If you have a new cat or kitten in your life, or soon plan to bring one (or more) into your family, at some point you will find yourself making an appointment for a first veterinary visit. Regardless of their background or state of health, new pets should be seen by a veterinarian. At the very least, an office visit provides an opportunity to learn about caring for your cat; in many cases it is also necessary for the diagnosis of potentially harmful problems such as intestinal worms, ear mites, nutritional disorders and heart murmurs. If you are unfamiliar with the veterinarians in your area, try talking to friends or co-workers about their experiences.
Veterinary clinics may differ from each other in a number of ways, and the more you learn about these differences the easier your decision may be. Consider whether you would prefer a cat-only practice, or one that sees other companion animals as well. Would you feel more comfortable in a solo practice or a large, multi-doctor practice? Are you more likely to trust years of experience, or a recent graduate who may be more knowledgeable about the newest technologies? Is a general practitioner preferable, with his or her broad training, or would you instead choose a specialty practice where veterinarians are board-certified in internal medicine, surgery, cardiology and other areas? In addition to the referrals of others, it is beneficial to visit a veterinary hospital before you make an appointment. By making prior arrangements, you can request a meeting with the veterinarian or staff and a tour of the facilities, including the examination rooms, surgery suites, dental equipment and hospital or boarding area. Prepare a portable carrier for your cat several days in advance of her veterinary visit. Line it with a familiar blanket and allow her to sniff the carrier and to climb in and out at will; curiosity can be encouraged by occasionally placing some catnip or edible treat inside for her to discover.
Practice closing and reopening the door, perhaps carrying it short distances in the house. Finally, take it to the car and then back into your home. By the time of the appointed day, she will be much more comfortable. Dont worry if she vocalizes throughout the short drive; there is usually no need to tranquilize a cat for a brief trip. The cat carrier is an important piece of equipment; without it cats can interfere with driving, and are at high risk of escaping when the door is opened. The den-like carrier also shelters the cat from the overstimulation of the unfamiliar outdoors.
The waiting room of a veterinary hospital can be a frightening place for kittens and cats. It is important to keep your cat confined in her carrier, even if you have to fight the urge to hold and comfort her (being held is small comfort to a cat barraged with the sights, sounds and smells of other animals). The carrier should remain closed even in the examination room, until the veterinarian has entered and is ready to begin the examination. Cats permitted to jump out and investigate the room often become quite agitated by its odors of disinfectant and traces of previous animals -- greatly increasing the stress of the impending physical exam.
Take the time to summarize a list of questions for the doctor. During your brief wait, a hospital staff member may arrive to take information and perhaps perform a brief pre-exam of your pet, including her temperature and heart and respiratory rates. You may also have access to videotapes or reading material about cat care. The veterinarian will take a few moments to say hello and learn about your cats background; he or she will then perform a thorough, but efficient, physical examination. Veterinarians are trained to learn as much as possible without causing unnecessary stress to an already-nervous pet.
Once he or she has listened to your cats chest, looked in her mouth, eyes and ears, gently felt her abdomen and examined her skin and hair coat (while simultaneously evaluating the whole cat and her general health), it will be time to administer any needed vaccinations or medications -- again, with the efficiency of a professional trained to minimize stress. Blood, feces or urine may be needed for laboratory tests. When the examination is over, you will have the opportunity to ask questions -- be sure to write down the answers if they seem unfamiliar or complicated. What questions should you ask? Some examples might include: What is the protocol for telephone calls if I have further questions? How do you handle after-hour emergencies? Do you accept walk-in patients or only those who have appointments? Do you refer patients to specialists in case of difficult problems and, if so, where? What is your protocol for spaying or neutering? Do you provide behavioral services? The services of a good veterinary hospital expand well beyond the initial physical examination. Your cats first veterinary visit, and that fresh new folder labeled with her name, may be the start of a lifelong partnership in which problems both large and small will receive good care.
Tristan Andrews writes useful articles about cats and kittens. Discover and explore the feline world. Find out how to better care for, train and live with your cat at the cat forums at http://www.i-love-cats.com