Q: My cat was very sick recently and I took her to the vet for emergency care. It was a very intimidating experience and she is not any better, so I do not know what I should do next. All I want is for her to get better but I feel very overwhelmed. Any advice?
A: Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence with any visit to a doctor, whether it is your own doctor or your pet’s veterinarian.
It is even harder when it’s your pet that is sick because animals cannot communicate to us what is wrong. This can be a very emotional experience and it is normal to feel overwhelmed.
The cost of veterinary care can also add another level of stress to this situation. Most people do not have the benefit of insurance to pay for the medical care, so everything must be out of your own pocket which can cause even more guilt and distress.
First, I recommend finding a veterinarian that you feel comfortable with and who is a good communicator. If you do not feel comfortable with the first veterinarian that you see, then I highly recommend going somewhere else for a second opinion. This is not necessarily because the first veterinarian was wrong but is more for you to find someone that you feel comfortable working with.
Second, make sure you ask all your questions no matter if you think the question is important or not. Write down your questions beforehand so you do not forget any of them. Not all questions can be answered but it is important to ask the questions so that you understand the expectations for the care of your pet.
Third, ask your veterinarian what their treatment plan is for the medical care of your pet. Every doctor is trained to set up a medical plan for the care of a patient, so you can ask very specifically what the plan is and what the expectations are from that plan. This way you are on the same page with your vet as to the medical treatment plan and the expectations for response to the plan. This means that if the first treatment plan does not work, which can be common in more complex conditions, then you have an idea of what to expect as the next step.
Fourth, make sure that you ask your veterinarian about other options and get an explanation of the prognosis and estimates for cost for all those options. With this question, you can determine which choice is best for you and your pet and which choice is most affordable. Unfortunately, not all conditions can be treated inexpensively so if affordability is an issue, let your veterinarian know right away as this information can help determine the best medical plan within your budget.
It is also very important to understand that veterinarians need diagnostic testing to be able to provide any answers. Diagnostics such as blood work and x-rays can sometimes be frustrating as they tend to be expensive and you do not always get the answers you need. But, with every test we get a little closer to the answer, so it is important to ask why your veterinarian is suggesting certain tests and what answers they expect to find with the results of the tests.
Fifth, make sure you are communicating all your concerns to your veterinarian even if it is a small detail. We examine your pet for 15-20 minutes, but you live with your pet so your observations are very important to help us figure out what is wrong and come up with a plan.
Lastly, remember that helping your pet is a team effort so being able to effectively communicate with your veterinarian in a way that is comfortable to you is by far the most important aspect of the relationship.