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5 Questions to Ask Your Vet

5 Questions to Ask Your Vet

5 Questions to Ask Your Vet

Here's a great article from the New York Times, Apr.29, 2019 edition that I'd like to share with you.

Whether you’re a lifelong pet owner or a first-time adopter, a trip to a rowdy and crowded vet’s office can be a frazzling experience. I was once so distracted by my dog Sutton’s incessant licking of her lips, an indicator of stress, that I forgot all about my mental checklist of questions until after the appointment ended.

If your attention is easily diverted by your pet’s antics or you get nervous around doctors, make a plan. To ensure history doesn’t repeat itself, I now save my questions, along with my pet’s medical history and dietary notes or troubling symptoms, to my phone ahead of every visit.

dog and cat with vet

Dr. Leni Kaplan, a clinician and lecturer with Cornell’s Small Animal Community Practice, said in an email interview that owners shouldn’t feel embarrassed by coming in with a list of questions. “Veterinarians have pets, too, and have often faced the exact challenges our clients face,” she said. “The more questions we can answer, the more successful owners and veterinarians will be in delivering the best care possible.” Here’s what both novice and experienced pet owners should always ask their vet at their next wellness exam.

What should I be feeding my pet?

Browsing the scores of pet food options on a store’s shelves — each one enticing you with images of real ingredients and happy-go-lucky pets, and labeled with marketing buzzwords such as “handcrafted” or “grain-free” — can be overwhelming. Your vet can steer you toward the food that’s ideal for your pet’s age, breed, size and activity level.

“Veterinarians can and should offer advice on feeding, not the high school kid at the food store,” said Dr. Karen Louis, a veterinarian and owner of Metro East Vet in Belleville, Illinois. “Some pet food companies have hired marketing teams that are positively brilliant at confusing pet owners.”

How’s my pet’s weight?

My dog Sutton’s four-legged sister is a fluffy Maine-coon mix named Tanzie. For a time I attributed Tanzie’s robust appearance to her thick coat — until the day a friend called her “fat.” Even though I couldn’t see the chonk, my vet later confirmed my cat was indeed overweight.

“It can be difficult to assess a pet’s weight if they are fluffy and even harder to notice changes in weight when we see our pets every day,” said Dr. Karen Fine, a veterinarian with Central Animal Hospital in Leominster, Massachusetts.

No kidding. A 2018 clinical survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported that 55.8 percent of dogs and 59.5 percent of cats are overweight or obese. Among all pet owners surveyed, 68 percent said they wanted their vet to recommend a routine or maintenance diet for their pet.

Dr. Fine added that weight gain can put pets at risk for diabetes and heart disease (not to mention shorten their lifespans, according to a study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine). Being underweight, in contrast, may point to a parasitic infection or chronic illness. So ask your vet about what the changes in your pet’s weight mean and, if necessary, the best way to get things back on track. 

How much exercise do they need?

Exercise helps people bond with their pets, aids in the pets’ weight loss and curbs behavioral issues such as furniture scratching or trash rummaging. Although all pets need daily exercise, professionals agree the amount varies by a pet’s age, breed and medical history.

Puppies that get short bursts of energy throughout the day, known as “the zoomies,” need several daily play sessions or short walks to tucker them out, which is safer than one long session on their growing bodies. Samantha Aline Pierre, a licensed veterinary technician with Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners, said that “large breed dogs, living in the city, should be walked two to three times a day” in addition to engaging in regular play. But sedentary adult dogs such as Chihuahuas and Great Danes may need less physical and mental stimulation. And short-nosed dogs such as bulldogs have respiratory issues that make exercise difficult.

Most indoor cats need about 30 minutes of play a day, divided into two sessions. Pierre favors cat-sized hamster wheels, although any exercise tool will do. Fishing-pole toys with feathers, crinkle balls and puzzle feeders should do the trick if your cat isn’t trained to leash-walk. (Wirecutter, the product review site owned by The New York Times Company, has recommendations for dog-walking harnessesleashes and cat-enrichment toys.)

A veterinarian can offer an exercise regimen appropriate for your pet, as well as warning signs of overexertion so you know when it’s time for a cool-down. They may also refer you to an accredited animal behaviorist or trainer for further insights into your pet’s ideal activity level and how to manage behavioral issues.

How do their teeth and gums look?

Pets are adept at hiding their pain, so some owners may overlook dental care until symptoms become unavoidable. Stinky breath, rotting teeth or loss of appetite can mean periodontal disease, or worse, an infection in the heart, known as endocarditis. Your pet’s doctor will check for early signs of infection at an annual wellness exam and propose a revised treatment plan.

“Similar to people, dogs and cats develop periodontal disease if their teeth are not brushed daily and oral health is not maintained,” Dr. Kaplan said.

Can you explain my bill?

Pet owners trust professionals to guide them on what’s needed to keep pets happy and healthy. Yet the recommendations aren’t always affordable. Last year the American Pet Products Association reported that the average routine vet visit cost $182 for cats and $257 for dogs — and that surgical visits cost almost double.

The best veterinary clinics are up front about the costs of treatments they recommend as well as the associated benefits and risks. If the quoted fees turn your face pale, tell your vet about your budget so you can agree on a cost-effective treatment plan that won’t compromise your pet’s well-being. If you have pet insurance that you’d like to use to offset some of the costs, keep in mind you’ll need a detailed receipt to submit to your plan for reimbursement — only a few insurers link up with clinics directly to share billing and payment info. (Wirecutter recommends Trupanion’s plan for most cats and dogs.)

“Veterinarians are trained to offer the best, but not every owner can afford the ‘Cadillac treatment,’” Dr. Louis said. “If something doesn’t make sense on the estimate, ask. Many times the ‘Honda Civic treatment’ works fine.” 

Questions go both ways

Before you get to your questions, expect your vet to ask about your pet’s diet, behavioral changes and prescriptions, such as anxiety meds or pest preventives. To ensure you don’t forget anything, jot down the food and medication names, feeding frequencies and dosages.

Documenting your pet’s routine and any questions you have ahead of time ensures that you won’t get rattled by your pet’s nervous behavior at the clinic. “Since our pets can’t talk, it’s up to us to give the vet as much information as possible,” said Kim Crawford, the president of Friends with Four Paws, an Oklahoma-based animal rescue group. “You are the voice for your pet; don’t settle. Your pet’s health and well-being are in your hands.”