Routine health checks and vaccinations for puppies and kittens is possibly one of the first things you will be doing when working in the UK. However, there is a lot more about these appointments than just getting a history and injecting the patient… and if you understand this, you will be impressing your colleagues!
More than just a vaccine
Vaccination appointments for puppies and kittens are often longer, especially if this is also a new cliente. This is because these first vaccination appointments actually have a lot to do with the future of the practice client database… and there are many reasons why these appointments are longer – and why doing them better can make you look more competent!
- The appointment is used to create a relationship with the client – increasing loyalty
- The appointment is used to promote a healthy patient (i.e. one that won’t bite you when they turn one year old!)
- The appointment is used to promote useful add-on services and generate recurring revenue (more about this later on)
- The appointment is used to talk about pet insurance
- The appointment is used to upsell other practice services, such as neutering
You can then see that if the first puppy and kitten vaccines go well, the client is more likely to return and become a source of recurrent revenue.
What to do on a young animal vaccination appointment
One of the reasons because many practices run longer appointments for first vaccinations and new clients is because there is so much to be covered while also trying to make the experience as pleasant as possible for client and pet.
Take it slow with the pet
Whether it’s a kitten or a puppy, the first appointment is likely the very first contact with a vet, so you want to make sure that the experience is as easy and good as possible. This means offering treat, handling the patient gently and even playing. It’s very common for young animals to be easily distracted by food and toys, making the experience less daunting. Here are a few things that I do and that you could see if they work for you:
- Play with the puppy or kitten during the consultation and while talking to the owner, as well as during the examination (make it playful rather than serious)
- Offer any tablets (such as wormers) from the table mixed with a few other treats – many of them will eat them (including cats!). If you need to tablet them, leave this for last
- Inject the vaccine with a fresh needle of the smallest possible size – usually this is a 23G needle (blue) but you may come across some orange 25G.
- Distract the pet while injecting (either with food or toys) and rub after – especially in puppies, some injections may sting and burn them after administering
Full history and examination
This is the “juice” of the appointment and you need to be thorough with this. It’s also more than just getting a general history. When it comes to the history, you want to know:
- Is this a pedigree? Where did it come from – store, breeder, rescue?
- How long have the owners had the pet for?
- How are they settling in?
- What problems are they coming across?
- Don’t forget the typical eating, drinking, urine and faeces as these animals may present with diarrhoea or fussy with food
Of course there is a lot more to it, but it’s important to try to understand the habits of the new pet. When it comes to examination, there are a few things you do not want to overlook:
- Mouth and teeth – check the bite as problems with jaw alignment are not unusual
- Heart murmurs and arrhythmias
- Umbilical hernias
- Presence of testicles in males/confirm gender
Discussing diet and behaviour
It’s not unusual for owners to ask for advice about what to feed their pet and what do do with some training. Some nurses will go through this during first appointments, but if they don’t, it’s always a good idea to ask. Make sure the animal is on a diet appropriate for a growing animal (don’t be surprised if you hear many people saying they are feeding raw – in particular for young animals where their immunity is not fully developed I tend to advise against this but). For large breed dogs this is even more relevant! Some places will have a “puppy or kitten pack” which offers a bag of food.
Behavioural questions are also common, especially with toileting in puppies and play aggression in kittens. Be familiar with good advice that you can give to these owners or ask for a nurse consultation for them to see all their questions answered. Behaviour training is limited and it’s not uncommon for provided advice to be wrong (were you taught about alfa dogs and domination? That’s not a correct theory!).
The principles of behaviour advice should be – do not punish, reward desired behaviours, ignore and redirect unwanted behaviours. Puppies should start training young and the most common question is about toilet training. In the UK, crate training is common, so make yourself familiar with this (would you like me to write an article on this?). However, keep in mind that until vaccines are completed, puppies shouldn’t be going outside to toilet so they have to learn indoors (or in a private garden).
The first appointment may be used to briefly discuss neutering. This depends on the structure of the practice and whether vets are doing both first and second vaccinations, or if nurses are running the second one. If you discuss neutering, you may start by asking whether the owner has thought about having their pet neutered or not. The majority of owners will want their pet neutered or are open to this unless they want to breed. Make sure you pinpoint the benefits of neutering. Also keep in mind you will likely need to debunk some myths, such as “I was told it’s best for her to have a litter before neutering her”. Age of neutering depends on patient (especially breed) and practice protocol, so make sure you learn when the other vets at the practice are advising neutering (this can be most relevant in kittens where some practices advise 5 months old and others do early kitten neutering).
This is a big headache… Microchipping is mandatory for puppies before the age of 8 weeks. This is meant to be a breeder responsibility, but you will find owners that didn’t know about this and which puppy wasn’t microchipped. Always check for a microchip! The owner should microchip the puppy but you are not a law enforcer and can’t “make” them. So if the patient is not microchipped, you should do it on the first appointment. However, you should also check practice protocol – some practices will not put the microchip on the first appointment to prevent the puppy from getting “traumatised” on the first visit and others will only place microchips when in for neutering.
Worming and flea treatment
Many practices will worm puppies and kittens on their first vaccination and the importance of regular worming shouldn’t be understated. There will usually be a practice protocol for this. Flea treatment is often performed on a case-by-case basis but may also be practice protocol, so check this out.
First appointment is usually used to provide free pet insurance as a way to try to convince the owner to take on a full policy. Talking about pet insurance is important but there are certain rules about this – you can only advise about insurance you have received specific training about. However, you can explain about different types of pet insurance – and should do so to avoid heartache to unwary owners!
Pet health schemes
Although I have put it at the end, this is one of the most important subjects to approach during the first consultation. Most practices will run a health scheme which is a loyalty scheme for routine treatment (you can read more about health schemes here). This scheme allows owners to spread out the costs of routine treatment, but it’s actually a source of recurring revenue for practices and most practices that run the schemes are always looking to add more clients to them.