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When to Seek a Second Veterinary Opinion for Your Sick Cat

Checklist of Questions to Ask Yourself Before Seeking a Second Vet Opinion

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Forming a Partnership With Your Vet is Important

Forming a Partnership With Your Vet is Important

Photo Credit: © IStock Photo/Catherine Yeulet
Working as a partner with your veterinarian is the best way to ensure continued good health of your cats. However, the time may come when your partnership splinters, either through lack of faith in your veterinarian's diagnosis or treatment plan, or lack of proper communication. If you feel that situation coming, it may be time to consider seeking a second opinion.

Answer These Questions Before Seeking a Second Opinion

  • Does my vet exhibit a thorough knowledge of my cat's disease?
    Not every vet will be expert in every feline disease. However most vets will consult with an expert when indicated.
  • Is the vet capable of performing more than just the basic medical procedures in office or will he/she refer you to an expensive hospital for anything more than a vaccination?
    A veterinary clinic should be able to draw blood, do preliminary tests, take blood pressure, test fecal smears, administer IV fluids; and perform routine surgeries, such as spay, neuter, and insertion of feeding tubes. Most clinics have x-ray machines and a few have the ability to perform sonograms.
  • Is your vet quick to return phone calls or see you on short notice?
    While good veterinarians are very busy, most of them will take the time to return phone calls at least on the same day. My own experience is that my vet will almost always try to fit us in for an appointment, depending on the urgency of the matter.
  • Does your vet listen to you and weigh your thoughts and suggestions?
    If your vet disagrees and explains why, it can be productive, however if your vet brushes you off, the partnership may be in trouble. Working as an advocate for your cat is rarely successful if you are dealing with a veterinarian whose ego interferes with a partnership. At the same time, consider your own ego. Are you also at fault?
  • Did my vet explain my cat's condition, describe alternate treatments, and expected prognosis?
    Your cat's health is of prime importance to you, but you need to know all the facts before deciding which treatment program to follow.
  • Did my vet explain the costs and reasons for lab reports, special tests?
    During tough financial times, the cost of specialized procedures can sometimes make the difference between continuing treatment and economic euthanasia.
  • Is my vet frank about chances for cure, the comfort quotient of your cat, or long-term survival?
    If the cat is suffering and prolonging care would do nothing to alleviate his pain, euthanasia might be the kindest option.
  • Have I asked my vet "What would you do if it were your cat?"
    I've personally asked my veterinarian this question on two occasions, and both times chose his answer, euthanasia.
  • Did my vet reply to all my questions, or ignore them?
    Brushing off your questions can be just a sign of a very busy veterinarian. It can also be a red flag that your vet simply doesn't know the answer. You may need to insist on answers or ask for an appointment for a time when he or she can discuss your concerns. If you are not satisfied, it's probably time to look for a second opinion.
  • Has my cat's condition deteriorated rapidly under my vet's care?
    Several feline diseases can cause rapid deterioration toward the end. If you are satisfied that your vet is doing all that he or she can do, under the circumstances, your next decision is one of euthanasia. Otherwise, you may want a second opinion.
A negative answer to one or two of these questions should not be a deal breaker. However, if you see a pattern developing which indicates your cat may not be receiving optimum care for his condition, and communications with your veterinarian seem to be breaking down, it may very well be time to seek a second opinion.

A Real Life Example

A friend of mine faced a similar situation recently, when one of his cats went off his food, lost weight, and exhibited general lethargy. By the time I learned of the situation, their cat had been referred by his original vet to a veterinary hospital for further tests, and the veterinary bills were over $4,000. Many other people would be considering economic euthanasia at this point. The cat's history and symptoms reminded me of Fatty Liver Disease (hepatic lipidosis aka FLS). Although it turned out later that FLS was considered at the very beginning, the insertion of a feeding tube was not mentioned by either the original vet or the vet hospital staff, nor was it inserted (back at the vet hospital), until a week later, during which time, the cat's condition deteriorated considerably.

Because of my friend's ongoing dissatisfaction, concerns over the feeding tube, and lack of response by his veterinarian, he finally decided to seek a new veterinarian. He was very fortunate that he was referred to an excellent cats-only practice. The veterinarian there has answered all my friend's questions, allayed many of his fears, and provided new peace of mind that his much-loved cat is on the way to recovery.

Getting a Second Opinion Doesn't Have to Mean Switching Vets Permanently

Please keep in mind that the foregoing is a somewhat extreme example. Responsible veterinarians will always welcome second opinions, which may or may not confirm their original opinion and treatment plan. Or, a cat may be transferred temporarily to the care of a specialist, then later returned to the care of its primary veterinarian. Such is often the case with hyperthyroidism, where a cat will go to a specialist for radioactive iodine therapy.

On the other hand, if you've decided to switch veterinarians, the new one can help ease the way for you. His staff can call the original veterinary clinic, inform them that your cat is now under their care, and request transfer of all previous records. A card from you to the former vet clinic with a polite note thanking staff members for previous kindness would also be a nice touch.

The only job left for you will be to do your best to form a working partnership with your new vet. You can do so by showing up promptly for appointments, writing down your questions in advance, listening carefully to his/her advice without interrupting, and carefully respecting his time. A big thank you to your vet and his staff as you leave, will be a welcome bonus.
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