How And Why To Make An Appointment With A Veterinarian

Years ago most veterinary practices saw outpatients on a walk-in basis. You went to see “Ol’ Doc” when you had time, and you hoped he wasn’t on the other side of the county working on a horse or cow. If he was, you waited.

Those were slower, simpler times.

Along came the rush-and-hurry years, when people had neither time to waste nor patience to wait, and, so, the appointment system was born. You scheduled a time that you could be there, and Ol’ Doc made sure, if humanly possible, that he’d be available.

Some practices use no appointment system at all, though most do follow an appointment schedule and see walk-ins as time allows. Of course, emergencies always take priority if they are life-threatening.

So, what steps should you follow if you want to make the most of an appointment? Planning is the key.

First, pick a day and time you know you can be there. If you must cancel, do so with at least 24 hours notice. Most practices charge a missed-appointment fee if you cancel in less time, or if you don’t show up at all.

That fee is explained by the fact that you contracted for the doctor and staff’s time. If you are not there to fulfill your part of the contract, and don’t cancel with enough notice for the staff to fill that time with another client, the time is lost. And time is money. You’ll get a lot more for your money if you show up. Also, by no-showing, you may also keep a patient who wanted and needed that time slot from taking advantage of it.

When you call to make your appointment, tell the staff everything you want the doctor to do while you are there. That will signal the receptionist to mark off enough appointment time to fully work up everything your pet needs. If it is a routine vaccination appointment, she may mark off 15 to 30 minutes. If vaccinations are needed, but there’s also a skin problem or limp to work up, tell them in advance. If you show up for a 15 minute vaccination appointment with a 2 week old limp that needs an X-ray, you will likely have to make another trip for another appointment with sufficient time allocated to work that problem up properly. Practice managers call that an “Oh, yeah, while he’s here” problem.

If you want to bring two or more pets at the same time, let the staff know when you make the appointment, not when you enter the door with an extra dog in tow.

Otherwise, the options are: make the person with the next appointment wait or do a rush job on the problem workup/extra pet. Neither is a good choice.

Unlike physicians (I waited 47 minutes after my appointment time to see mine today), most veterinarians run on time. So, don’t figure in that fudge factor when you estimate your arrival time. Arriving 5 minutes early allows the staff to prepare laboratory specimens and paperwork in advance of your appointed time.

We are all familiar with the tired phrase, “History repeats itself”. Though there are advances in the practice of veterinary medicine almost daily, some things tend to repeat themselves in our practices, too.

Now, in some big cities, walk-in practices are making a comeback, of sorts. No, people in big cities don’t want to wait, either, but big practices with five and more doctors reserve one or two of those doctors just to see walk-ins, while the other doctors see clients with appointments. A combination system.

Always, if you find yourself in an emergency situation, call ahead to let the staff know you are on your way with an injured pet.


  1. What if you are a client that always make an appointment but all of a sudden your cat falls down the stairs and is injured. It’s now an emergency. Clearly you can’t make an appointment because it’s now an emergency. Can the Vet legally charge you $25 because you don’t have an appointment?

    • Legally? I’m not an attorney, and it probably depends on the laws of your state, but I would guess the answer would be “Yes, but you don’t have to pay it if you don’t want to. You can always go to another doctor.” That said, if you take your kitty to an emergency service, they will certainly have an emergency fee, and other charges are usually higher at emergency clinics. Thanks for reading, Dr. Randolph.

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