Visiting Your Veterinarian

This article appeared in the Bagpipes in September 2005.

When we discuss veterinary medicine, our Beardies are the patients, owners (acting on their behalf) are referred to as clients, and the veterinarians are the doctors. I’m sure we could all agree on what constitutes a “good doctor”. He or she must be knowledgeable, technically adept, compassionate, patient, kind, trustworthy, morally sound and a good communicator. So now I ask you, what makes a good client? There are striking similarities between the virtues of a good doctor and a good client. Good clients are knowledgeable about their Beardie’s habits and lifestyle, compassionate towards fellow clients and overworked clinic staff, patient while waiting their turn and answering often repeated questions, kind when communicating with others, trustworthy when reporting facts or giving medicine, and above all else, understanding the limitations and fallibility of medicine. With the right attitude, and the information presented in this article, you can learn how to get the most out of your visit to the veterinarian!

Know what’s normal. Don’t wait until your Beardie is sick to do a health assessment. If you know what is normal for your dog, you may find it easier to discern what is abnormal for your dog. You can evaluate the following items on your own: heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate, body weight, ear color, gum color, breath odor, ear odor, elimination habits, water and food intake, condition of teeth, and discharges from eyes/ears/vulva/penis. Periodically check the skin and run your hands under the coat to look for any unusual lumps or skin lesions. It’s also a good idea to have a baseline CBC (complete blood count) and biochemistry profile done once a year, so you know what your dog’s levels are when he or she is healthy. Be sure to take notice if your Beardie’s behavior changes, particularly if the change is sudden, but don’t overlook gradual changes either. Most Beardies don’t slow down until they are well into double digits, so any earlier signs of “aging” probably indicate something else is going on.

Make an appointment and arrive on time. Make sure you tell the person scheduling your appointment the real reason for your visit. A routine check up may take only 15 minutes, and something like a heart worm check can be handled by the LVT (licensed veterinary technician). A serious problem will require an exam by the doctor and some extra time. If you can’t keep your appointment, do call and cancel since someone else may have been denied an appointment since no time was available.

Be responsible. Keep your Beardie on a leash, and restrict socializing in the waiting area. Other pets may have communicable diseases, some may be aggressive, and others may not need the added excitement or agitation. Illness can sometimes alter a pet’s behavior and most often, not for the better. Animals in the waiting room tend to be stressed and this can increase the incidence of aggression. If you know your Beardie has a tendency to be aggressive with other animals, leave him or her in your car (windows open and weather permitting) and tell the receptionist you will wait outside until the doctor is ready to see you. You may even want to call and let them know that you are outside, and explain why you prefer not to wait inside.

Write it down. Keep a written record of the chronology and frequency of your Beardie’s symptoms. Putting your observations on paper will save time and help your veterinarian decide which problems should be addressed first. Bring your previous medical records with you if you’re visiting a new clinic; and if your dog is on medication, know the name of the drug, the dosage and the frequency of dosing. Better yet, bring the medication with you. If you have downloaded material from the internet, don’t just hand your vet a pile of papers, highlight only those passages which are relevant to your Beardie’s condition.

Be honest. The veterinarian and the staff are not there to judge you. If you feed table scraps, say so. If your Beardie’s exercise consists of walking in your flower beds, don’t claim a daily two mile hike. Since dogs that are stressed and in pain are more likely to bite, please inform the entire staff if your Beardie has a history of biting. If your vet feels that muzzling or sedation is necessary, listen to the rationale. An inappropriately restrained animal can injure itself, its owner, or the clinic staff. It’s not that you veterinarian doesn’t trust you, but liability issues prevent them from allowing owners to restrain their own pets during medical procedures.

Ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian or staff to clarify instructions or explain terminology. Many clinics give written directions at discharge or at the end of a visit. This helps, because when we are anxious or emotional, we don’t always absorb what is being said to us. If your vet does not do this routinely, make sure to take a notebook with you and write down what is being said to you. Have the vet check over your notes to make sure you understood completely. (Perhaps this will encourage him or her to provide written instructions in the future.) When you leave the clinic, make sure you know what is expected of you. For example “How many pills do I give?” “Can I give the medication with food?” “Can I give another dose, if my dog throws up?” Also ask about emergency care for those times that your Beardie needs immediate attention (which seems to always be after the clinic closes for the day). Once you have this information, it might be a good idea to make a dry run to the facility so you’ll know where it is in case you do need to make an emergency visit.

Obey instructions precisely. If necessary, have your vet write out a treatment plan. Antibiotics should be administered to completion of the prescription. (Hint: This means you should never have any antibiotics leftover). Pain medication should be given if the animal appears be in pain or uncomfortable. However it is not always possible to make this assessment, since some dogs are very good at hiding their pain. If your Beardie can be expected to be in pain with the condition he has, or the treatment she has received, it is safer to err on the side of caution and medicate your dog to avoid needless suffering. If you receive orders to restrict your pet’s activity, please restrict your pet’s activity by walking on a leash and using a crate. (Hint: If your Beardie is used to being confined to a crate and trained to potty on a leash before it becomes a necessity, this will make the situation less stressful for the both or you.) Make sure you return to your vet if another visit is recommended, or if the problem persists. Do not assume if the first course of treatment didn’t work, that nothing will work. If your pet is doing well after treatment, call and let your veterinarian and staff know. They may enjoy getting some happy news for a change!

Don’t expect miracles. If you don’t follow your veterinarian’s advice and instructions, don’t expect your Beardie to get better. And if you wait too long before seeking medical care, please be aware of the limitations and fallibility of medicine. It’s a scalpel, not a magic wand.

Money matters. Just like any business, it costs money to run a clinic. Wages, utilities, equipment, insurance, and building maintenance are just a few of a veterinarian’s expenses. If finances are a concern, your doctor may work with you to tailor a treatment plan. Most veterinarians will provide an estimate prior to services being rendered. You may also consider purchasing pet insurance. There are many plans available, so shop around for one that suits your Beardie’s needs.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Do view your vet as a partner. Respect his or her opinion, and expect that he or she respects yours as well. Communication is a two way street, so learn to be a good listener in addition to a good speaker. You are your dog’s advocate since he can’t speak for himself. Trust yourself and your observations; no one knows your Beardie as well as you do! If you bring information from the Internet, highlight the points you want to share with your vet, rather than handing over pages and pages of material.

You should choose your veterinarian with the same amount of care you use when choosing a family doctor for yourself. Veterinarians are as individual as the rest of us. Some have an easy going manner, some are brusque, some explain every detail, and some are too busy to do so. You need to decide which type best meets your needs as a Beardie owner. For more information, visit HYPERLINK "http://www.avma.org" www.avma.org.

I want to thank Linda Aronson, DVM and Cindy Mendonca, LVT for their contributions to this article.

Copyright © 2007 by Maryann Szalka. All Rights Reserved. Contact Maryann for reprint permission.