Your vet: The other most important person in your pet’s life

All animal caretakers know the thrill of getting their pets to the vet. You finally locate Fluffy, wrestle her into the carrier, and drive to the clinic while she makes her unhappiness known with a series of heart-wrenching yowls. Perhaps she even leaves a little “present” in the carrier to make sure there’s no doubt how she feels.

Maybe Fido is a little better. As soon as you say “let’s go for a ride,” his tail starts wagging and he jumps in the car with glee. But when you finally get to the clinic, he refuses to get out. You coax him and tug on the leash until he finally realizes there’s no avoiding this torture, and bestows you with a series of sad glances as the vet pokes, prods and examines.

With all this angst and drama, maybe you start thinking that vet trip just isn’t worth the hassle. But think again. Your vet is your chief ally in keeping your pet happy and healthy throughout his life.

If you need to find a veterinarian, ask animal-loving friends who they use. If you adopted your pet from a shelter, they may provide you with a list of area veterinarians and maybe even a voucher for a free “well pet” exam at one of a number of area veterinary clinics.

Ask yourself what you want from a vet. Is it important to you that your vet be as comfortable with people as he or she is with animals? Do you want a vet who specializes in the care of cats or dogs, or is a generalist fine with you? Do you want a vet who makes house calls? Think about these and other questions, and don’t be afraid to ask them of your potential vet.

Once you’ve found a veterinarian you and your pet like, you’ll both feel better about that annual pilgrimage.

Annual preventive care is as important for your pet as it is for you. These visits will help your vet get to know your pet, and you as well. If she makes friends with your pet when he’s healthy, it will be easier to treat him if he becomes ill or injured. Pets will also get more familiar with going to the vet and will find the visit less traumatic.

I’ve met some people who are cynical about vets. They think every treatment or vaccination a vet recommends is just a way to earn more cash. A veterinarian goes through the same amount of education as a medical doctor, incurs about the same amount of student loan debt as a medical doctor, and can expect to earn maybe half as much as a medical doctor. Veterinary medicine is not a field for the greedy.

It is, however, a field for people who love and care about animals, and who want to help animals stay healthy. You can be a good partner in helping your vet maintain your pet’s health by doing the following:

  • Be observant about your pet’s habits at home. How much does she eat or drink? What ar her toilet habits and normal activity levels?
  • Bring your pet to the vet for annual checkups and recommended vaccinations.
  • Have your pet spayed or neutered.
  • Learn about your animal. Find reference books about your animal or its particular breed, so you can learn how to keep him happy and healthy, and about any potential health issues common to that breed. Your local library can be a great resource here.
  • Talk to your vet if you have questions about your pet’s health or medicines he is prescribed.
  • Cats and dogs age much faster than humans. Once your pet reaches “senior” age (8 or so for cats, and variable by breed with dogs), ask your vet about blood tests and other aging-animal issues.

Your vet truly is “the other most important person in your pet’s life.” By developing a good working partnership with your vet, your pet will be healthier and you’ll be happier.

(This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2007, Your Pet supplement, published by Courier Publications and inserted in six newspapers distributed throughout coastal Maine.)