Vetiquette 101: What your vet would like you to know

If you think a visit to a vet is like visiting the local doggie park,
then it’s good you are reading this right now.


Pet ownership comes with all the responsibilities including having to take our beloved furries to the doctor now and again.  What we sometimes do not realise is that being a vet means that they deal with hundreds of people and their pets every month.  It is for this reason that I spoke to a few veterinarians around South Africa to find out from them what they would like pet owners to know when visiting their hospitals and clinics.

Do I have to make an appointment?

Many people have the luxury of just being able to arrive at the vet, especially if it is a big practice, and there will be a doctor on call immediately, however if it is a smaller practice, then it might be best to make a phone call prior to your visit to find out what they will prefer.

  • If you have made an appointment, please do make sure you are on time for your appointment.   It is best to bring nervous pets in during their off-peak hours.  Week days after 4pm and Saturday mornings are generally the busiest times.
  • The vet might have surgeries scheduled for the day and is not always available at any given time.
  • Emergencies always take preference over appointments, but while the vet will do their best to be on time, one never knows exactly how much time the patient before you will require for examination and treatment.
  • If your dog is super strong, aggressive or fearful and you really cannot take them into the consulting room, you might want to ask your vet if a private space outside would be more suitable for a ‘special’ consultation.

Can I bring more than one animal to 1 appointment?

Each animal needs their own appointment, because they each need their own unique special attention and care.  Speak to your vet before you decide to bring along more than one pet, so that they can allocate enough time for the consultation.  Generally speaking you will be charged per consultation per pet.  (I am sure any doctor of any sort would tell you the same - one patient per consultation).  Let's be real, how would you like it if the roles were reversed?

Who can come with you and your pet to the vet?

Just the two of you will be perfectly fine.  Sometimes you might need someone's help, which is fine, but children and friends just clutter up the already busy reception.  I know it is not always possible to leave children behind, but if it is possible, please do so.

When you arrive at the vet:

Can someone please help me get my pet out the car?

The vet staff are always willing to help any pet owner during a difficult situation.  While receiving assistance from the staff is a kind service offering, it does come with its complications. For instance, if your cat or dog is not secured in a carrier or on a leash, they could either hurt themselves or the staff at the vet who are trying to help you.  Please ensure that your pet is secure and controlled when exiting the vehicle and entering the veterinary room to such an extent that assistance from the vet staff will not be necessary.

What if the pet is injured and it is an emergency situation?

During emergencies we (the pet owners) are often not equipped with leashes or pet carriers.  It is a different situation and they (the Vet Staff) will be glad to help secure the animal for the safety of all concerned.  A good tip here is to always keep a spare towel (and or leash) in your car, which can be used as a mini stretcher or swaddling device in any emergency situation.

The best option is to please have a controlled pet exit the vehicle and enter the consulting room.

Inside the Vet’s Waiting Area:

This is where it can get very crowded, emotions are high and the wait could be long.  Please do report your pet to reception and if it is an emergency, the vets will be notified and you will be taken care of as soon as they can.

  • Please have all cats in carriers and all dogs on a leash.

No retractable leashes please, they can slip out and cause problems.
A short leash and a secure carrier will be the best for the waiting room. 

  • The animals are always on edge or some might be very ill. Their levels of anxiety are at both ends of the spectrum and we ask that everyone respect that not all the animals will be in the same mental state while waiting in the waiting area.
  • Aggressive dogs or cats can be announced at the reception, alternatively one can stay with them in the car and you will be called when it is your turn.  (However if it is a hot day Never leave an animal in a hot car.  Yes I have to say this again as there really are some people who do not know that this is dangerous).
  • It would be best to keep your dog or cat away from other pets in the waiting area.

A social dog might want to ‘say hello’, but keep in mind that the other animals are ill and might have infectious diseases. 

  • Be kind to your animal at all times, the visit to the vet is already a time for them to be more stressed than normal.
  • Do not let your children play with the vet’s stuff.  Not only is it annoying for the vet, but it is also rude to just take other people’s things and mess with it. (A special mention and thank you to our local vet who was very kind when we had our toddler in her consulting room (playing with her things) while inspecting our dog.  I was so busy listening to the diagnosis that I did not realise how annoying it must be for her, it was a lesson learnt, and apologies were given).
  • Respect other pet owner's wishes in the waiting area.

Will my pet pick up on my own anxiety?

Yes, it is best for you to remain calm and show your pets that you are in control of them and their wellbeing.  A nervous pet owner can escalate the situation into an unpleasant visit for all.

What can I bring with to the vet?

  • Treats always work wonders.  Every time your pet behaves well, give them a small treat to keep them busy and distracted.
  • The Medical History Card is important, especially if you visit a different veterinary practice from the previous time.

Inside the Doctor’s Room

When the time comes for your pet to be seen by the vet, the following tips will make the experience easier for all:

  • Answer all the questions as accurately as possible.
  • Get off your phone and if calls do come in, mention that you will rather return the call than expect the vet wait for you.
  • Provide photographs of ‘evidence’ or patient history, eg, of growing lumps or maybe hair loss etc.
  • Help the vet with your pet by holding it and keeping it calm - if you can see they could do with some support, especially if it is a big dog or a grumpy cat, do offer to lend a hand.
  • When the vet is working with a stethoscope, try to be quiet.

What must I remember when it is time to leave the vet:

After the consultation, it is best to take your pet back to the car and secure them while you have to stand at the reception to manage the paperwork and prepare your script.  You could also ask a vet assistant to help handle your pet if the car is not an option.

Ask your vet to sign your pet Insurance claim form

  • If they don’t have a blank form, remember to take one with you before you get there. 
  • All pet insurance medical claims need to be signed off by the vet and this will help you to get the claim settled sooner rather than later.  
  • Most pet insurance companies require non emergency procedures to be pre-authorised before they agree to settle a claim.
  • Be sure to claim within at least two months or your claim might be rejected because you waited too long to claim.

Offer to clean up after your pet, or in the least notify the vet staff if your pet did relieve themselves inside the waiting or consulting room.


Should you feel the need to have someone with you to help you or console you, please do let them join you during an often stressful time.  However, when it is just an annual visit to the vet, it might be best to reduce the crowded waiting room and opt to rather leave the family and or friends behind.  Keep your pets under control at all times.  Remember that the vet started this career because of their passion for animals, be kind to them, because you have no idea what they see and have to deal with every day of their lives.

Going to the vet does not have to be stressful experience for us and our animals, so taking note of these tips will help to make this a pleasant visit for you and your pet every time.

Thanks for reading this and follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our Newsletter to keep in touch with the latest Pet News in South Africa.

By: Juanita Aitkenhead

About the Author:
Juanita Aitkenhead has been passionate about animals since she can remember.  Her first pet that she rescued was when she was 6 years old, from the age of 6 she tamed her first ferral cat and rescued many more animals - from taking a can off a leguan's head, to 'saving' a snake from being eaten by a bird - helping wildlife was part of who she is.  Going to her local SPCA was a treat and meant she could visit all the dogs and cats in the kennels.  She always stops to save animals and even prefers to remove dead ones out of the road, often to find that they are still alive and need medical attention.  Growing up on a farm, meant she spent many years befriending the monkeys and local wildlife.  Many of her friends lived on game farms or in Kruger National Park.  But life never really took her to the turn of being able to dedicate her life to animals, untill she started Pet Health Care in 2013.  Now being the owner of and being exposed to more animal experiences, Juanita has also started to head up a Non Profit Organisation that will be rebuilding animal shelters and animal clinics around South Africa.  Please follow her on LinkedIn or go to to see how her passion for animals and need to give back, finally comes alive.

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