Steps to Developing a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship

By Julie Thelen   |   Michigan State University Extension

When working with animals, just about anything can happen. Larger animals often pose a greater concern. 4-H members are encouraged to think about the larger picture of animal care and well-being in their management strategies and be proactive. Part of that is having a plan in case everything doesn’t go exactly according to plan. One of your first steps of caring for an animal should be developing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). This relationship will help you make decisions about animal care and health.

Find the veterinarian that is right for you
Michigan is home to many great veterinarians across the state who focus on different species. It is important to find a veterinarian who works with the species of animals that you raise. This will allow you to receive the most up-to-date information and make the best medical decisions for your animals. For example, if an individual specializes in small animals, such as cats and dogs, they may not be the best choice for your steer project. It is all right to ask questions about what people feel comfortable working with to make sure you have the right fit. The Michigan Veterinary Medical Association has a listing of veterinarians at Find-A-Vet ( You can also look online or ask around, including talking with other 4-H club members.

Don’t be surprised: Have a budget for animal medical expenses
The veterinarian is providing you a service when he or she sees your animals. Realize this and plan ahead, including having a budget for animal medical expenses. Although we can’t predict all expenses, it is appropriate to ask what a farm visit will cost if your animal needs medical care or access to certain medicated feeds or prescription drugs. By having an established VCPR, you will be able to easily get a veterinary feed directive (VFD). The VFD is a requirement put forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with impacts that will be seen across the country.

Don’t delay
When an animal is sick, it is not the right time to find a veterinarian. In cases of animal health that require veterinarian assistance, you want to be prepared and have an individual or animal health practice that can assist you to treat the issue as quickly as possible. This helps you address the concern and it is the most humane for the animal. Additionally, as of Jan. 1, 2017, if you purchase feed that requires a VFD, you will need a veterinarian. Learn more about the resources developed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) by visiting their Youth webpage.

Editor’s Note: Julie Thelen is a livestock and veterinary science educator for Michigan State University Extension.