You and Your Pet

Office Visit 101

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The relationship between a pet and its parent is more than a relationship of ownership; it is a relationship of love and trust. Pets are an integral part of the family. Because they are so much more than owned objects, you and your pet’s relationship with the veterinarian and his/her team is crucial. There are four main aspects of what to expect during your pet’s appointment.  The key to your pet receiving the best care is good communication between the veterinarian/team members and the pet parent.

Office Visit Part 1: The first aspect of the office visit begins with getting your pet’s vitals and basic information, along with any specific concerns from the pet parent. A veterinarian technician will typically weigh the pet, take its temperature and check respiratory and heart rate. She will then visually evaluate the patient for immediate concerns, like problems breathing, that would trigger them to take immediate action. If the patient is stable, then basic information is gathered related to medications used, flea control, heartworm prevention, activity, environment and diet. Once this information has been obtained, the technicians then focus on information related to any problems or concerns. The communication between the technician and the client at this stage is beneficial to the veterinarian and facilitates getting necessary information. This dialog, which seems routine, is often the catalyst for the pet parent to have additional thoughts, or details, of what is occurring.
You may notice your veterinarian asks similar questions to the tech, and may ask them in multiple ways. The doctor is trying to get more details and a clearer picture of what is taking place with your pet. Varying how the question is asked can change how the pet parent answers, which can give the doctor vital clues about what is happening with the pet. Please be patient with your pet’s healthcare team when they seem to be asking the same questions in various ways, as there is a method to the practice.

Office Visit Part 2: After the history and vitals have been gathered, the doctor will perform a physical examination. With few exceptions, a full examination should be performed, even if the problem seems to be located to one area. The veterinarian will talk about any abnormalities found either while performing the exam, or after the exam is complete. It is the doctor’s job to discuss everything that was discovered on physical exam, including addressing the primary concern for the visit.
Office Visit Part 3: With all of the abnormalities from the physical exam identified and explained, the veterinarian will evaluate the information gathered and try to determine the disease and treatment options for the problems found. There are times when the information is straightforward with clear-cut treatments. Other times, the history and physical exam may rule out specific diseases, but still leave possible diseases that need to be ruled out to determine the exact cause of your pet’s illness. This is the best time for the pet parent to ask questions.

Office Visit Part 4: The Plan can be one of the more stressful parts of the visit. The plan of action is when the veterinarian goes over treatment options and/or recommended diagnostic test to assist with the diagnosis. The doctor’s job is not to guess or judge what they think you as the parent are willing, or can afford, to do. The veterinarian will give recommendations for treatments, or further diagnostics, while the pet parent’s job is to determine what parts of the plan they wish performed and for any reason, those they wish not to. This is a stressful event because of the combination of emotions and finances. The willingness to be open with your veterinarian at this time is crucial. As a pet parent, letting us know what your financial concerns or constraints are, and also if there are physical limitations in caring for your pet, help us to formulate the best plan for all involved. The veterinarian can guide you in making decisions about which diagnostic test may give the best chance of an answer, or may be able to modify diagnostics to narrow the window of information to decrease the costs. If you are not able to physically perform a task, whether from your own physical constraints, or from the patient not allowing a treatment or medication to be done, it is important for us to know this so we avoid these options. There should be a clear understanding that the veterinarian is not there to judge you for your choices. The doctor wants to arm you with all the necessary medical information to make appropriate decisions regarding your pet’s health. The veterinary team is there to support you and the decisions you make for your furry family member.

Dr. Rebecca Latham is a veterinarian and practice owner of Heritage Animal Hospital, as well as a single mother and caretaker. Her "furless" daughter, Grace, is 11. Her fuzzy babies are 3 dogs and 2 cats--Cookie, Crystal, Katie Mae, Shadow, and my 16-yr-old Amos. "I am very proud of the family that is Heritage Animal Hospital. We have been loving and caring for both pets and pet parents for 14 years!" Contact Dr. Latham at 843-842-8331 or

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