5 top client questions answered

5 top client questions answered

What? Why? How? The barrage of queries can be head spinning. Keep your responses straight by following this advice.
Jan 01, 2010

Fielding client questions is an essential part of a veterinary team member's job. And boy do you get questions. Some of them you hear over and over, umpteen times a day. The autopilot in you might be tempted to brush these FAQs aside with short, even terse answers—especially if they're asked at the end of a long day.

But remember that your responses can make or break a pet's health. And the client that's standing before you this afternoon didn't hear you explain the same details earlier in the morning. Therefore, it's important to answer each and every question thoroughly—even when they're grating. (No, your pet doesn't need to have a litter before she's neutered.) Listed here are the most common client concerns, complete with advice for responding in a way that inspires confidence, not contempt.

Q: Why does my pet need parasite prevention in the winter months?

Don't say: Chances are, the freezing temperatures will stave off most parasites. You might as well save your money for future veterinary visits.

Do say: Cats and dogs—even those living indoors—need parasite prevention all year long. While the infection rate decreases in cold weather, pets are still at risk. One reason is that outdoor parasites tend to move inside during winter months. Another thing to keep in mind is that the cost of treatment far outweighs the cost of prevention.

What you need to know: Times, they are a-changing. Pets travel now more than ever, families relocate more often, and climates are less predictable. All this means that parasites are increasingly showing up in so-called atypical areas. Take heartworm infection. Cases have been recorded in every state except Alaska. Even in the northernmost sections of Maine and Washington, veterinary clinics reported one to five cases of heartworm infection in 2007, according the American Heartworm Society. That's not a high number, but for the one to five clients whose pets became infected, the low risk didn't matter.

Fleas and ticks are hearty creatures, and they can survive inhospitable conditions including cold weather. This is especially true if they manage to find their way into homes or crawl spaces or other areas that are sheltered from winter elements. Bottom line: Pets aren't safe even when the temperatures dip.

If you live in a climate that's warm all year, be sure clients understand that parasites could infect their two- and four-legged family members. "Most clients don't realize that common parasites are zoonotic, meaning that pets and people can pass them between each other," says Gina Toman, RVT, practice manager at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. "Hookworms can be transmitted through feces, and, even if dogs stay inside most of the time, they're still going outdoors for bathroom breaks and walks." Remind clients that even indoor cats can be affected. People can pick up fleas or ticks on their pant legs and transfer them to animals, and mosquitoes can sneak inside through open doors or windows and transmit heartworm disease.

Click here to download a seasonal brochure on parasite prevention to give to pet owners.

Q: If I keep my pet on parasite prevention, why do I need to test for heartworms each year?

Don't say: Testing for parasites is an added precaution we like to take.

Do say: Even though today's preventive medications are highly effective, like with any medicine, none are 100 percent effective, especially if your pet inadvertently misses a dose. Testing is the only way to ensure we catch infection early.

What you need to know: Testing for heartworms is crucial, regardless of whether a pet is on preventives, says Tiah Schwartz, CVT, client care team supervisor at Laurelhurst Veterinary Hospital in Portland, Ore. "It's rare but possible for pets to contract heartworms while on preventives," she says. "We tell clients that if this happens, the medication will kill the heartworms. If a large number of heartworms die, they could clog the arteries and kill the pet."

The likeliest reason protected dogs and cats contract heartworms is that pet owners—even well intentioned ones—forget to administer doses, do so improperly, or don't realize that a pet didn't actually swallow a pill.

The tests available today are also more sophisticated than before. In fact, they might be able to detect the presence of just one heartworm. This type of early detection allows you to provide treatment before the heart and lungs have been seriously damaged.

Another reason to encourage regular testing is that clients might not recognize the signs of heartworms, especially in cats. Feline heartworm infection often makes itself known through asthma-like symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing. While encouraging testing, be sure to explain the symptoms dog and cat owners should watch for.