How do I know if I have a good Vet?

This is a question that I’m asked time and again, and it is so very difficult to answer. I asked my own vet how to deal with this, and he said he’d find it a bit difficult to say without breaching professional ethics. Over the last year or so though, I’ve picked up various pointers which I’m passing along here. I am very grateful to Richard Sanders, who has shared some of his thoughts on the subject with me, being a real expert on vets after the last couple of years with his Burmese Raffles single-handedly keeping his vet in employment!

I’ve had a few vets over the years, and I hear quite a lot from my mother about her vet and from pet-owning and breeding friends about theirs. I have been very lucky to find a practice that I feel measures up very well to others, particularly given the many stories I have heard and experiences I have had myself in this respect, and I’ve been with them for about 15 years. I have tended to use them as a yardstick of good practice in this article. I changed to them after I had to have a hamster put down, and it was handed back to me with blood coming out of its mouth and nose. They hadn’t even bothered to wipe it away. There were other things that made me unhappy about that practice, but that was the last straw, and changing practices has made me see things about the other practice that were bad that I couldn’t see when I was with them. Sometimes you need to step back from your practice in order to see it clearly, and this can be difficult to do. Just because someone is a vet does not mean they are a GOOD vet.

(Throughout this article I’ll refer to the vet as ‘him’ although I’m well aware that at least 50% of vets are women. However the he/she thing begins to get annoying after a while, so I’ll just go for the generic gender.)

Type of practice:
Is this a farm practice or a small-animal practice? I have many friends who despair of their vets, who are farm-based, as when a pet is sick their answer is to see if it gets better by itself or else put it down. This is hopeless. Nowadays you really have to ensure that your vet has a proper commitment to a small-animal practice, which is fiddly and complex, as well as time-consuming for a practice. If you live in a rural area this can be very difficult to find, but it may well be worth the extra travel time and cost in the long term to find a vet in a nearby town to take care of your cats, leaving your local large-animal practice to look after your horses!

Above all, make sure that your vet isn’t going to turn his nose up at your cat because it’s a pedigree cat, and that he’s not going to give up hope because ‘your cat is a Siamese, and they’re weaker than ordinary cats’. This isn’t necessarily the case, and you know it! The Siamese are just extraordinarily wilful: they decide they’re dying and turn their faces to the wall like utter wimps, and you have to be prepared to fight their wills as much as their bodies to keep them healthy.

What are the arrangements for an animal admitted as an emergency at 1900, as was Raffles? Richard’s Vet lives over the premises, so was able to put him on medication and check him at appropriate intervals during the night. If there isn’t a Vet in residence, there should at least be a nurse – or facilities for a nurse if night care is required.

Check Appointment times: 10 minute intervals or more are probably the minimum in order to give each customer time. Never complain if you have to wait after your appointment time: it’s probably a good sign that a vet has had to spend longer with a client, and thus is running late.

First impressions:
These can be misleading, but they are worthwhile indicators in your first steps into the surgery: is the surgery clean and neat? Look in the corners and edges to see if there is dirt: if there is dirt, then there are germs, and considering that there are a lot of sick animals coming in and out, the presence of dirt can be a threat to your animal’s life. Are the vets and nurses in ‘business’ dress, fit for purpose?

I’ve always been incredibly impressed by my vet’s receptionists. He seems to choose such lovely people: they have a wonderful telephone manner, they are friendly and charming to everyone who comes in, they know my name and exchange a joke with me, or ask after the other cats. The nurses smile round the waiting room if they come in, and make a fuss of any animal who looks for attention, showing that they care about the creatures as ‘people’, not just as a job or a sickness.

Richard tells me that they had to take a neighbour to her Vet some time ago – "the nurse was not in uniform and had each fingernail varnished in a different colour! Maybe we’re old fuddy-duddies, but I think we both feel that a nurse with rough, red hands from scrubbing and washing them, is probably a better bet than one with an impeccable manicure!" When told about the nail varnish Richard’s Vet nearly hit the roof: He said he will not allow his staff to wear jewellery, except for a wedding ring and MOST DEFINITELY no loose long hair.

The vets in the practice need to make you feel confident and included. Mine talk about what they are thinking and what they think might be wrong, they don’t just examine the cat in silence and then prescribe a drug without telling me why. They also take time to fuss the cat or make friends, even if it’s only quickly, and they don’t mind if, when I bring in more than one, the one not being examined takes the opportunity to check out the room and the back of the cabinets. I might add that they don’t come out from behind there covered in dust and cobwebs, which is more than can be said for the back of much of the furniture in my house!

I once came in to find one of the nurses scrubbing the stairs down to the basement with her toothbrush. I thought this was some awful punishment that had been devised, but it turned out this was the only way to really get into the cracks at the edges the stairs!

Richard says that you can get a good measure of the mindset by looking at the notice board in the surgery – is it tidy and current? Are there dozens of letters congratulating the vet on how well they’ve done? I don’t really think boasting about your successes is necessarily a good thing, since if they have to do that maybe they’re trying to make you think they’re better than they are. Mind you, it all helps in building your confidence in their competence if you haven't visited before. A better measure might be to see how many Christmas cards they get!

In the waiting room:
Has the room bays or partitions to give a little privacy? I imagine this would be rare, but it’s worth remembering that sick animals do not want to be freaked out by more healthy animals bouncing around – a point Richard made at the Royal Veterinary College. I used to go to one surgery that had a door that opened on to a corridor leading to the ‘hospital’ part of the surgery. Every time this door opened, all the animals in the waiting room cringed and cowered, even those who had never been there before. I knew why: even I could smell the sickness and death wafting through that doorway, and if it distressed me, how much more distress must it have caused the animals who are far more sensitive to it – and what about the ones actually in the hospital? I’m sure a hospital must smell a bit, but some effort to keep that away from the waiting room is thoughtful, as is using a Feliway diffuser in the cat part of the hospital to help the cats who will almost always be afraid. The hospital in my current practice doesn’t have that awful smell at all, so if they can avoid it, then so can any other vet.

Beyond the waiting room:
Few of us know what happens beyond the waiting room and consulting room. I think you need to know, and if your vet won’t let you check out his hospital facilities, then CHANGE VET. I took one of my cats to a specialist referral clinic about 2 hours drive away, and was horrified to be asked to leave her in an empty (i.e. no bedding at all, nor a litter tray or water) and unheated cat pen in an open barn with three dogs, all barking and in sight and very close proximity to her. She had never been near dogs, and was terrified both of them and the strange place. Hospitals should always have separate rooms for cats and dogs, preferably with another room between them to avoid noise and smells getting through. This clinic had provided no bedding, nor litter tray, and she was due to sit there for several hours awaiting surgery. I wish I’d had the guts to give them a piece of my mind, but instead I fetched some things from my car to make her comfortable, and then I sat in the car park and worried for 6 hours until I could get her back. The surgery they did was superb, but frankly their attention to the stress and fear of the animal was abominable.

If your vet won’t let you see his hospital then there may be good reasons, particularly if it is a busy time and they’re in the middle of operating. However they don’t operate all day, and you should be able to inspect the hospital at another time without the vet treating you as if you’re a pain in the neck, or refusing flat out.

A friend recently had cause to go and see her cat in the basement hospital of the vet she had used and trusted for years. She was so horrified by the dirt and conditions down there, and the callous way in which the cat was being kept, that she has never gone back.

Stress is a major factor in illness with cats, particularly Siamese, and attention to stress in the care environment is particularly important. Sometimes a cat has to be hospitalized, and it can be very traumatic. With a seriously ill cat, a visit from the owner, or even allowing the cat to come home for a few hours, can be a big help in improving its condition. Unfortunately, many vets discourage visits because a relatively well cat can create hell if it sees its owner and the owner doesn’t take it home, but that’s not always the case, and I’d like to see more vets be more understanding about the importance of visiting, both for the cat and for the owner. If your vet won’t even consider allowing you to visit, think again!

The other reason it is important to visit when a cat is seriously ill is that if the cat dies, you have been able to see it and say goodbye, and the cat has not spent its last hours isolated with strangers that it doesn’t love. If you had seen, as I have, the dramatic change in the demeanour of a cat when it heard its owner’s voice outside, you would understand this. Siamese are extremely physical and become deeply attached to people, usually to one person. Even a healthy Siamese can pine and die if separated from its human partner, which is why so few are able to cope with quarantine. If you are dealing with serious illness, find out if your vet will listen to these concerns and respond appropriately and kindly. But remember that he may need to refuse a visit in the interest of keeping the animal quiet and calm, since a visit may upset a cat who has just been settled and quietened down.

It’s important that you feel that if your vet doesn’t know the answer, he won’t be too proud to admit it, and either go and look something up in a book, or else refer you elsewhere. There are veterinary texts and articles about new drugs and new research available to vets, but do they read them? Are members of the practice encouraged to attend conferences or seminars about new drugs and new problems? It always helps my confidence when the vet says that they want to go and read up about a problem, and then they call me back with what they have found out. Does your vet have the time to do this, and more important, does he care enough to take that little bit of extra trouble?

Many vets do not explain what to expect, for example, in long-term illness, or tell you what to look out for as danger signs which you might otherwise not be concerned about. These are important aspects of care in general. Are recovery procedures following surgery well explained? Are you told how the animal will recover, what behaviour to expect, side effects of an operation and timescale for recovery; are feeding instructions and any special diet requirements clearly set out, plus any long term do's and don'ts. Are you expected to remember a long list of instructions, or does the vet have a standard sheet that is given to you when taking the cat home?

Do you find that no matter why you take your cat to the vet, you find yourself walking out with an armful of drugs and a bag or case of some expensive special diet food? This is something you should be wary of: sometimes that’s exactly what the cat needs, but it is a policy in some practices that every cat presenting with diarrhoea is sent home with a bag of special diet, which they don’t usually need! Are you being fleeced? This may not mean you have a bad vet, but it’s something to look out for as an indicator.

My own feeling about prescribing is a bit ambivalent. Personally, I don’t trust a vet who doesn’t consider things like herbal or non-drug supplements to try and deal with problems first, before hitting them with a sledgehammer antibiotic. Vets who won’t even consider allopathic treatments are ignoring a huge resource that is available to them: things like sores on the skin that heal about 50% faster when treated with Aloe Vera gel than with antibiotic creams (once the cause has been dealt with), yet some vets simply won’t consider it because it wasn’t taught at vet school. I’ve kept a cat with an almost inactive colon going for a couple of years with rhubarb powder capsules, which make her guts move more normally, whereas a recent FAB article suggested that if the prescription drugs on the market weren’t working, then the only course was drastic surgery! I was pretty disappointed in the FAB when I read this. My cat has an extremely fussy gut: she throws up at the slightest thing, but her condition has been controlled with the rhubarb (to help her constipation) and slippery elm powder to coat the sensitive lining of her stomach. No ‘drugs’ as such, at all.

I daresay my vet thinks I’m a lunatic for using herbal remedies (though many conventional drugs have herbal origins), but he doesn’t ignore the fact that they work, and I’m slowly converting him (I think).

Vaccinations are a bit of a hot potato at the moment, but are a very good indicator of whether you have a good vet or not: if you ask a vet for a particular vaccination for your cat, but it’s not the one he normally uses, he should be prepared to get it in for you. If he refuses then CHANGE VET. This is a bad sign. There are numerous combination vaccines now available for flu, enteritis, leukaemia and even chlamydia, all stuffed in together. Some vets will even mix in an anti-flea and dewormer and jab the whole thing into your cat’s neck. This is a recipe for trouble. The veterinary literature is clear that the combination vaccines do not offer the same level of coverage as the single ones, yet many vets now will only offer the combination drug and refuse to get in single vaccines – this was what happened to the lady who had the vet who refused to listen to her concerns about the vaccine he wanted to give. I have heard of a vet who agreed to get the different vaccine in, but made the owner pay for a complete box of the drugs, as he said he had to buy it in bulk and could not use it for anyone else. This is not true. Any vet can get any other drug from another practice – they will probably have to pay more for it, but there’s no need to get in a whole box just for one dose.

A recent development in a local practice is that they will only spay or neuter your cat if you’ve also vaccinated it with them. That may sound Ok at first glance, but think of all those cats who are not going to be neutered because the owners won’t vaccinate as well.
If you have a cat with a chronic condition that requires continuous medication, most vets will either suggest you buy the drugs directly from a cheaper outlet using a veterinary prescription, or will allow you to buy from him at a discount, or even at cost. Drug charges represent a significant part of a vet’s income, but an appreciation of ongoing costs for the owner means he’s thinking about you and not his wallet.

Respect for the owner:
Does the vet listen to you? Does he or she dismiss you if you say there’s something ‘not right’ about the cat, but s/he can’t find anything wrong themselves? Do they patronise you if you try to talk to them about something you have read or heard about? I was quite disgusted to hear from someone who has one of my kittens: I had given her information about the vaccines she should use, and why, but when she asked the vet for the vaccine she wanted, he told her ‘oh, they’ve taken out the thing that made the cats ill’ from the vaccine he wanted to give, and he went ahead and gave the vaccine that I had warned had caused problems. The owner had no choice but to believe him, but it was clear from the cat’s reaction in the next few hours that he had simply been fobbing her off and had no respect for her concerns at all. The cat became quite ill, and her poor owner was very distressed, to say nothing of what the cat went through.

Do they take complaints seriously? I sometimes wonder if my vet does listen to my comments or is just nodding and thinking I'm a nutter, but I think he does listen, particularly if I have comments about a locum. At any rate, I feel that I can say things like that to the practice owner, and he seems to appreciate the feedback. (Either that or he's disarmingly polite!)

Do they answer your questions? My vet said once that if a vet wouldn’t answer your questions, then CHANGE VET. He gave as a good example the use of anaesthetics: your vet should not object to being asked what sort of anaesthetic protocol they are following, whether or not your cat is going in for surgery.
There is an anaesthetic called Rapinovet, related to (if not the same as) the anaesthetic used in hospitals on babies. My vet now uses this routinely for every surgery because it is so much safer, and clears the system so much more quickly than the older veterinary drugs. It costs a bit more than other drugs, but has a much better safety record. Ask your vet what they use, and see what they say! If they won’t tell you, CHANGE VET!

In order to anaesthetize a cat safely, it should always be intubated – that puts a tube down the cat’s throat which will enable the assisting nurse to aid the cat’s breathing, but also to listen closely to its heart. One vet came and gave a talk to the club at our AGM and played a fascinating CD of heart sounds. In one recording he said: ‘this heart is in trouble, but an electronic heart monitor won’t tell you that, as they beat is still regular and strong’. We could all hear the strange sound it was making. He said that by the time the problem registered on the monitor, the damage may be fatal. He said that there is simply no replacement for a good nurse sitting there and listening to the heart with her ears.

There is always a risk that an animal, just like a human, will be allergic to the anaesthetic, so most good vets will routinely give an antihistamine jab as well as the other drugs, as a safeguard in case of a bad reaction. Does your vet do this? It costs more, of course, but it should be done as standard since it will save maybe one life in 30, and nobody wants their cat to be number 30.

Many vets will do small operations without intubating, because the gas and extra time required for the full anaesthetic procedure is costly, and in fact the time taken to intubate etc., can be longer than the time it takes to perform the surgery. Rather than expend that cost, they will simply knock the cat out with an injectable drug, do the operation (usually a spay or neuter) then revive the cat. The downside of this policy is that a significant percentage of cats die under this practice that would not have died had they been intubated and properly monitored. This was quite a scary thing to discover. Apparently in our area the going rate for a spay is £30-40, but to do the job properly costs about £70-80. My vet therefore makes a loss on every spay and neuter because he would rather the client did not go somewhere cheaper and unwittingly risk the life of their pet.

So there’s another warning there: an expensive vet isn’t necessarily a good one, but neither is a cheap one!

Which brings me inexorably to the matter of
corporate-owned veterinary practices. Recent legislation means that anyone – you me or the postman – is allowed to own and run a veterinary practice. The days where the head vet was also the owner are nearly gone, but I still hold out for the practice where the reputation of the vets and the practice are one and the same as the reputation of the person who owns it.

Corporations are buying out huge numbers of vets practices all over the country. These practices are expected to make a profit, and the charges as rocketing as the expectation is that all the animals they see are insured, so they don’t care about spiralling costs. There is absolutely no interest from the practice owners in the level of care and the percentage of unnecessary deaths in the practice. This is quite frightening.

Commonly the throughput of animals in this sort of practice is high: the vets get the cat in, examine, prescribe and get it cat out in under five minutes. They haven’t got time to talk to you about your concerns even if they wanted to, and if you try, they look at you as if you’re an idiot. Even basically good vets seem to be being spoiled by this new corporate attitude, where the boss isn’t in the next room, he’s somewhere else – often seemingly in South Africa! That doesn’t mean that a vet-owned practice is going to give you better care, but you can be sure that the vet owning it has been offered a lot of money to sell out, but he has stuck his toes in and decided not to – that has to count for something.

Respect for the cat:
How many of you have a vet who talks to the cat the way you do? Does your vet push the cat around, stick a thermometer where the sun doesn’t shine, pull its mouth open, and never once address a word to it? I noticed the other day, that all the vets in my practice have a habit of apologising to the cat every time they stick something into it – needle or thermometer – it’s rather nice to think that they respect the animal as a person too! I also noticed that when they have to give a jab, they hide the syringe behind their bodies so that the cat never sees it. This seems amazingly thoughtful, and as they have only recently started doing it I have to assume it is because they talk to each other about how to minimize stress and have decided this is a good idea. I'm impressed!

Richard feels it is significant whether the vet and practice members have animals themselves, and I’m sure that’s true. My vet has a dog, even though he’s allergic to animals (don’t laugh, it’s true!), but cannot have a cat. That didn’t stop him taking one of my kittens home with him over a weekend when she had to have special care for a few days. She was a little monkey and clearly didn’t have to live in a pen in a lonely room all day between ‘professional’ visits as he had photographs of her walking all over him. Other vets in the practice have accumulated damaged animals along the way, and that’s also nice to see.

Respect for the vet:
Some breeders talk jokingly about ‘having got their vet trained’. I know what they mean, and the relationship between you and your vet is extremely important. However, you need to be careful that you don’t forget the vet has years of training and experience that you don’t have, and if he lets you bully him into doing something that he considers incorrect or inadvisable, he’s not doing his job well, and may be putting the cat at risk. Listening is a mutual thing, and you need to trust your vet to tell you if he thinks you’re making the wrong decision or taking the wrong action, just as he needs to be able to trust you to tell him the truth about the causes of an illness, even if it makes you look stupid or negligent. The right vet is quite a personal decision, and one person may consider a vet rubbish while their neighbour thinks he’s the bees knees.

Out of hours (OOH):
My practice was recently invited to join a local out-of-hours service, which he declined. The service offered would mean that their clients would be handled by a dedicated group of vets, and not the vets from the practice. This can be a good thing, especially if otherwise there would be no OOH cover. However, my vets know me, and to a large extent they know my cats too, and this is a significant factor in them knowing how seriously to take my call, and how to treat the cat. A vet who didn’t know me might cost me a £150 callout, while one who did may trust me sufficiently to advise that I start antibiotics and then bring the cat in during normal hours.

The main concern of my vet in deciding against this service was that a sick animal might be treated at his surgery, but would then be put into an ambulance – possibly having received major traumatic surgery – and carted off to another hospital for further care. To him this was completely unacceptable, and it worried him that the vet in charge of the service didn’t seem to see why this was a problem! If your vet uses an OOH service, make sure that it doesn’t involve carting animals from pillar to post, but that they are treated in the place where they will be cared for afterwards.

Needless to say, having your own vet available to call out isn’t a guarantee that he’s good! I recently heard of a vet who was on call but refused to come out because he was plainly drunk, fobbing the owner off with an over-the-phone diagnosis which of course turned out to be wrong. If the vet respects you they will come out, even if they think you’re making a fuss about nothing. Somewhere along the line they have to decide whether to trust your instincts or not. On the other hand, a vet who comes out too readily may just be playing on your insecurities and fleecing you, so beware!

Richard told me of friends of theirs who have or rather had a cat, which from the time they had it had never been really healthy. They nursed it through thick and thin over the 14 years of its life. In so doing, putting plenty of money into the Vet's pocket. Anyway, at Christmas, the time came....... So, on the Tuesday after Christmas, they called the Vet. No reply. Just an ansaphone to say that the surgery was closed 24 December - 3 January. No emergency number or details of out of hours service. So, at a time when they wanted the minimum of hassle, they had to seek out another Vet to do the necessary. Check your Vet's emergency and out-of-hours arrangements – you never know when you may need them.

A recent development: my vet is currently picking up home visit callouts for most of the practices in our area. Why? the vets are citing health and safety as a reason for not going to someone's home. I'm disgusted, but at least there is ONE vet in Oxford who will come out when you need him, and won't sue you if he trips over your rug.

Phone calls:
Does your vet charge to call you, or to take your call when you call him? My vet was scandalised when he heard that another local practice was charging £5 before they would speak to anyone on the phone. Like any business, a good phone policy is a major asset: I hate to be told, after waiting hours for a callback that the person on the other end of the line tried to call me but ‘they couldn’t get through’, even though I had been sitting on the phone all day. I’m glad to say that my vet has never failed to respond to a call, and usually quicker than I expect.

The last visit:
One thing my vet said I should look out for is whether a vet will come out to the house to put a cat or dog to sleep – many won't. They may have good reasons, but they should offer you the option.

Many vets will attend a house to put an animal to sleep, but prefer the animal to be brought to the surgery, as there they have all the clinical equipment in case anything goes wrong. In a home environment some cats fight terribly against that dreaded needle and the whole event can be incredibly traumatic, whereas at the vet they are subdued and it can be done quickly and with no fuss. Richard tells me that when they have had to make the final journey, they arranged an appointment at a quiet time of the day when no other patients are around, usually before formal surgery hours. They also like their procedure of not requesting payment at the time, simply asking them to pop back with the payment at a more appropriate time.

I think that another pointer to a good vet is how they treat a dead body. I’ve seen a cat left lying on the floor in a house, mouth gaping and eyes staring, after a very traumatic euthanasia that was far from peaceful or easy. The owner was beside herself. If only the vet had bothered to pick up the cat and put it on the sofa, or even just smooth down its fur so that it didn’t look like a pile of old rags. I was very moved not long ago when I had to call my vet out in the night to deliver a very large and very dead kitten who had got stuck halfway out during labour. Having got the kitten out, he laid the body carefully on the bed and stroked it gently with one finger. It was wet, cold and dead, but even though it had never even breathed, to him it was clearly a life lost. Richard has a quote from Supervets: “Of course I am upset at the animal’s death. If I were not, then I should not be doing this work”.

My practice also is thoughtful about dealing with the aftermath of a death: when I brought a body in for cremation, the receptionist saw me coming and caught me outside the waiting room so that I didn’t have to go right in – less distressing for me, but more importantly for the other people waiting there. When the ashes came back they put the wooden box into a discreet bag and just handed it to me the next time I came in, without saying obviously what it was in front of the other people waiting there. Death is the hardest thing to cope with, and a calm gentle vet, who doesn’t fuss, but just does the job without being emotional or nervous is a godsend. I think also that a vet who is not afraid to say when it’s time to end an animal’s suffering is terribly important. This is the most important decision of the pet’s life. Giving you false hope so that you keep a cat going longer than you should is disastrous: you still have to put the cat to sleep in the end, and you are left with appalling regrets that you didn’t do it sooner and spare the cat suffering.

Richard advises: ask about the neighbourhood for recommendations of where or possibly where not to go. I’m saddened by the numbers of people leaving the local corporate-owned practices, and even some of the privately-owned ones, and coming to my (privately-owned) practice instead, but at least it tells me I'm with the right practice. People vote with their feet. It’s probably a good sign if you phone for an appointment and they have trouble fitting you in, although that may also be a sign that the vets are overstretched – you can usually tell from the tension in the waiting room and the sweat on the vet when you get in to see him or her whether they have enough vets to do the job, but just have a busy practice, or whether they are spread too thin.

A high turnover of vets and nurses in a practice is probably not a good sign, although you should remember that most recently graduated vets try to work in a number of practices in their first few years after qualifying in order to gain experience and find out where their niche lies. Trainee nurses are cheap labour: make sure there aren’t more trainees than fully-qualified nurses. Also, check that the receptionist isn’t being asked to undertake nursing proceedures, or that trainees or nurses aren’t doing things they’re not qualified for. It all happens in practices around me!

Here’s a good rule of thumb: I was interested to find that both Cats Protection and the RSPCA in my home town will only use one practice for animals who need care – the same one I use. That was reasuring, despite my reservations about the ethics of the RSPCA.

Unethical practices
There is a vet in London who offers a 6-month package for your cat. Neuter and declaw. In my opinion a crossbow bolt through the neck is too good for this person. Someone ought to chop the top joints off all his fingers and toes and leave him to recover without pain-killers, and walk around on his injured hands and feet until they heal. Maybe then he might stop doing it. We have heard of Vets in the USA cutting the voice boxes of Siamese for their ‘doting’ owners so that the cat looks beautiful about the house but makes no noise. If anything like this starts to happen around you, please report it immediately to the RCVS.

What do the cats think?
One of the vets at my practice, fortunately just temporary, was a disaster. The cats took one look at him and back went the ears, and the body was flat on the examining table. I didn’t blame them: I’d never seen a vet handle an animal so roughly, and I swore I’d never go near him again. Fortunately he was only a locum, so I didn’t have to, but you should never have to stand for rough handling. The vet should be firm and confident, but not rough or unkind. A cat would have to be completely stupid to enjoy visiting the vet – though there are some exceptions of course. Watch your cat’s reaction, and let him or her tell you if they trust the person they are being shown to. Sometimes a cat will react badly after a nasty experience like an operation, but the vet should then take time to make friends again. Most practices have more than one vet, and if you don’t like one don’t be afraid to ask for a different one next time, and then when you make future appointments you should be able to ask for the vet you prefer. If they won’t let you do that, then CHANGE VET!!!

Richard's cat Raffles, who normally loves the vet, freaked out one day at the RVC: Richard and Mary had taken him back for a check-up after orthopedic surgery. He had been upset in the waiting area by boisterous, but friendly dogs, Then, he was seen by a Student who was either mortally scared of cats or was a ‘large animal’ student having to do his bit for small animals. Raffles went berserk! Then his Consultant joined them, picked Raffles up, gave him a cuddle and you could see the cat relax.

Richard reminds me that we are painting a picture here of the perfect vet. Maybe few vets could measure up. I think the message has to be that a healthy dose of scepticism is not a bad thing. We live in a culture where we are raised to believe our doctor or vet is automatically good at his or her job. Anyone who watched the programme about student vets where one student, who failed her exams three times, was still allowed to qualify even though she never actually passed (and subsequently became a ‘celebrity vet’), should realise that there are good vets and there are bad ones, and they are all out there working on animals with no further evaluation!

Finally, in case you're interested, my practice here in Oxford can be found