I’ve learned a few things during the past 22 years practicing veterinary medicine. I’ve learned to always be polite, no matter how curt a pet owner may act. A good vet listens, looks, and feels more than they talk. And the best vets know when to trust their gut no matter what the high-tech test results say. I’ve also learned there are five important questions I need to answer during almost every visit.

Question 1: What are you feeding your pet?

The single most important decision a pet owner makes each day about their pet’s health is what they choose to feed him.

Every vet should ask about your feeding habits: what brand of food, how much you feed, how often, and where your pet’s food bowl is located. These basic questions will help your vet advise you on the best nutrition for your pet’s lifestyle and life stage.

Question 2: When was the last time you administered heartworm preventive?

Heartworm disease kills untold thousands of dogs and cats each year.

These 14-inch long worms are transmitted by the innocent prick of a mosquito bite. The treatment for dogs is challenging and costly; there is no cure for feline heartworm disease. I prefer combination heartworm and flea preventives to make administration easier and save money.

Modern monthly heartworm preventives also protect your pet against internal parasites that can infect people such as roundworms and hookworms. I’m really concerned about roundworm infection in humans, especially young children.

Question 3: Have you noticed any lumps or bumps?

If you observe, feel, or think you’ve imagined a suspicious growth or discolored patch of skin on your pet, have your vet check it out. Immediately.

My veterinary career memory is littered with too many tragedies of “I could’ve helped if the owners had brought the pet in sooner.” In many forms of cancer, a few days or a couple of weeks can determine life or death. The same rule applies to coughing, decreased energy or appetite, or any other change in attitude.

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Question 4: Is your pet doing anything that bugs or annoys you?

Barking at neighbors, jumping up on guests, the occasional accident in the house? Behavior problems rarely burst on the scene, they typically escalate over months or years.

The time to correct niggling behaviors is when they’re just beginning. Too many pet owners are embarrassed or think the problem isn’t “vet-worthy.” There’s never a behavior I consider insignificant. Subtle can become significant quickly.

Question 5: Do you have pet insurance?

While this may seem like an odd question for your vet to ask, I have a simple reason for asking: I want to eliminate economic euthanasia.

A 2008 survey found that 95% of veterinary practices reported they offered limited treatment because they feared the client couldn’t afford the care the pet needed. Innumerable dogs and cats are euthanized simply because the owner can’t afford veterinary care. Pet insurance can help mitigate the costs. That’s why I’ve been asking this question for the past ten years. I hope you answer “yes.”

These are five questions I think every veterinarian should ask pet owners. There are many more important questions based on the pet’s unique circumstances. If your vet doesn’t ask you these questions, I recommend you ask them to your veterinarian. A close, open, and informative bond with your veterinary healthcare team is the best way to ensure your pet receives the finest care possible.

May 22, 2014
Pet Health

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