Building a Relationship With Your Veterinarian

Building a Relationship With Your Veterinarian

Since our cats cannot speak for themselves, the relationship you have with your veterinarian may be more important than the one with your regular physician. A little preparation can go a long way to ensure that your feline friend receives optimum care. And sometimes that may involve challenging the status quo, especially when it comes to nutrition.
First, do not wait until Fluffy has made five trips to the litter box within an hour to find a veterinarian. Ideally, your care should start when she is adopted, but if you're new to town or are looking to make a change, ask for recommendations from friends and family members whose pets' health seems to be outstanding. Or scope out the clinics in your neighborhood and make an appointment for a brief visit. Is the facility clean and free of strong odors? Is the staff courteous? Since you're the one who is speaking on behalf of the pet, they should be willing to take to time to listen to your concerns.
Learn what is normal and abnormal for your cat, both physically and behaviorally. Warning flags should go up if your gregarious kit is hiding or your eager eater shuns his supper. Cats are prone to hepatic lipidosis if they're off their feed for too long.¹
It is also important that your veterinarian share your philosophy on cat care. Find a veterinarian that respects the fact that you feed a raw diet and want to have an active role in decision making about your cat's treatment.
Nutrition: A Tricky Topic
Veterinarians typically receive very little training in nutrition. The few classes they get are held under the supportive umbrella of Hill's®, Purina® or Royal Canin®, which then encourage the newly minted veterinarians to stock the shelves of their practices with their goods.² It becomes a no-brainer to pull a bag or case of food off their shelf to treat a medical condition.
"They're not taught to question." says Elizabeth Hodgkins, DMV, Esq.³
This is where you need to know what's in your cat's food, even the veterinary diets, since their ingredients can be most questionable.
According to Dr. Hodgkins: "Commercial pet foods are salvaged products, even Rx diets. They don't have the curing properties that are claimed."
So if you're feeding your cat a raw diet, you'll probably feel that you have to tread softly, especially if you're using a mainstream veterinarian. When you discuss the issue, be sure to bring supportive materials such as information from Feline Nutrition, Dr. Hodgkins' web site Your Diabetic Cat, Dr. Jean Hofve's LittleBigCat, and the landmark paper by Debra L. Zoran, DVM, PhD, DAVVM, "The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats."
Your veterinarian may not be thrilled, but you're sure to gain his or her grudging respect!
You Are Your Cat's Advocate
Invest in a couple of good cat care books and read them. The Internet is chock full of resources; be sure to consider the source when doing research. Take advantage of links provided by your favorite websites and e-mail lists. Learn the signs and symptoms of common diseases in order to provide your veterinarian with as much information as possible in determining a diagnosis.
Do not be afraid to ask questions during treatment or exams. Make a list, especially if you are dealing with a serious illness or injury that requires extensive care and medication, or even if you have routine concerns that are easily forgotten. Ask for copies of blood tests and other clinical reports and learn to read them. If medication is administered or prescribed, ask about possible side effects. Antibiotics can often cause an upset tummy that can be soothed with a little yogurt which contains acidophilus to reintroduce friendly bacteria into the gut.
If your vet brushes off your concerns, does not answer your questions or insists on treatment that makes you uncomfortable, move on. You are not looking to usurp his or her position, but rather work as partners toward a mutual goal—achieving the best possible health for your cat.
Oh, one small detail…it's helpful to everyone if you acclimate your kitty to her carrier before the visit, to minimize last minute traumas or escapes.
Sally E. Bahner has more than 30 years experience as a writer and editor and has spent the last 15 years specializing in cat-related issues, specifically nutrition, holistic care and multiple cat behaviors. More recently she has offered services as a feline behavior and care consultant. She is the cat expert and a regular contributor for Pets Press, a Connecticut-based pet newspaper, and Feline Wellness. She resides in Branford, Connecticut, with her four cats, Dusty, Pulitzer, Mollie and Russian Blue, Tekla, and husband, Paul, who is amazingly tolerant of her feline obsession.
  1. P. Jane Armstrong, "Feline Hepatic Lipidosis," Dept. of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota, 2005.
  3. From notes taken during a radio interview with Dr. Hodgkins on Tracie Hotchner's Dog Talk Show 98, November 1, 2008.
  4. Hodgkins on Dog Talk 98.
  5. Some favorite books: Whole Health for Happy Cats by Sandy Arora, The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier (updated from 1987), Holistic Cat Care by Celeste Yarnall and Jean Hofve, DVM, Your Cat, Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life by Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, Esq, The Cat Bible by Tracie Hotchner.
  6. Z. V. Marshall-Jones, M. L. Baillon, J. M. Croft, and R. F. Butterwick, "Effects of Lactobacillus Acidophilus DSM13241 as a Probiotic in Healthy Adult Cats," American Journal of Veterinary Research 67, June 2006, 1005-12.
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