When your pet needs its vet

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With Winter on its way, many are concerned with getting flu vaccines and having their cupboards stocked with cold medicine. Some however, are more concerned with vaccines for their furry friends. Even pets can come down with a cold, but sometimes it is more serious, and it’s important to know when it’s time to call the local vets into action.
   
Richard Lewis, veterinarian at Manhattan’s Westside Veterinary Clinic, said when choosing a veterinarian or clinic for your pet, it’s important to consider location.
   
“One of the first things is to look and see which one is conveniently located,” Lewis said. “I always recommend to our clients, if they’re moving to a new area, or anything, go visit.”
    
Most clinics, including Westside, welcome visitors, Lewis said.
   
“Get a tour if you want to, see if you feel like you fit in,” he said.
   
Lewis compared the search to choosing a dentist, or a doctor, and said there is a similar interview process. If a pet owner doesn’t feel comfortable at a certain clinic, they should check out other locations, he said.
    
Pet owners can take their searches for a veterinarian to the Internet, yellow pages and even through word of mouth. Ask friends and family where they take their animals, and whether they feel they receive quality service.
   
Julia Garten, junior in elementary education, said she got her cat, Georgia, from a shelter in Kansas City, Kan., less than two years ago.
   
“My dad’s actually a vet,” she said. “Georgia goes [to the veterinarian] about every six months.”
   
Garten said the benefit of regular health check-ups is they keep Georgia updated on her medicines, which act as a prevention to serious illness.
   
“One time, Georgia had symptoms of the cat flu,” Garten said. “But I kept in communication with my dad, and he said that if she kept eating and drinking normally, then she should be fine – which she was.”
   
Many clinics also offer free first check-ups for animals adopted from shelters or humane societies, but often only if the animal is taken within a certain number of days. Reputable breeders will also encourage new owners to take their animals to the veterinarian and even sometimes help pay any resulting treatments or medicines.
   
While Garten said it’s important to take your pets in for regular health exams, it’s also good to watch for signs of ailments between visits. However, there are times to be concerned and ways to decipher whether your pet has a stomach ache or a serious problem. Lewis said animals have many of the same visible symptoms humans display when they’re sick. 
   
“They’re going to lay around,” he said. “Loss of appetite, problems with vomiting or diarrhea or any kind of accident are all warning signs that something’s not quite right.”
   
Also, when pets are ill, Lewis said they might be cranky and not act like they normally do. Even some good-natured dogs can respond violently toward people when they’re sick. Lewis said sick pets often just want to be left alone, but if their symptoms last more than a day, owners should call their veterinarian to get their pet checked.
   
Most clinics prefer for customers to call for appointments. The clinic staff will then ask the pet owner questions designed to get a feel for how sick an animal is. Sometimes, animals can be taken care of at home without a visit to the veterinarian. For example, Pepto Bismol can be used to treat a pet’s upset stomach. Lewis said, however, that unless someone is familiar with these treatments, they should always check with a veterinarian before giving an animal anything medicinal. Some human medicines can be fatal for certain animals, like Tylenol is for cats.
   
Melinda Parrish, junior in political science, recently became an owner of an English Mastiff she said she purchased from a breeder. Parrish is still in the process of getting puppy vaccinations and said she had to take her puppy, Maggie, to the veterinarian when parasites caused a noticeable change in her puppy’s behavior.
    
“Know your dog, and know your breed,” Parrish said. “Do a lot of research.”
   
She also said that any pet owner needs to know what’s normal for that animal, because by the time an owner realizes a behavior is not normal, it might be too late.
   
While most veterinarian clinics have emergency phone numbers, local pet owners are privy to a 24-hour clinic run by the College of Veterinary Medicine; the clinic offers a reliable alternative in cases of a late-night emergency. 
   
“We’re pretty fortunate, I think, in this area,” Lewis said. “We have pretty good 24-hour care available.”
   
For college students who rent their living space, owning pets can be a problem. Garten said she recommends students get companion pets only if they are prepared to take on the medical expenses and have the time to devote to proper care.
   
“If you can’t give something the attention it needs, you should wait until a better time in your life,” she said.
   
Cage pets, like gerbils, hamsters or guinea pigs, are alternative options, and most rabbits can even be litter-trained. These types of animals also do not need to be vaccinated like dogs or cats. However, they do sometimes have parasites or other health issues.
   
“I recommend any new pet, whether it’s a baby or an older pet, have a health check,” Lewis said.
   
He also said it can be difficult for an owner to know if a pet has lice, mites or other ailments. For those with birds or reptiles, health-issues can still be taken to a vet. Lewis said, however, that these animals sometimes require specialized care and dietary needs that not everyone is equipped to deal with.
   
Above all, because pet owners can speak and their animals cannot, Lewis said it is important to contact a veterinarian with any questions or concerns, even small ones.
   
“Communication and knowledge is invaluable,” he said. “Little bits of information save a lot of lives and heartache.”
    

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