Two dogs with owners at the vet making an appointment

All you need to know about visiting a vet.

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How to make an appointment with a vet

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

From making your pet's first appointment to what to do in an emergency, here's everything you need to know about seeing a vet.

How do I schedule a vet appointment?

Most appointment bookings with vets can be made over the phone, although some practices now have online systems too. You will first need to register your pet at the practice if you haven’t had the chance to already. Once your pet is registered and you have requested an appointment booking, the veterinary receptionist may ask you a series of questions about the reason for the appointment. This helps them to work out whether your pet might need to be seen urgently, or whether a normal appointment slot will be appropriate.

If you think that your pet needs to be seen as an emergency, and your practice is closed, you should phone the out-of-hours or emergency vet team. These are often signposted on the website, or by dialling the usual practice telephone number. If your pet has any of the following, you should contact the emergency team immediately: difficulty breathing, bleeding that will not stop after a few minutes, severe pain, multiple or severe episodes of vomiting and diarrhoea, known to have eaten something toxic (including chocolate), unable to urinate, seizures longer than three minutes, multiple seizures or a seizure without any previous episodes. However, this is not an exhaustive list, and if you are unsure whether your pet is showing signs of a medical emergency you should always phone the emergency line to be sure.

How long does a vet appointment take?

Most vet appointments are allocated a time-slot of 10 to 15 minutes, however more complicated cases often require longer and you might be asked to book in for an additional follow-up appointment.

What happens on your first visit to the vet?

This varies depending on the practice and whether your pet is a new puppy/kitten or older. Usually your pet will have a physical check-up and you can discuss vaccinations, flea and worm treatment, and any other questions you might have about your pet’s health. If your pet seems scared on their first vet visit, speak to a member of the practice for advice on making the visit a less stressful experience.

Should I bath my dog before seeing the vet?

It is not necessary to bath your dog before a vet visit, unless they are really muddy from a walk as this can affect the cleanliness of the consultation room and make it difficult for the vet to examine them. In fact, if you are seeing your vet about a skin irritation in your pet, it is much better not to bath them. This is because washing your pet can interfere with certain skin signs that a vet might be able to detect such as flakiness, redness and dryness.

What can I do if I can't afford a vet?

If you are unable to afford the cost of a vet appointment, you should phone your practice to ask for advice. If your pet is insured then it might be possible to claim for treatments. Otherwise there are certain pet charities that may be able to help with vet fees and some regions of the country have charity-funded veterinary practices that provide reduced cost care to those who are eligible.

Can I call my vet for advice?

If you are concerned about your pet, you can call a vet for advice. However, a vet may only be able to provide limited guidance over the phone without seeing your pet, so it's generally better to book in for an appointment. You might also find that your vet is busy in surgery or consultations and unable to get back to you until later that day or week.

Do you have to pay for a follow-up appointment at the vets?

This will depend on each veterinary practice. When you are visiting the vet your pet is benefitting from their time and expertise, as well as from any treatment that might be given. This means that some practices charge for a follow-up appointment, whereas other practices might include this fee in the original cost of the first appointment or surgery.

How long in advance should I make an appointment with the vet?

It is best to contact the practice to book an appointment as soon as you detect an issue, because your pet may be suffering from pain or irritation even if they are not showing obvious signs. The veterinary reception team will be able to help guide you on how soon your pet needs to see the vet. Between booking the appointment and seeing the vet, it can then be helpful to keep brief notes on any changes in your pet’s behaviour, how much they eat and whether they are keen to exercise. If you have a non-emergency appointment booked, but your pet’s condition worsens, you should call the practice back to check whether they need to be seen sooner.

For routine appointments, such as annual health checks or vaccinations, your practice may have a suggested time-frame in which to book to ensure that you have a time-slot that suits your routine. You can ask about this over the phone or at reception.

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