care.   

You are your pet’s advocate and know them better than anyone. By considering some of the above tips, you can make sure both you and your veterinarian are able to work as a team to maximize your experience and ensure your pet receives the care they deserve.

Dr. Brittany Cartlidge is an associate veterinarian at AtlasVet (The Atlas District Veterinary Hospital) 1326 H ST NE. 202-552-8600.  Dr. Cartlidge graduated from the University of Florida School of Veterinary Medicine in 2008.