Does My Cat Need A Checkup Or Is My Vet Ripping Me Off?

Female veterinarian and young boy petting kittens

I took my Jeep in for an oil change. I was in a hurry and I stopped in to a quick oil change place. The attendant said my Jeep needed an oil change and also several other services based on my mileage.

He flashed through the screens on the computer affixed to a docking station poised by my driver’s side window. I looked at the images of belts and small mechanical looking objects pictured there.  I am not a mechanic.  I am barely “user level”.  (To paraphrase a famous “doctor”-Dammit, Jim, I am a veterinarian, not an auto mechanic!) I get in my Jeep and I expect it to go.  Without the reminders to change the oil, it is likely that all I would do is fill up the gas. I depend on people like this attendant to help me know what my Jeep needs to keep it running.

I was at his mercy…or the mercy of his computer program to tell me what I needed. I asked him about the extra services and he seemed uncomfortable advising me, gesturing toward the computer and doing what he had been trained to do. I felt very vulnerable.  What should I do? I want my Jeep to run well and last long. I would like to avoid the inconvenience of it breaking down. But if I consented to all of the suggested things, I would have a total of more than $400! I decided to do only the oil change that my Jeep alert was beeping about and to do some research into the other suggestions. I felt like I was being upsold and optional services were being promoted as critical. It was not a good feeling.

As I sat there, it struck me that this is how my clients must sometimes feel when talking to me. Do they wonder what of all the preventive care they really need? I am sure that they do. My Jeep is not going to suffer from pain or quality of life issues if I skip things for it. In fact, my husband and I discussed these extras since then and we agreed that even if my Jeep stops because of a worn belt, no one will die and it can be repaired. It may be an inconvenience and an avoidable expense, but is not a life or death choice.

This is a distinct difference from my recommendations for cats. Cats CAN die from some skipped recommendations, but how does a pet owner know which to choose confidently without feeling like they are being victimized? What is really necessary?

If your vet is recommending an examination then he/she is not ripping you off. The examination is the most important part of your cat’s care.  People call my office sometimes and say that all they want is a Rabies shot and they do not need an exam, but this is very backwards. It is possible that if your vet is willing to sell you medications and vaccines without an exam, then you are getting less value for your investment. Vaccines and medications are easy. Examination and explaining are more labor intensive, but lead to better outcomes. An exam can uncover hidden diseases, establish a baseline in a normal pet and personalize the care plan.  Only a vet who cares about your individual cat will take the time to educate you and tailor the recommendations, eliminating unnecessary items and prioritizing needed care.

Your vet will be looking you (and your cat) in the eyes when making the recommendations. You can develop trust and a relationship and be on the same team. There is tremendous value in a one on one interaction. A checklist or computer guide might be a great starting point, but there is no substitute for old-fashioned scrutiny. It should not be all or nothing and the only way to find the happy medium is through an exam.

If the attendant at the quick change place had examined my Jeep (and not just his computer) and confidently talked with me about each point and why it was needed, I would have felt much less vulnerable. Guidelines for care and maintenance are a great starting point, but decisions should not be made without inspecting the Jeep…or the cat.

Plan ahead for your cat’s Annual Physical Exam. It is an investment in her longevity, health and happiness. Then you will have a chance to ask your own vet what preventive is truly indicated for your cat.


vet thumbnailAbout The Vet: Dr. Kathryn Primm is a practicing small animal veterinarian. She has consulted on articles for national magazines, done numerous radio interviews and appeared on local television. She has contributed to an article for Prevention magazine and Woman’s Day in Feb 2014 and June 2015 on shelves now.

She has a social media presence on TwitterFacebook and Google+ and enjoys interaction with others about her passions, animals and communication. She is a regular contributor to Boomeon, the online community which can be found at . She has also written a book, Tennessee Tails:Pets and Their People. The book received recognition as Runner Up in the Memoirs category at a national book festival. You can read more about Dr. Primm and how to get the best value for your pet care dollar at her website,

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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