Taking the Pet out of Petrified



I've lived in the same area for 25 years and have had multiple pets and multiple vets. Until now, I have not found a veterinarian who really understands a pet parent's needs. In fact, some of the vets I've visited didn't even understand my pets' needs, because they were not listening when I described the pet's behaviors, or they didn't read the notations of other vets in my pet's file, or they were too "busy" to get my pet's prescriptions right.

I could be more specific (and horrific!) about some of the experiences for which my pets have suffered because of inattentive veterinarians. But I'm not going to dwell on them because I want to share with pet parents how excellent veterinarians run their practices. I have finally found such a veterinary group and I hope you do too.

Here's a list of questions you should ask yourself about your current vet's practice.  In my mind these constitute minimal expectations.


Does your vet's office communicate a welcoming atmosphere for your cat, dog, or other small animal?


Vet's reception area

The reception desk is accessible to pets who want to snoop around and meet the front office staff.  (image)

A vet's front office staff represents the ambience of the veterinary practice. A vet's office is stressful to most pets, except for the youngest of them, most of whom learn from experience that the vet's office is not a fun place to go. To attempt to rectify the fear effect, some veterinary offices invite pets to come in just for a social visit and special treats.

Fear doesn't have to come with the territory. The staff should be especially friendly to your pets, talking, calming, petting, and perhaps giving them acceptable treats and making a big fuss over them. 

There should be a large enough waiting area, so that dogs and cats can be separated and even enough room so dogs can be prevented from visiting with other dogs, if that is desirable.

In addition to being pet-lovers, front office staff needs to be efficient, keeping your pets' records, calling for history from other veterinarians, making future appointments, and recording charges and billing correctly. 


Does your vet's office have pet-friendly exam rooms?


Dog on comfy exam table


Is there a comfortable place for your pet to wait for the vet? I don't mean a cold shiny metal examination table. How about a little loveseat or couch where you can both sit? A few puzzles or toys? Most exam rooms are anything but pet-centered.


Does your vet make friends with your pet before examining him?


U Penn vet makes friends with dog client



My new vet entered the exam room with treats, a smile, and a lot of enthusiasm. Then he proceeded to demonstrate how he could make friends, give a thorough exam, and vaccinate my dog without moving him from his comfortable position on the exam room couch. I saw no sign of avoidance from my dog.  He did not pull me out the door or lunge out as he did in the past when we went to a vet.


Does your vet listen to your concerns about your pet during an office visit?

Make notes on these concerns prior to your visit to review with the vet. What are your pet's particular medical issues? What are her behaviors related to those issues? How have you responded to those issues?

When you share your concerns, be thorough but concise, respecting the vet's time. Listen carefully to remarks that your vet makes about his findings during the examination so you get the most out of your visit.  Ask questions. Record responses as soon as possible while at the vet's or soon after you leave.

You will know if your vet heard your concerns by the information he provides that is related to them.


Does your vet conduct a thorough examination?


Vet examination



At each visit, regardless of specific issues you need to report, your vet should check your pet's temperature, pulse, respiration, pain, and nutritional assessment. In addition, your vet should examine your dog's eyes, ears, mobility, dentition, skin, coat, neck and belly.


Does your vet provide thorough information about your pet's illness, medical needs, and estimated expenses for treatment?

Your vet needs to spell out the prescription for your pet's medical needs, including options available for treatment and the pros and cons of each option, including side effects. Ask for options if none are given. You will need this information from the vet, not the vet tech, in order to make your decision about the best path for your pet.

The vet or the vet tech should provide an estimate of fees for all possible choices you have.


Are you sent home with information pertinent to your visit?


Tips to help your dog recover from a broken leg



Is printed material related to your pet's issues? Or is it irrelevant to your pet's current needs? Does material provide instructions on how to administer medications? When to call the office? Signs to look for? Or is material generic advertisements related to other veterinary services offered? (e.g., Did you bring your dog in for a serious allergy problem and come home with information about dental care?)


Does your vet's office follow up with a call to see how your pet is doing?

Or do they call to ask you to rate them on Google or Yelp? (After a single visit, I received one call and two emails from a vet's office asking for social media reviews - without one inquiry about my pet.) My new vet has hundreds of 5 star reviews on social media sites, but no one has ever asked me to write one.


If you have a medical question about your pet, does your vet respond via phone or email?


Vet calling pet client



Mine does. He responds himself by phone or email!


Does your vet do these things? My new vet does! And yours should too.


Here is some good reference material that will give you confidence to expect more from your pet's veterinarian.

American Animal Hospital Association guidelines

Minimum Veterinary Standards Regulations (California)

The Spruce Pets