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Posted Jan 24 2010 11:00pm

If you're reading this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, it means that Desperado and Helpful Buckeye have lost our power and are not able to put together a normal blog issue at this time. Flagstaff is in the midst of a huge winter storm...I've already shoveled 31" of snow since Tuesday morning and we are expecting 8-12" today (Thursday)...another 10-15" tonight, and 8-12" tomorrow. To complicate things, the wind is supposed to be at 40-60 MPH tonight and that might present a problem of power outages...consequently, Helpful Buckeye will offer this shorter version for publication Sunday evening.

More than a year ago, Helpful Buckeye wrote about some suggestions for how a pet owner can go about choosing a veterinarian for their pets. In that discussion, we followed some guidelines that were presented by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which you can read at:
The Humane Society of the United States has just recently published their recommendations for choosing the right veterinarian for your pets. By comparing these ideas with the previous listing, any pet owner should be able to make an informed choice that will help pick the right veterinarian.

Choosing A Veterinarian

A veterinarian is your pet's second-best friend. When selecting a veterinarian, you're doing more than searching for a medical expert. You're looking for someone to meet your needs and those of your pet, a doctor who has people as well as animal skills. The worst time to look for a vet is when you really need one, so plan ahead and choose wisely. Veterinarians often work with a team of professionals, including technicians and qualified support staff, so you'll likely want to evaluate the entire vet team's competence and caring (Helpful Buckeye has more information on this aspect further down the page). You should also consider the hospital's location and fees when making a decision. Driving a few extra miles or paying a bit more may be worth it to get the care you want for your cat.

How to find the right veterinarian
The best way to find a good veterinarian is to ask people who have the same approach to pet care as you. Start with a recommendation from a friend, neighbor, animal shelter worker, dog trainer, groomer, boarding kennel employee or pet sitter. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Veterinarians" and "Animal Hospitals," where you can likely find important information about hours, services and staff. You can also search for veterinarians in your area online. If you're looking for a specialist, ask about board certification. This means the vet has studied an additional two to four years in the specialty area and passed a rigorous exam. Once you've narrowed your search, schedule a visit to meet the staff, tour the facility and learn about the hospital's philosophy and policies. This is a reasonable request that any veterinarian should be glad to oblige. Write down your questions ahead of time.

What to look for:

Be a good client
Having good client manners encourages a happy relationship with your vet.

  • See your vet regularly for preventive visits, not just when your pet becomes ill.

  • Learn what's normal for your pet, so you recognize the first signs of illness.

  • If a pet's not well, don't wait until she's really sick before you call your vet. It's frustrating for a vet, and heartbreaking to owners, to see an animal die of an illness that could have been treated successfully if professional care had begun sooner.

  • Schedule appointments and be on time. Lateness is rude and wreaks havoc with the office's timing.

  • For your pet's safety as well as that of other clients and pets, bring your cat to the veterinary office in a carrier.

  • Don’t disturb your veterinarian during non-working hours for matters that can wait, and don't expect your veterinarian to diagnose a pet's problem over the telephone.

  • Even if you have an emergency, call ahead to ensure that the veterinarian’s available.

Breaking up is hard to do

If you feel that your veterinarian isn't meeting your needs as a client or the needs of your pet as a patient, it may be time to find a new one. But sometimes simple misunderstandings cause conflicts, which you and your vet can resolve by talking things out and looking for solutions. If you've been happy with a certain veterinarian, make the effort to reach a mutually satisfying resolution.

When you visit your veterinarian's office/hospital/clinic, you most likely will encounter several different staff members, in addition to the veterinarian. Each member of the staff is an important part of the daily functioning of the hospital. The AVMA has put together a good overview of the staff members and what they do to contribute to the overall operation.

The Veterinary Health Care Team

Every veterinary hospital staff consists of a team of caring individuals, each contributing his or her unique abilities to ensure high quality veterinary care for animals and compassionate interactions with animal owners. Depending upon the size of the hospital, the team may employ from three to more than 30 people but, regardless of size, dedication to service remains a top priority.

The Veterinarian – Leading the Team

Veterinarians are doctors trained to protect the health of both animals and people. In a clinical hospital environment, veterinarians work with large and small animals to evaluate animals' health, diagnose and treat illnesses, provide routine preventive care (such as vaccines), prescribe medication, and perform surgery. Like physicians, some veterinarians specialize in areas such as surgery, internal medicine, ophthalmology or dentistry. In addition to opportunities in clinical practice, veterinarians may choose to work in zoos, wildlife parks, or aquariums; or focus on public health, regulatory medicine, or research. Personal attributes that contribute to a successful career as a veterinarian in clinical practice include a strong science and math education, the ability to work well with animals and their owners, basic business and management training, and leadership and organizational skills.

The Veterinary Technician

Veterinary technicians perform valuable medical and non-medical services in clinical practice. They are graduates of an AVMA-accredited program in veterinary technology usually leading to an Associate or Bachelor degree. The veterinary technician is educated and trained to support the veterinarian in surgical assisting, laboratory procedures, radiography, anesthesiology, prescribed treatment and nursing, and client education. Almost every state requires a veterinary technician to pass a credentialing exam to ensure a high level of competency.
Some veterinary technicians pursue specialties in emergency and critical care, anesthesiology, internal medicine, animal behavior or dentistry. Personal attributes that contribute to a successful career as a veterinary technician in clinical practice include a strong science background, ability to work well with people and animals, and good communication and decision-making skills.

The Veterinary Hospital Manager

Most large veterinary hospitals find that having a hospital (or practice) manager greatly improves the team's efficiency. This person is responsible for managing the business functions of the practice. Depending upon the size and type of hospital, the manager's duties could include personnel hiring and supervision, budget and inventory management, accounting, marketing, and designing service protocols. A strong business background, computer knowledge, and desire to work with people are key attributes for success as a hospital manager.

The Veterinary Assistant

In some hospitals, a veterinary assistant supports the veterinarian and/or the veterinary technician in their daily tasks. The assistant may be asked to perform kennel work, assist in the restraint and handling of animals, feed and exercise the animals, and spend time on clerical duties. There is no credentialing exam for the veterinary assistant; however, training programs are available (see The ability to listen, communicate efficiently, and handle multiple assignments are skills that make a veterinary assistant an important member of the hospital team.

The Receptionist

The receptionist or client service representative is usually the first person to welcome a client into the hospital and the last person the client sees when they leave. The interactions he or she has with a client can determine how the client perceives the quality of medical services being offered. A good receptionist must have excellent communication skills and be able to handle a variety of questions and requests from clients and the public. In addition to setting appointments, responding to inquiries about hospital services, greeting clients, and managing callbacks, a receptionist may also perform accounting, marketing, or client counseling duties. A customer service attitude, the ability to manage multiple tasks, and professionalism under stress are important attributes for a hospital receptionist.

Other Team Members

The hospital team may also include an adoption counselor, a grief counselor, administrative assistant, kennel worker, and part-time volunteers. Everyone has an important role to play in assuring the health and well-being of the hospital's patients and the owners who care for them.

In some hospitals, especially smaller ones, health care team members may accomplish the tasks of more than one of these headings. Don't be timid...get to know the staff members at your veterinary hospital. You'll feel better getting to know the people who are taking care of your pets.

Along with choosing a veterinarian and learning more about the veterinary hospital staffers, most pet owners are also concerned about the costs of maintaining good health for their pets. The ASPCA offers a very comprehensive list of ideas for keeping health care costs for your pets a comfortable level.

Cutting Pet Care Costs

Designer collars, faux-mink coats, doggie donuts―you may love the novelties, but do your pets really need ‘em? The bucks we spend on those little extras for our animal companions add up—and in fact, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, U.S. consumers spent over $36 billion on their animals in 2005. “A tremendous amount of the growth in pet industry sales have probably been due to things people don’t really need for their pets,” says Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, Ph. D., Executive Vice President, ASPCA National Program Office. While it’s great to pamper Fifi and Fido, it’s also important to budget for the essentials. Otherwise, that couture pet carrier could leave you with empty pockets when the emergency veterinary bills come. We checked in with Dr. Z. for his take on easy ways to cut pet care costs. “The basics are still the same,” he says. “Quality food, litter for cats and good medical care.” Bottom line? Stick with the basics, and remember—preventative measures are excellent money savers!

Still got visions of your dog gliding down the cat walk in a couture collar? Face it, your pet could probably care less whether she’s wearing Gucci. “A good quality leash and collar with a nylon braid should run you no more than $10 and should last for years,” advises Dr. Z. “You don’t need to buy all the fancy stuff.” Yes, your pets love toys and an occasional treat, but the best gift you can give to your furry loved one is your attention!

P.S. Well, we didn't lose our power after all...although, the lights did flicker a few times. Considering that I spent a fair amount of time shoveling what ended up being 76 inches of snow from our driveway between Tuesday morning and Saturday morning, I made an executive decision and decided to publish this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats as is. Hope you enjoyed it...we'll get back to our regular format next week.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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