When the vet calls you into the examination room he or she will be looking for clues and signs of the problem from the minute you get off the chair in the waiting room. However long or short the walk in happens to be some important observations can be made. What species and breed of animal is coming in, is it elderly or young, male or female, is it an ongoing case known to the vet? Is your animal bouncy and alert or sluggish and lethargic? Is there a good general body condition or is your pet thin or obese? Is there any sign of distress e.g. crying out in pain or laboured breathing? Are there any signs of trauma, for example bleeding, obvious wounds or lameness? These observations will all have been made, often subconsciously by the vet in a very short period of time.
The vet will usually greet you and ask what they can do for you. If it is a simple request such as a routine vaccination or parasite control the vet can move quickly on, but if not then detailed questions will need to be asked. This is called history taking and will provide important details to the vet. Questions you may be asked include the name, breed, sex and age of the animal (the signalment), as well as the signs of disease you have noticed. This will be followed by more detailed questioning. Be prepared to be asked about the animal's eating, drinking, urinating, passing of stools, exercise tolerance, and general demeanour, as well as how long the symptoms have been present, how symptoms have progressed and any initiating factors which may have occurred. Try to be as clear and concise as you possibly can but do try to tell the vet about everything you have noticed however insignificant it may seem or important clues may be lost.
Once the history has been taken the vet will perform a thorough physical examination of your pet. Do let the vet know if your pet is likely to be nervous or aggressive. If the use of a muzzle or other restraint is required don't be upset. It will be safer for all concerned if animals known to resent handling are adequately restrained and will also make it less stressful for the pet since the examination will not take as long if the vet is not having to control a very wriggly or snappy animal without restraint. The vet will examine the entire animal but will pay particular attention to any areas of concern.
If further simple diagnostic procedures such as blood tests are needed they may sometimes be carried out now, or the pet admitted into the hospital or a booking made for a further procedure to be carried out. The vet will explain what further tests if any are required and why. They should also be able to quote the approximate cost for these procedures.
A discussion of your pet's problem will probably follow around now although the vet will probably have been exchanging information with you all the time. Now is the time to make sure you understand what is being done for your pet and why. If the problem has been diagnosed what will the treatment involve, what is the prognosis and how long will it take to see an improvement or cure? When should you return for a follow up visit and what should you be looking out for in the interim period? If the problem has not been diagnosed yet what tests or procedures will be required? What are the diseases which may be present (the differential diagnosis), when can procedures be carried out and how long will it take to receive the results?
Treatment of your pet will now be discussed. This may involve giving medication at home. If so, make sure you know how to give it, what dose to give and how often, ask what side effects you should watch out for and if there are any other issues with the medication, (for example some drugs are best given with food, some should not be handled by pregnant women etc). General care of your sick pet will also be discussed, remember to ask about feeding and exercise while your pet is ill if the vet does not mention this. If treatment is to be carried out at the veterinary surgery then ask about visiting, length of treatment, prognosis, progress phone calls and any other areas of concern.
The cost of veterinary treatment is something that many owners don't wish to consider as a factor in the choice of treatment options. However it will be important to get an estimate of costs involved, and further information about costs if the fee should need to go above this estimate. All vets will understand if certain treatment options are beyond your means so do not feel embarrassed if this is so.
If a follow up visit is necessary it might be a good idea to book it now. The vet will be able to explain the reason for the follow up visit and what action you should take if you have any concerns in between visits.
Try to ensure that you understand everything that is happening before you leave the surgery. Do ask for clarification of any issues which have not been fully discussed or explained. After leaving the veterinary surgery it is common to forget information and/or wish we had asked more questions. If this is so do not hesitate to call and discuss your concerns, all vets will be pleased to discuss any issues of concern which you may have.