If your primary care veterinarian refers you to a specialist, there’s a good reason. Make the most of that initial consultation with these tips from internal medicine specialist Dr. Jodie Anderson at VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in the Portland, Oregon metro area.

Document your pet’s health: “It’s so helpful when a pet owner can give us specifics about their pet’s symptoms and a timeline that tells us how the condition has progressed,” says Dr. Anderson. “If your pet has been drinking excessively, for example, how often and how much water intake is important. For how long has it been happening? Ideally, we’d love notes with specific days and times—and any pattern you’ve noticed. If your pet has been on medications, what did you notice about your pet’s health and behavior while they were taking the medication?”

“This kind of specific information gives us a clearer picture of how things have been progressing, so we can make more informed decisions about what to do next,” she says.

It’s also important for your veterinary specialist to have the exact names and dosages of any medications and supplements your pet is taking. She or he will want to know what food your pet eats. And you should bring the names of veterinary practices where your pet previously received care. “With so many veterinary practices offering digital access to your pet’s health records, you may have all your pet’s medical history easily available, which is great,” says Dr. Anderson. “But if not, we’ll use the information you provide to request records from the veterinary practices you’ve visited.” 

“We really want to know anything that will help us deliver the care your pet needs. If your pet tends to be anxious, or has any other specific needs, that’s important to our approach,” she says.

Bring any very recent health information to the appointment, too, Dr. Anderson says. “If your pet had a test run in the past week, we may not have that information from your primary care veterinarian yet. If you have the results and we can see them right away that can speed things up.”

Ask some follow up questions: If your primary care veterinarian suggested a referral, there’s a good reason. Maybe she or he is thinking your pet may need a specific procedure that they feel uncomfortable performing. Maybe your pet needs advanced diagnostic testing that requires equipment your primary care practice doesn’t have. Or maybe your primary care veterinarian believes your pet would benefit from ongoing specialty treatment. Understanding the reasons behind the referral helps you know what the next steps may look like.  

Talk about the costs: Your primary care veterinarian may not be able to give you an accurate ballpark estimate, so it is best to talk with your specialist about the financial side of the equation as you work together to decide what to do. Of course, you’re not committing to the next steps by going to the specialty appointment. Your initial consultation with a specialist helps you understand what options are available and gives you a chance to ask questions and explore the best path for you and your pet.
“I recommend that you write down your key goals and questions before your appointment,” says Dr. Anderson. “It’s common to feel anxious, and we want to be sure you leave with the answers and information you need.”

Think about your goals and questions: You may choose to visit a specialist to make sure you have all the available information about your pet’s care options. Or maybe it’s not clear what’s wrong with your pet, and what you want is a clear diagnosis. The more you can tell your specialist about what you want to do—or don’t want to do—the clearer the path forward. 

“I recommend that you write down your key goals and questions before your appointment,” says Dr. Anderson. “It’s common to feel anxious, and we want to be sure you leave with the answers and information you need.”

Remember, this is medicine, not magic: Just like with human care, some health problems are tricky to figure out. (Harder even, than human health care, because our pets can’t just tell us how they’re feeling.) Making a difficult diagnosis is a process that can take time. With all the information you bring—and the data the team gathers from examinations and diagnostics—the specialist will identify the most likely issues , and work to confirm or eliminate them. That could mean multiple tests and multiple visits. 

If the next step is a procedure of some kind, the specialty practice will schedule that after they’ve met with you, talked about the options, and confirmed that you want to move ahead. And the complexity of a difficult health issue means that you and your pet’s care team may switch paths as you get more information. 

“Sometimes we even learn things from diagnostic tests that suggest another specialist’s expertise would be valuable. So it’s possible you could get referred again. If that happens, remember, we’re just trying to get you to the person who has the most knowledge and experience with your pet’s specific condition,” says Dr. Anderson.

Is your pet experiencing a difficult health challenge? Find a VCA Animal Hospital specialist in your area. 

Ohio native Dr. Jodie Anderson is a veterinary specialist in internal medicine at VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Portland, Ore. Dr. Anderson completed her veterinary degree at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University, an internship with BluePearl Veterinary Partners, a specialty internship in internal medicine at Coral Springs Animal Hospital in South Florida, and a small animal internal medicine residency at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine before joining VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists. When she’s not caring for people’s precious pets, Dr. Anderson enjoys time at home cooking and sewing in the company of her rescue cat, Angel, and she likes to travel, and explore local breweries and restaurants. “In Portland, you can be at the coast or in the mountains within two hours,” she says. “There's tons do in the city. And at the same time, it has a great neighborhood feel. I love it!”