THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT THING . . .
By Nancy Marano
Fluffy isn't her usual playful self. She turns her nose up at food, shrinks back when you try to pet her, and runs under the bed to hide. You don't know what's wrong but you think its time to take Fluffy to a veterinarian.
The problem is you don't know a veterinarian because you neglected to find one when Fluffy was well. Now you're in crisis mode and need to settle for the closest veterinary clinic or emergency animal hospital. Neither of these options is best for you or Fluffy, but now you don't have time to check out veterinarians.
This time you were lucky. The veterinarian in the next block diagnosed Fluffy's problem correctly, prescribed the right treatment, and now she's busy chasing her toys.
Before Fluffy gets sick again, though, it's essential that you take time to find a veterinarian you are comfortable with, and one who treats your cat the way you want her treated. This might be the first veterinarian you meet or it might mean a series of interviews. Finding the right veterinarian is second only to your own love and care in maintaining your cat's health and well-being.
"Lola" by Lori Faye Bock
The search process might take a little time, but it isn't as daunting as it sounds. I conducted an informal survey of cat owners to help you get started. The respondents were people who work with cat rescue groups, veterinarians, breeders, and regular cat owners like you and me. All were people who've lived with and loved cats for years. Each was asked what was most important when choosing a veterinarian for his or her own cat.
The highest-ranking qualities were:
1) The ability to communicate. A veterinarian must answer questions, respect the owner's opinion, listen, and share knowledge in layman's terms.
2) Recommendations from other cat lovers about a veterinarian's reputation and reliability.
3) How the veterinarian approaches and handles your cat.
4) The attitude of office staff. Are they friendly, do they remember your cat from visit to visit, are they reliable?
All of these criteria are vitally important when choosing a veterinarian and contribute to developing a professional relationship built on trust and confidence.
The people in my survey also mentioned other points worth considering before you make your choice.
What's the cat-to-dog ratio in the practice? Does this veterinarian understand and like cats or treat them like -- dogs?
Are you allowed to tour the clinic? You should be able to visit the back room, see where sick cats are isolated, and judge how clean the clinic is. If you can't, don't take your cat there.
Are the hours and location convenient to your schedule?
What are the clinic's arrangements for 24-hour emergency care?
Are you allowed to participate in the exam? Are you asked for your opinions of the cat's condition? Are you hurried through the appointment or given the time you need to understand what the veterinarian is telling you?
If you have an older or special needs cat, how skilled is the veterinarian at drawing blood and other lab procedures? Are lab tests done in the office and how quickly will you get the results? What is the veterinarian's policy about talking with you on the phone?
Does the veterinarian share your philosophy about treatment and end-of-life care?
Does the clinic have American Animal Hospital Association accreditation?
What are the veterinarian's credentials?
It may sound like a lot of folderol, but you are entrusting your cat's health to this person. Fluffy can't ask the questions herself so she needs you to be her voice. You'd ask many of these same questions when seeking a doctor for yourself. This is no different.
You expect a lot from your veterinarian but remember that you have responsibilities, too.
Know your cat's medical history and behavior patterns so you know what's "normal" for your cat.
Keep your questions focused; don't waste the veterinarian's time with irrelevant information.
Seek treatment before your cat's illness becomes serious.
Know when it's an emergency situation and when it's not.
Ask questions until you understand the veterinarian's instructions then follow through with the prescribed treatment.
Don't get creative with medication.
The partnership with your veterinarian is like a tripod with you, your veterinarian, and your cat representing the legs. When each does what's expected, the partnership works. This assures the best care for your cat, the least frustration for you, and the most cooperation from your veterinarian.
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