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Ask a Vet: Should You Bring Your Kids to Your Cat's Vet Visit?

The quick answer? It depends on the behavior of the children and how attentive the parents are.

 |  Nov 5th 2013  |   3 Contributions


I was at a veterinary meeting a while ago and I ran into an old acquaintance. After some catching up a bit on life in general, the conversation turned (as it does at veterinary meetings) to work. It was a Tuesday evening. I'm an emergency vet with an unusual schedule, so I'd had the day off. My colleague, on the other hand, had endured a rough day at the office. The worst of her many appointments that day had involved a fractious cat, an iPhone-obsessed mother, and two feral (my word, not hers) children.

"Don't you just hate it," she asked, "when clients bring their children to appointments?"

An awkward silence ensued for just a moment before I could come up with an answer: I don't like it when people bring unruly children to appointments. I don't like unruly people, whether they are children or adults. (I have seen my share of unruly adults during appointments and I can say that unruly children are far better than unruly adults.)

Photo of Dr. Eric Barchas by Liz Acosta

Coincidentally, a few days later Angie Bailey wrote a piece on Catster about bringing kids to the vet. The question she posed was whether it was acceptable to bring children to the vet's office. Her answer boiled down to: it depends on the circumstances. I agree with Angie. But I also would like to add some of my insights to the discussion.

I'm not a parent, and I'm in no position to tell anyone how to raise their child. Whether you bring your child to the vet will necessarily depend on a number of circumstances, such as your child's maturity, the nature of the appointment, and perhaps most of all, the availability of a baby sitter. In the end it's your call.

Some of my most pleasant appointments have involved families with children. I remember one appointment especially well, because it involved one of the nicest families I have ever met. I was working in San Francisco, and Proposition 8 was still on the books. Therefore, I doubt that the two dads were married, but they definitely were doing a good job of maintaining a family. The children, a boy of about nine and a girl of about seven, were the two most polite and charming children I can remember. The parents encouraged the children to be involved in the appointment. They encouraged the children to ask questions, and the children did. I would have been happy to spend the rest of the day answering their intelligent, polite questions.

Children like that don't make appointments more difficult for me or for the cat. They make appointments better.

But then there are the unruly children. There are children who draw on the walls of my waiting room with indelible ink while their parents play Words With Friends. There are the ones who tip over the containers of ear cones and cotton-tipped applicators while their parents check in on Facebook. There are the ones who (as Angie pointed out) run up to unfamiliar big dogs while their parents send a Tweet.

Worst of all, there are the ones who repeatedly bash Fluffy on the face while I'm trying to examine her; the parents, meanwhile, engage in furious text messaging sessions. For the record: Fluffy is already nervous when she's at the vet's office. Being bashed in the face makes things worse. It also puts the basher at risk of being bitten, and guess who might get sued if that happens.

Do you see the trend here? It's not really the children that are the problem. It's the smart phones. Please, please, please put them away. It makes me feel insignificant when clients are more engaged in their smart phones than their veterinary appointments. But never mind me. How might a child feel when a parent prioritizes a smart phone over the vet, the cat, and most importantly the child?

The principle is the same whether I'm on an airplane, at the Safeway check-out line, or at work. Well-mannered kids are a joy to be around. Unruly ones are not. The added issue at work is that the unruly ones put themselves and others at risk of injury, and they make my job harder.

I have a few more points. First, I recognize that some kids will be unruly at some times no matter what. The parents' response to the behavior is what really matters. If your kid is throwing a tantrum and you're working on the issue, I understand and have sympathy for your plight. If, on the other hand, you're too busy checking out your ex's Timeline to notice that your child is trying to poke out your cat's eye, then my patience can wear thin. In short, if you bring your kids to the vet's office, pay attention to them.

Second, I recommend that you consider the nature of your veterinary visit when you decide whether to bring your children. Routine checkups can be lighthearted and fun, and can provide good learning experiences for the children. Euthanasia, on the other hand, may not be appropriate for them (although only a parent can decide what's best in these sorts of situations).

Also, please know that most vets understand that babysitters are not always available. It's probably best to leave the kids at home if your cat suffers severe trauma and needs an emergency evaluation, but it may simply be impossible. I understand this.

Finally, a note to mothers. If you want to get under your childrens' skin during routine vaccination appointments, ask the vet whether any extra shots are available for the kids. That comment never fails to elicit a response. I make this suggestion only to mothers because most dads already seem to have figured it out.

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