In pets, as in people, having one doctor to oversee and coordinate care has definite advantages. But in these days of larger veterinary hospitals, it can be more difficult to see the same veterinarian routinely.
Is it worth the effort to have a "primary care veterinarian"? For the most part, it is, and if you shift how you manage your pet's care, you can make coordinating care with one veterinarian easier to manage.
But first, those advantages. When you routinely see the same veterinarian, you're working with a doctor who is familiar not only with your pet and his medical history, but also with you. Over time, you and your veterinarian can develop a mutually respectful relationship that promotes a partnership dedicated to keeping your pet healthy.
That's not the end of the story, of course, because your pet may need to be seen by other veterinarians, not only when your veterinarian isn't available for urgent or emergency care, but also when your pet can benefit from a referral to a specialist. Ideally, your veterinarian will help you to decide when calling in colleagues can help your pet. She'll also work to integrate the specialist's work into the overarching care plans for your pet.
What happens when you can't see your regular veterinarian? Seeing a different veterinarian in the same practice isn't the worst thing that can happen. After all, your pet's records will bring the attending veterinarian up to date, and the practice's expert veterinary technicians are there to help with continuity of care as well. In a well-run veterinary hospital, the standard of care is very high overall, and your pet will be well cared for, no matter what.
What may suffer, though, will be your ability to communicate with a doctor you don't know as well. That's especially important if you don't feel as comfortable about asking questions of a new veterinarian or following up on recommended treatments.
Fortunately, there's a way to resolve this for the most part: Shift your focus to preventive care.
When you concentrate on working with your veterinarian to prevent health problems instead of reacting to health emergencies, you'll not only save money by catching little problems before they become big ones, but you'll also be saving your pet the suffering and stress that comes with a full-blown illness.
The cornerstone of preventive care is a once-a-year -- or, ideally, twice-a-year -- comprehensive veterinary visit that gives your vet the chance to go over your pet nose to toes to tail and utilize simple diagnostic tests that can spot problems before symptoms show. During these visits your veterinarian can review other preventive care strategies, such as good nutrition, parasite control and maintaining a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.
In terms of seeing the same veterinarian, when you switch to focus on preventive care, you can schedule your veterinary visits far enough out to almost always see the same veterinarian in the practice. Though accidents and other emergencies will still need to be treated urgently by the first veterinarian available, with a preventive care plan the majority of your pet's care will be in the hands of the same doctor.
Communication and respect is key to a great relationship with a doctor, no matter if it's your own or your pet's. It's worth working at it to make that work.
Some tips to keep
senior pets warm
Q: While it seems like just yesterday that my husband and I started with two kittens and a young dog, we've now got a houseful of senior pets. Do you have tips for easing their discomfort over the cold months? -- via email
A: Keep them lean, provide warm, soft resting spots and talk to your veterinarian about relief from joint pain, and your pets will get through the winter more comfortably.
For older dogs, especially large ones, check out beds made of therapeutic foam that conforms to your pet's body shape while supporting every joint. Some of these beds come ready to plug in, but you can turn any of them into heated sleepers by adding a pet-safe heating element. For cats, heat that's all around like surround sound will keep them feline groovy. Look for a heated cup-style bed with plush insides.
While soft beds and leaner bodies have always been best for our pets, it's only in recent years that veterinarians have been able to offer medications, supplements and other measures that can reduce or even eliminate the pain of osteoarthritis. All pain-management plans need to be developed by your veterinarian -- guessing with over-the-counter pain meds can kill your cat (acetominephen) or cause ulcers in your dog (aspirin).
Modern prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can seem like miracle drugs, and the risks of using them can be greatly minimized by following your veterinarian's recommendations for checking for kidney and liver problems before and during long-term use. You also need to be aware of the signs of a problem: Stop giving the drug immediately and call your veterinarian if you observe vomiting or lethargy, or if your pet stops showing interest in eating. These drugs help millions of pets, but I would not be doing my job as a veterinarian if I didn't alert you to potential problems. I know your veterinarian will do the same. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Why cats beeline
for non-cat guests
-- Why, in a room full of people, will a cat invariably make a beeline for the one person in the room who hates or is allergic to cats? Cats don't like eye contact from strangers -- they find it intimidating. When a friendly cat wanders into a room, he'll notice that all the people who like cats are looking at him. So he heads for the one who he thinks is being polite -- the person who isn't looking at him. The cat doesn't realize that the person isn't looking because he doesn't want the cat near him. It's just a little bit of cross-species miscommunication. That's one theory, anyway. Or maybe putting cat fur on the slacks of a cat hater really is the ultimate in feline fun.
-- Some pets just seem to be a natural fit with children. According to the American Pet Products Association, many small "pocket pets" are more likely to be found in homes with children present. While rabbits are now slightly more popular as a pets for adults, guinea pigs, for example, are far more likely to be a child's pet.
-- Circumstances are a more likely indicator of a dog's potential to bite someone than the animal's breed or mix, according to an analysis of bite statistics. Loose dogs, territory-protecting dogs, frightened dogs and dogs involved in fights with another animal were those most likely to be involved in biting a person. Most bites in the home were triggered by a dog guarding food or a toy, or biting a visiting friend or relative in a display of territory- or object-guarding. The number of bite incidents roughly correlated with a breed's popularity -- more of a certain kind of dog meant more bites from that kind of dog. Age and gender also played a role, with adolescent male dogs more likely to bite -- and bite more severely -- than older dogs or female dogs. And children were bitten more often than adults. -- Gina Spadafori
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetsteet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.