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Do you know when your pets are poorly?

It may seem like a silly question, of course you would know when your pets are sick wouldn't you? They share your life, your home and you know them really well, just as you do other members of your family. However, what many people don’t realise is that our animals are extremely adept at masking signs of illness and often by the time we realise there is a problem, they have been struggling for a while. This blog was inspired by a cat I saw last week. She was owned by some lovely clients; regulars with their other pets and they definitely have their best interests at heart. I didn't blame them for not noticing sooner this one was poorly because a) felines are notoriously good at hiding illness and b), you know, I'm a vet, so really I should be quite good at spotting when animals are sick but I don’t expect others to be. However, I think they may have realised they had left it a little long to bring her; several times during the consultation the husband mentioned that they had waited because she didn't seem in ‘distress’ and here in lies the nub of the matter for this cat, and for many of the pets I see. Animals are very, very good at hiding when they aren't feeling well or are in pain. You could say they are made of much sterner stuff than us humans, and they probably are, but in the main this characteristic comes from millennia of evolution; in the wild sick creatures are soon picked off by predators. This means that even when they feel dreadful animals will do their level best to behave as normally as possible or they may simply go off and sit quietly in a corner or curl up and sleep much more than usual. What they won’t do it moan or groan (or winge and demand tea and sympathy!), the most we might get is a reduced appetite or a limp. This is especially true of problems like arthritis, cancer or kidney failure, all of which are common in older pets. Sadly this little cat had the latter of these and I will tell you how this tale ends now; blood tests showed her renal function was so damaged the kindest thing was to put her to sleep. Many people would think it almost impossible to not notice a pet was so sick they were near death but this is not the first time I have dealt with a case like this and it won’t be the last. Obviously you don’t want to be dashing down to the surgery every 5 minutes when a pet isn't quite themselves but neither do you want to leave things too long. So what is best to do? My advice would be to always be aware of how your pets are and if they have seemed ‘off’ for more than a day, ring your practice for a chat. A good clinic should take the time to speak to you and help you decide whether there is really a problem or not or use the symptom checker on this website! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at
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Choosing the Best Vet Practice for your Pet

Just what do you look for when you are choosing a vet practice for your pet?  For some people it is an easy decision as there is only one local vet practice in easy travelling distance, for others it can be a bewildering  choice. A good feeling about a vet practice counts for a lot but there are differences between clinics, understanding what these are can help you to make an informed decision.  The choice will not be black and white, local vet practices will be strong and weak in different areas, it is finding the vet practice that is right for you and right for your pet that matters. Word of mouth recommendation is a good place to start, pet owners in real life or on social networks are usually delighted to help. There is  a fairly comprehensive list of vet practices on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website, you can also look at the usual local directories and, of course there is the Vet Help Direct Vet Practice Directory. We are biased, obviously, but believe our directory is extra useful as we provide information, images and, in some cases, video of the vet clinics. You can also try googling the name of the vet practice as most have websites. Next you need to go and visit, don't be embarrassed to explain you are choosing  a vet practice, the staff should be happy to arrange a convenient time for you to look around. Its vitally important that you and your pet feel comfortable at your vets so make sure the staff seem friendly and approachable. Ask about the staff, do they have any special interests? Have they attended any courses recently? Are there any vets or nurses with extra qualifications? There are no right or wrong answers but it can help you to get a general feel for the vet practice. If you are the owner of an exotic animal you should check that there is a vet at the practice with experience of treating your species. Good facilities are certainly not the be all or end all of  a vet practice but they should have the basics and it should, of course all be clean and in good working order. If I was choosing a vet practice for my dog I would want one with an opreating theatre, x-ray, ultrasound, anaesthetic and dental machines, a microscope and in house bloods (or a same day arrangement with a local laboratory), separate kenneling for dogs and cats and an isolation area. Beyond that extra facilities are nice but they can always refer you somewhere else in the unlikely event that more complex treatments are required. The set up of the clinic is also important, are all the facilities there or do you have to travel further away if treatments are necessary? All veterinary surgeons are legally obliged to provide 24 hour cover for emergencies but it is worth asking how this is provided, is it the vets from the surgery or is the out of hours cover provided by a different practice? Whilst it may seem inconvenient to go further afield in the middle of the night don't forget there will be benefits in seeing vets and nurses that have not been working the day before, they will also be on site all night providing round the clock care for your pet. To save you having to look into the facilities and staff in too much detail the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons run a practice standards scheme . Inspectors regularly check they meet the standards for their level to give you peace of mind using the practice. If a practice is certified under the RCVS practice standards scheme you can feel confident using them, but a word of caution, some practices opt out so if they are not registered it doesn't mean that they have not passed, they may have chosen not to take part. Prices do vary from practice to practice, staff should be able to refer you to a list of the prices of the top selling products and provide you with the prices of consultations and vaccinations. Appointment times might also be important to you if you work long hours , many vet clinics now offer late night surgeries at least once a week. Once you have made your decision it is a good idea to register in advance to speed up care if your pet becomes ill. There should be no problem at all changing vets although its important to let both practices know what is happening so that notes can be transferred. Its perfectly acceptable and often sensible to change vets but its not usually a good idea to keep swapping around; its less stressful for the pet if they get to know the vet and premises and you can expect a better standard of care as the vet will get to know you and your pet personally.