How to Choose the Right Vet for Your Pet

For most people, choosing the right vet for their pets is much harder than choosing the right physician for themselves.   When choosing a vet, you’re not just looking for  someone with exceptional medical skills, but also for someone with excellent people skills who understands you and your pet.  And since most veterinarians work with a team of professional support staff, you’ll want to evaluate them, too, as you look for the best fit for you and your furry family members. 

The worst time to find a vet is when your pet has a medical emergency, so plan ahead and do your research before you need one.   The following suggestions can help you in your search.

Yellow Pages/internet search

While this is a good start, I think this should only be a first step.  Proximity to your home will certainly be a factor in your decision, but it shouldn’t be the only one.  A good vet is well worth driving a few extra miles.  If you’re using the internet to look for a vet, use common sense if you’re visiting review sites such as Yelp.  The opinions posted there are only that – opinions.   Do your own research and make up your own mind after visiting potential vets. 

Word of mouth/referral from friends, neighbors or family members

With most service businesses, word of mouth is usually the best way to find a provider.  But a word of caution:  make sure that the person referring you shares your philosophy when it comes to how to care for a pet.  Not all pet owners consider pets members of the family, and even among the ones who do, there are varying degrees.   Don’t necessarily trust a referral from someone you just met.  When I got Feebee, who was my first cat, I was not only clueless when it came to how to select a vet, I was also new to the area, so I did what most people would do – I asked a neighbor who had a dog and a cat and didn’t pursue any other recommendations, nor did I research the clinic myself.  I later found out that the vet I took Feebee to had a reputation for cutting corners during anesthetic procedures, especially in the area of pain control.  Sadly, I didn’t find this out until after Feebee had already been neutered and had had a dental cleaning.

Membership in the American Animal Hospital Association

Member hospitals voluntarily pursue and meet AAHA’s standards in areas of quality medical care, facility and equipment. 

For cats – look for a feline vet

If at all possible, look for a vet specializing in cats.  Cats are not small dogs, and feline vets can address your cat’s special needs better.  Your cat’s vet visit may also be less stressful in a feline-only hospital.  (Read Is Your Vet Cat-Friendly for more on this topic).  For a listing of feline veterinarians, use the Find a Feline Practitioner search on the American Association of Feline Practioners’ website.

Facility

Does the hospital have separate cat and dog waiting areas?  Is the hospital clean and odor-free? Is the staff dressed in clean uniforms and lab coats?  Don’t rule out an older looking hospital – a fancy new facility doesn’t always guarantee that your pet will also get top-of-the line medical care. 

Make an appointment without your pet

I think this is the best way to evaluate a veterinary practice.  Make an appointment and ask for a tour of the facility.  By going to see potential vets without your pet, you will be more relaxed and it will give you a chance to evaluate not only facility, but also the practice philosophy of the clinic.  If you want to speak to a veterinarian during this trial visit, offer to pay for an office visit.  Most vets will not charge you for an introductory visit, but it sets the right tone for a future relationship of mutual respect.  Come prepared with a list of questions that are important to you.  For example, if you’re holistically oriented, make sure that your vet is, too, or at the very least, is open to holistic modalities even if he or she doesn’t practice them.

Other questions to ask:

  • How many veterinarians are at the practice?
  • Will my pet always see the same veterinarian?
  • Are appointments required?
  • What happens if I have an emergency after clinic hours?
  • Are dogs and cats housed in separate areas?
  • Are diagnostic services such as x-rays, blood work, ultrasound, EKG, endoscopy done in-house, or will they be referred to a specialist?

Cost

While the cost of veterinary care is most certainly a factor in the decision pocess, I don’t believe that it should be the determining one.   When we bring pets into our lives, we know that they will need veterinary care – that’s part of being a responsible pet parent.  Even if we’re fortunate that they never get sick, they’ll still need preventive care.  Depending on what part of the country you’re in, routine veterinary care can run anywhere from $500-1500 a year.  These numbers can include annual wellness exams, parasite control, labwork, dental care, and more. 

If you do use price as a determining factor in your search for a vet, be aware that simply asking for prices for certain services does not necessarily tell the whole story.  For example, prices for spay/neuter surgeries can vary widely between practices – sometimes, the disaparities are due the difference in the level of care your pet will receive.

Finding the right vet for your pet is one of the most important decisions you’ll make – there is nothing more reassuring than having a vet you know you can trust and rely on throughout your pet’s life.

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