One of the biggest parts of being a responsible cat owner is making sure they get the care they need. Getting your cat the right care at the right time is crucial to keeping your cat’s stress level low and ensuring you and your cat have a long life together. If you have never owned a cat or if you have recently relocated and need a new vet, the process of how to find the right vet may seem like an daunting one. It is important to know what your options are as a caregiver, what questions to ask before you go and what questions to ask a vet as part of your cat’s treatment.
Different Types of Vets – What Are Your Options?
The veterinary world has changed significantly over the last 30 years. Those changes have raised the standards of diagnostic care for all pets, but many people are unaware of all the options that exist. In reality the vet profession has become as specialized as most human care we see today and it is important to understand how these doctors can work together most beneficially to meet your cat’s needs.
- General Practitioners
A vet who is a general practitioner is most likely the type of vet the average person envisions when they think of “a vet”. In people, this would be the equivalent of a primary care physician. In reality, most routine needs of your cat can likely be managed by a general practitioner. Unless a vet has made a conscious decision to focus on a specific animal or specialty, they are able to treat a broad variety of pets and conditions.
Most general practitioners are able to perform minor surgeries like spaying and neutering and sometimes have the unfortunate task of euthanizing. They also advise caregivers on routine maintenance tasks such as feeding, cleaning and exercise, or provide prescriptions, if necessary. A general practitioner may own their own clinic or work for a larger organization such as a hospital or humane society.
All vets go through at least four years of veterinary school before beginning their own practice. Some vets choose to pursue an additional education in an animal or specialty to focus on specific pets or certain issues.
If you read the “About Us” section of this website, you know that my last cat, Salome, had terrible anxiety and stress surrounding her vet visits. As a result, I tried many different vet experiences as I re-located around the country in an effort to find a situation that would be the least stressful for her and eventually began taking her to a cats-only vet clinic for the last 10 years of her life.
Animals that have specialized vets include:
- Cows or Pigs
- Exotic (ferrets, rabbits,mice, rats or other small animals)
Often times these specialists work in conjunction with a general practitioner for specific problems that require a more specialized care or surgery. A good GP will know when you are better served by seeing a specialist if your cat is dealing with a specific issue. In many cases a specialist may have more advanced surgical, diagnostic or treatment options. Areas of specialty can include:
- Animal Welfare
- Emergency Care
- In-Home (Mobile) Vets
In our culture, you can have practically anything delivered, and vets are no exception. Mobile vets have been around for a while in most larger cities, but a growing number of pet owners are opting for in-home vets with routine exams and procedures.
A mobile vet can be a good choice for a variety of reasons including, immobile or easily stressed pets, pet owners with limited travel options, multi-pet households or people with hectic schedules. They offer a convenience that you won’t find from a traditional vet, however that service comes at an additional cost and keep in mind you may not have access to all of the services your cat needs.
I did try a mobile vet about 10 years ago with Salome, however, in the end I opted for a cat specialist. That being said, I would not tell anyone not to try a mobile vet as it may work better for your situation than it did for mine and my experience was several years ago.
With any vet be sure to do your homework and look for solid reviews as a point of reference on what people like or dislike, even if you have a recommendation from someone you know. You can tell a lot from people’s description of their vet service. Although cost is a factor in vet services, I wouldn’t recommend making cost your sole criteria anymore than you would go to the cheapest doctor. Once you have decided on the type of vet you would like, what are the most crucial questions for you to determine if you have found the right vet?
What Questions Do I Ask to Find The Right Cat Vet?
Here are some important issues to consider once you have selected a type of vet practice. Some of these answers may be on their website, so you will want to check there first, but you can also call the office or speak with your vet at your first appointment for any lingering questions you may have:
- What hours are you open?
- Are your visits by appointment only or do you accept drop offs or walk-ins?
- What are your policies for unexpected emergencies? Do you treat some emergencies or refer your clients to emergency clinics?
- What general services does your clinic offer? What surgical procedures are done at your clinic and what is referred elsewhere?
- Do you have the ability to perform x-rays and bloodwork on site or will I have to see a specialist?
- Will I have to go elsewhere to fill prescriptions?
- What are typical charges for a routine office visit?
- How often do you recommend routine examinations?
- What is your payment policy? Do you accept pet insurance?
All of these questions should give you a clear picture of the expectations and procedures of a typical vet. With this knowledge, you can decide if it is a practice you would like to try or go back to the drawing board until you find a promising one.
What Do I Ask At My First Vet Visit?
You will want to make your first vet appointment within a week or two of bringing your new kitten home. Your first appointment will be a time where you can really experience the process of a routine visit and have the opportunity to privately discuss any questions or concerns you have noticed as your pet has acclimated to their new environment. Here is a list of questions to consider:
- Am I providing the right type of food and the right amount?
- Is [a certain behavior you noted] odd?
- Is my pet up to date on shots?
Cats should be vaccinated for rabies, distemper and feline leukemia. You may also wish to discuss heartworm tests and preventatives.
- Does my pet need a dental cleaning?
Dental disease is a common problem among pets. Even with great care, my Salome eventually needed to have several teeth extracted in order to prevent severe infections and pain. In fact, it’s estimated that 70% of cats over the age of 3 years suffer from some degree of periodontal disease. If left untreated, this can lead to other more serious health complications with kidneys, liver or heart.
- Does my pet need any blood tests?
Blood tests screen for a variety of issues, including kidney and liver disease, diabetes, cancer and other issues that can be treated if caught early. Regular blood tests will also give your veterinarian a baseline to compare against over time. Having this baseline bloodwork was literally a lifesaver for Salome, especially when she began to have serious kidney insufficiency. It almost certainly extended her life by several years and well worth the expense.
- Can You Please Explain my Bill?
If you ask nicely your veterinarian should be willing to explain why a short visit and routine procedures cost what they do. A good vet may also walk you through potential expenses and give and estimate of services (low/high estimates), as mine does prior to procedures being done. It may seem expensive to you, but it will almost certainly extended your pet’s life and happiness by several years and is well worth the expense.
Just having this information is a great way to ensure that you find a vet with the right temperament and skills to handle your cat’s care for a long portion of their life and saves you the stress of selecting a vet based on trial and error. Best of luck in your search for the right vet!