We and our cats have a three-pronged relationship with our vets, and each of us might have a different perspective when we come together. But we share a common goal with our vets — health and happiness for our beloved cats. Because our cats can’t verbally tell us what’s wrong, we must make the most of our time with the vet.
How can we represent our cats in the most complete way? How can we pick up on things we might see as commonplace but that might be great clues for vets? To add a professional perspective I spoke with my own vet, Dr. Sally Schlueter of East Haven Veterinary Service in Vermont (who I call “Dr. Sally”), on how we can best speak for our cat regardless of whether we’re in for a wellness/preventative appointment or what she calls an “ill” appointment (such as an emergency or an obvious illness).
Dr. Sally said that during wellness visits (because the stakes aren’t as high, in our eyes), we might forget or discard observations that could be important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in celebrating some cute thing our cat did, or talking about new toys, for example. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it pays to be observant and to gather information for any type of visit.
Here are some further thoughts from my vet’s point of view:
It seems we should know this, but I’ll admit at times I’ll grab the bag of grain free food I feed my cats, but I can’t for the life of me remember the name of it. It’s a good brand, I know that — but I simply look for the bag I recognize. But your vet needs to know what you’re feeding your cat. So make sure you have this information.
“Take a picture of the label,” suggested Dr. Sally, because all vets might not be familiar with the content of all the different types of food out there. “If you’re feeding your pet home-cooked food, list the exact ingredients and their measurements.”
In my experience, some vets are less interested in diet than others. But I’m interested in the effects of diet so have ended up with vets who share this view. There are obviously cases where your vet should ask about diet — in cases of certain illness, for example, but I hope more vets are recognizing the importance of nutrition, even as a preventative factor.
Do you remember everything your cat does? I don’t. Plus, the demands of life can overfill our brains. Dr. Sally suggests you write down anything that matters and bring it to your vet visit. Do you notice unusual behavior, or something that just seems a little “off” about your cat?
“Write down every occurrence, when it happened, its frequency, and any additional information,” she said.
When a vet is concerned about something, she or he will often ask whether anything has changed recently in the household. So keep track of those occurrences, too. When did a new cat join the house, for example? Was there noisy construction in the house? Did another pet pass on? Nothing is too far-out or absurd — and it might help your vet see the bigger picture of what is going on with your cat.
I’ve really appreciated the times my spouse has gone with me on vet visits. I get spacey and overloaded mentally when I am stressed, and if there’s a feline illness happening, I am usually stressed. It helps to have another household perspective to offer observations, Dr. Sally says. Do you have a spouse, partner, roommate, trusted cat-sitter, or friend who pays attention to your cat? Bring that person on the vet visit. If the person can’t join you, get relevant information and bring it to the appointment.
The longer I have cats, the more interactions I’ve had with vets. A good vet will ask good questions, but she or he can’t know everything you do. Try to anticipate the kinds of questions a vet will ask — and be ready with answers. Imagine the vet’s point of view. She or he will want to know everything you’ve seen (or heard, or smelled), when it occurred, how often, and why it might be a clue or a cause for concern. Nothing is too crazy, and it’s better to have too much information than too little. You and your vet can figure out what’s relevant after you’ve done your best to represent your cat.
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About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, and a contributor to Rescued: The Stories of 12 Cats, Through Their Eyes. She’s also a yoga instructor. Cat love living in nature and being outside every day, even in winter. She is mom to six adorable cats, all of them rescues.