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Cathy Bryan, an accountant in Marina Del Rey, Calif., first discovered mobile, or house-call, veterinarians when she was planning a family trip. She almost had to cancel her vacation because she couldn't show a boarding facility proof of her cats' vaccinations. "I only realized a day before our trip that my cats were overdue for their vaccinations. I was up to my eyeballs trying to wrap everything up at work.... There was no physical way for me to get them to the vet before our trip." Desperate, she found a veterinarian who would come to her home to vaccinate her cats -- and she was hooked.
Like Bryan, a growing number of pet owners are finding the idea of receiving medical treatment for their pet without the hassle of making a trip to a veterinary office irresistible. While traveling veterinarians may conjure up images of small towns and simpler times, for the most part, veterinarians who make house calls cater to over-scheduled career-driven people living in metropolitan areas. Jim Claghorn, DVM, a mobile veterinarian who has been seeing patients in Northern California for 25 years, says the vast majority of his clients are working people, 30 to 55 years old.
What you can expect from a house-call veterinarian
House-call veterinarians provide most of the services you will find in a stationary veterinary office, such as exams, vaccinations, dentistry, blood testing, disease screenings, preventative care, dispensing medications and behavior consultations. They also offer in-home humane euthanasia, allowing animals to spend their final moments in the comfort of their home rather than in a sterile veterinary office. In the words of Dr. Claghorn, pets can rest at peace "without any stress, pain or misery that they would experience in the torture chamber."
In-home convenience comes at a cost. You should plan to pay higher fees than you would if you went to a regular veterinarian's office. The additional cost usually is in the form of a "travel fee," which can run anywhere from $40 - $50, or even more, over your area's standard rates.
When to make the trip to a veterinary office or animal hospital
Most mobile veterinarians refer patients to veterinary offices or animal hospitals for critical and intensive care, as well as surgical procedures and radiology services. Says Dr. Claghorn, "If your dog has a broken leg or has been hit by a car, don't call me. Go to an animal hospital." Some house-call veterinarians, who travel in a motor home-cum-surgical suite, are able to provide more extensive services, however. Be sure to plan well ahead by asking mobile veterinarians for a full list of provided services during your initial discussions.
Something else to keep in mind, especially if your cat needs urgent care, is that when house-call veterinarians are seeing another patient, there is no receptionist to pull them out to handle your emergency. They may be on a house call in another county and not be able to see your cat in a timely fashion.
The benefits to your cat
Despite the potential drawbacks, in-home care definitely has its perks, especially from your cat's perspective. According to Dr. Claghorn, "Ten to fifteen percent of cats have a nervous breakdown when the cage is brought out. All they know is they are being taken to a place where they will be injected with needles and surrounded by barking dogs." When your veterinarian comes to you, your cat does not have to endure the stress and anxiety of being put in a cage, of having to ride in a car or spend time in the veterinarian's office. Additionally, you don't risk exposing your pet to communicable diseases that may exist in a veterinary office.
The benefits to you
These days, Bryan relies on a house-call veterinarian for all of her cats' medical needs. "I know that having a vet come to your home is a luxury, but with my hectic schedule, it's also a necessity. Both my husband and I work all day, so if we're not paying a vet to come to our home, we're going to have to pay someone to take our cats to the vet."
When your veterinarian comes to you, not only do you not have to take time out of your schedule to take your pet to an outside office, you also spare yourself the frustration of sitting in a waiting room. If you are elderly, disabled or without a car, you also won't have to arrange for transportation to the veterinary office.
Interested in finding a house-call veterinarian?
For a list of house-call veterinarians by state, check out the American Association of Housecall & Mobile Veterinarians Web site . Click on "LOCATE A VET" at the left-hand side of the home page. You may also want to ask a reputable dog care professional, such as a groomer, trainer or even a veterinarian in your area, for a recommendation.
is the author of The Complete Cat Organizer and The Complete Dog Organizer, as well as more than eleven City Dog guidebooks, which cover dog-centric resources in numerous cities across the country.