10 minute read

Questions You Should Ask Your Vet

Do you ever get overwhelmed at the clinic and forget to ask the vet about something that you were wondering about?

Sometimes the stress and chaos of getting our pets into the carrier, the car, and the clinic can distract us from questions we may have about our pets’ health. But just like doctors who treat humans, veterinarians want to know how it’s going in your household. And it’s always a good idea to plan ahead to make sure all your questions are addressed. 

Here are some ideas of the types of questions pet parents might want to jot down (or keep on a phone) to ask their veterinarian.

How Can I Keep My Pet Healthy?

The first step is to make sure your pet is healthy when you get them. You should ask what kind of food they’ve been fed so that when you bring your new‑found friend home, they can get the same kind of food they’re used to eating to avoid an upset stomach. 

The very next question is whether your new pet has ever seen a veterinarian before. If you don’t know, then that bundle of joy you fell in love with may be way more expensive than you thought. Besides making sure that your pet has all the right things to start out their life with you (food, water, shelter, etc.), make an appointment with a vet for a health check‑up as soon as possible so you know what to expect. Make an appointment even if you’ve been told they’ve seen a veterinarian and give you proof. Not everyone is as honest as they seem.

If you don’t already have a vet and you live in Northeast Ohio, we have a list of veterinarians on our website. If you don’t live in Northeast Ohio, you can do an online search by using these phrases or words — “veterinarian near me” as well as “dog” or “cat” — so that you’re finding the right kind of vet. The ideal kind of vet clinic you’ll be looking for can provide “wellness” care (exams, vaccines, and parasite control), as well as dental care, a surgery suite for routine surgical procedures, and an x‑ray machine. 

When you make your new pet’s first vet appointment, tell them where you got your pet (shelter, pet store, breeder, off the streets, etc.) and bring any proof of veterinary care they received with you to your appointment. Your vet will provide a physical exam (it might look like they’re simply petting your furry friend), and let you know if it seems like there might be a health problem going on. They’ll also review whatever papers you bring with you and let you know if what was done before was done by a professional and what kinds of vaccines or parasite control is needed now or in the future. 

What Vaccines Are Recommended for My Pet?

Vaccines are important for pets, especially to prevent rabies because all mammals — like dogs, cats, and people — can get this deadly disease. Vaccines can prevent awful diseases that can make your pet sick and can lead to death. The vaccine’s job is to tell your pet’s body what’s dangerous so that their immune system can be prepared for a real attack. Without vaccines, their immune system is unprepared for a fight, and they may not be able to win the fight because viruses can multiply faster than their immune system can handle. As the saying goes, it’s better to be prepared than to be caught off guard.

Vaccines are given at specific times of a pet’s life, and depending on the age of your pet, may require an initial series of vaccines every several weeks before they need to get a booster one to three years later. Your vet can set up reminder emails or postcards so you don’t miss important vaccines. And sometimes those are printed on your invoice so you can plan for upcoming expenses.

I recently attended a lecture on vaccinations from an expert who put together all the possible professional recommendations that are published. It can seem confusing even for the experts, so one vet’s recommendations may not be the same as another’s. Your veterinarian may recommend specific vaccines based on laws in the area (like rabies), your pet’s lifestyle, what vaccines they carry in the clinic, and their experience on what’s needed for their geographic area. Some diseases are more common in some areas of the world based on climate and their environment, though with people and pets traveling almost anywhere, some diseases are showing up in places they never were before.

So instead of giving you a list of possible vaccines, I suggest you ask your veterinarian which vaccines they believe are necessary, those that are strongly suggested, and those that might be optional. The more your vet knows about your pet’s lifestyle, the better their recommendations will be for your pet. If it’s too expensive for you to get all the vaccinations your vet recommends at once, ask if you can spread out the vaccinations so it’s more affordable. It might not be possible for puppies or kittens, since they’ll need vaccinations starting as young as 8‑9 weeks old, then every 3‑4 weeks until they’re 16 weeks old or later. This can be particularly expensive if you have a litter of puppies or kittens that all need the same veterinary care at the same time.

There are many places that promote low-cost vaccine clinics. As long as there's a veterinarian on staff and they've ensured that the vaccines were stored properly, I don't have a big problem with those. Keep in mind that these vets might find a health problem that will need to be seen by a primary care veterinarian. There are some stores that will sell vaccines that they promote people can buy without a veterinarian. While this is tempting, it's not recommended. Why? Because they may not store the vaccine properly, you might pick something off the shelf that's not meant for your pet, or you might give the injection incorrectly. 

These are some pet lifestyle questions your vet will need to know:

  1. Does your pet spend time outdoors? Where? How long? 
  2. Does your pet interact with other animals? Where? What kinds of animals (other pets, livestock, wildlife)? Does your pet visit dog parks, go to a daycare, or is sometimes placed in a boarding facility?
  3. Is your pet ever outside without you present, such as in a fenced-in yard or wandering anywhere outside?
  4. Has your pet been in a different country or area in the U.S. before? If so, how long ago was that? How long were they there? Did they interact with other animals (pets, livestock, wildlife) while they were there?
  5. Do you plan to travel with your pet outside of the state or country? If so, you might need travel papers and be up to date on all required vaccinations and parasite control before you travel. 
  6. Do you plan to breed your pet? If so, are you ready for the extra expenses of caring for a litter or puppies or kittens? If not, plan to spay or neuter your pet as early as 6 months of age to avoid unwanted behaviors and prevent common health problems. Ask your vet what age is best to spay or neuter your pet. The last thing we need is more puppies and kittens that don't have homes. If you can't spay or neuter your pet, keep males away from females, especially when the females are in heat. And know that brothers will mate with sisters, because, well, they're behaving on their animal instincts. Not social etiquette. 

What Parasite Control Is Best for My Pet?

There are many types of parasites that can cause health problems for your pet and some can cause health problems for you. Some parasites live in your pet’s blood vessels and heart (heartworms), some live in your pet’s intestines (roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms), some live for at least part of their life on your pet (fleas, ticks), some bite your pets for a blood meal (mosquitos), and others like to live in their ears (mites). Those are just to name a few. 

There are many parasite prevention medications out there. It’s best to ask your veterinarian what medication is right for your pet, and they can suggest where you can get products that are the right quality and dosage most affordably. Pharmacy Google can lead you down the wrong path and you may get treatments that don't work or, even worse, can cause your pet more harm.

Some treatments will also be needed for the home environment, such as for fleas since fleas stay on your pet to take a blood meal and then they hop off, to finish their breeding process elsewhere, such as carpeting.

Am I Feeding My Pet the Right Food?

People can get surprisingly stressed out about feeding the right amount and type of food to their pets. Fancy pet food companies do a really good job of marketing their products to make it seem like you’re doing harm to your pet if you don't buy super expensive, fancy food. This recent SNL sketch makes light of the confusion and judgment some people might experience when they purchase pet food. “Have you ever looked at the ingredients in that big name brand dog food you’re buying?” says one woman to her friend. “Why don’t you read them out loud in front of your dog?” 

Your veterinarian can help you see past the marketing in the pet food aisle and choose the right food for your furry friend. Just because an ingredient is listed as a “by-product” doesn’t mean it’s bad for your pet. Also, “grain‑free” can be extremely harmful to your pet, though I hope by now no more companies are selling grain‑free diets.

Not only do vets know more about the quality of pet food and treats than the stocker or cashier working at the store, they also understand your pet’s particular issues with weight and health. 

For example, if your pet is underweight,  or over their ideal weight, your vet might have suggestions on what to feed them, how much to feed them, and how often so the problem can be solved without compromising their health. On the other hand, there are many health conditions that can be helped by feeding a special diet, which might only be available by prescription. 

If your vet says to try a diet because your dog may be allergic to something, feed that diet and that diet only. No treats, no table scraps, not anything else. You’ll need to feed that one diet for weeks or months or years at a time. It can take much longer than you think to get results that improve their health. When in doubt, ask your vet. There are even veterinary nutritionists, so if it’s a tough case, then your vet may recommend a different vet that specializes in nutrition.

Is My Pet Getting Enough Exercise?

A lot of people have questions about the fitness or weight of their dog or cat, and wonder whether they are getting enough of the right kind of exercise. A good number of pet parents struggle with overweight animals.

Talk to your veterinarian about what you are doing to exercise your pet. They might have suggestions for keeping pets entertained in a small space. And they can offer advice about visiting dog parks. 

Dog parks can be a great place for you and your dog to socialize and exercise, but dogs who visit off‑leash parks are more vulnerable to parasites, infections, and injuries. 

Note: Puppies should never go to a dog park until they have their first set of vaccinations. Definitely ask your vet when it’s safe to try it out. Start them out in a park that has a small dog area so they don’t get overwhelmed.

Is This Medication/Test Absolutely Necessary?

I would certainly hope that no vet would suggest a medication that wasn’t absolutely necessary. However, don’t tell your vet what you think your pet needs when your vet says it’s not. I’ve heard that people will give their pets something they read about on the internet, and I shudder every time I read that. Especially if it’s something that hasn’t been shown to be helpful to a pet under any circumstances.  And some of these can harm your pet. There’s too much bad information that gets spread on the internet. It’s tough to keep up with it all.

When a veterinarian recommends a certain test, it’s because they either need more information to make a better decision for recommending a treatment, or they need to confirm information before making a treatment recommendation. For instance, heartworm tests are strongly recommended before any dog gets heartworm prevention because if they are infected with heartworms, the prevention medication could kill your dog. Heartworms are such a big problem that the American Heartworm Society was established in 1974. They are dedicated to educating pet owners and veterinarians about these deadly worms.

When your vet is worried about an underlying health issue, they might want to order blood or urine tests. If they need an inside view of your pet, they may recommend X‑rays, ultrasound, or even MRI. The cost of these tests can add up, so if money is tight, ask if there are some treatments you can try while you get the money you need to follow their recommendations. Most veterinarians will talk to you to let you know which tests and medicines your animal needs — and when. 

If you are concerned about whether something is necessary or if it needs to be done right away, be sure to bring it up. If you forget, you should be able to ask your vet later. Don’t expect an answer right away because vets are busy people who are helping other pets and pet parents throughout their day. If they have an email address, then maybe that might be a way you can ask your question, and they can get back to you when they have time to answer.

If you tell a veterinarian that you won't allow them to do any recommended tests, it's a little bit like asking a veterinarian to look through a crystal ball. This doesn't help the veterinarian make their best treatment recommendations.  So if you’re worried about costs, let your vet know. Sometimes a procedure or test can be put off until the next visit and you can plan for the expense. 

How Much Will It Cost?

Veterinarians or their helpful staff members should be willing to discuss how much things cost so you’re not surprised by the bill. Most offices will print out a detailed summary of each item with the cost. Keep in mind that it’s not the same as when you see an itemized bill from, say, your local auto shop. You shouldn’t try to take items off the list yourself without talking with your vet. Those items are based on the recommendations made by your veterinarian to benefit your pet’s health. 

If you are worried about costs, some vet clinics offer CareCredit or flexible payment options, and will work with you to make sure your pet is as healthy as they can be. Trust me when I say that veterinarians are NOT “in it for the money” because if they were they would have chosen a different profession that’s easier and comes with a bigger salary.

Where Can I Get Help with Veterinary Bills?

The cost of veterinary care has increased with the increase in the quality and standards of care in most places. If you haven’t taken your pet to the vet in a while, you might be surprised by the cost. Unfortunately, the cost of veterinary care can become a burden for many families. Too often, low‑income people end up surrendering pets because they can’t afford them. This isn’t right. What happens is that a pet that was in a loving home is separated from their people and they get placed somewhere else, which is scary and stressful for those animals. And, it's difficult for those people who feel forced to give up their pet.

That’s a shame, because we are learning more and more about the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of living with pets

We’re happy to be a part of a growing movement to address the needs of low‑income pet owners. The One Health Veterinary Care Voucher program has helped thousands of pet parents in Northeast Ohio by providing up to $250 for eligible families to use at participating veterinary partners. 

It Never Hurts to Ask

Whether you have a question about the cost of a visit, taking your dog to the dog park, or the weird sound your cat just made, your veterinarian and clinic staff are there to answer your questions. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out. Our pets need us to speak for them.

Helping more pet parents live happy, healthy lives is why we do this work.

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