Health & Wellness Articles

The Best Vet for Your Pet

How to Choose the Right Veterinarian for Your Dog or Cat

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As a pet owner, developing a trusting relationship with your veterinarian is an integral aspect of your dog or cat’s health. Just as we put a great deal of thought into choosing our own doctor, we want to have a competent and knowledgeable person whom we trust to care for our pets. Whether starting from scratch and adopting a new pet or simply moving to a new city or state, there comes a point when every pet owner has to choose a veterinarian. For some people, finding the perfect vet is as simple as searching the internet for the nearest office. For others, there are more factors to consider: the veterinarian, the support staff, cost of services and the location of the veterinary office, to name a few.
 
It’s up to you to weigh all the factors and decide which are most important to you. Perhaps you have a cat or dog who does not tolerate long car rides; therefore, finding a veterinary office that is close to home might take precedence. Many owners will be willing to travel a little farther for a veterinarian they like and trust will make good decisions for their pet. The friendliness of the staff and comfort level of the office are also important considerations. While it’s true that most pets don’t love going to see the veterinarian, you want to make sure to give your pet the most pleasant experience possible.
 
So how do you choose? Word of mouth is probably your best bet. Having a trusted friend or even an acquaintance that already has an established relationship with a veterinarian can go a long way. If you’re new to the area, visit a local dog park or pet store and ask other owners where they take their pets. You could end up with a great recommendation. If you’re moving, don’t feel shy about asking your current veterinary office for suggestions for a new clinic. I have had clients do this, and, quite often, I have old classmates in the area to whom I can refer them. At the very least, I can come up with a referral through another veterinarian friend.

What to Look for in a Veterinary Clinic
An ideal veterinary office should be clean, well-organized and comfortable. Every clinic has their share of hectic days, but, overall, the staff should conduct themselves in a friendly, helpful and professional manner. They should be attentive and willing to answer your questions and/or accommodate your pet’s needs.

The portrait of an ideal veterinarian is going to vary from person to person, but there are some qualities that are probably standard across the board. When dealing with your pet, a veterinarian should act in a caring and empathetic manner. He or she should genuinely listen to and address your questions and any concerns you have about your pet. When it comes down to it, you want to make sure the person caring for and helping you make short- and long-term decisions for your furry friend is someone you can trust and count on to give you the best possible advice.

Evaluating a New Veterinarian
When evaluating a new veterinary clinic for the first time, take your pet in for a wellness exam, if possible. Assessing a new veterinary office can be much more difficult when dealing with the emotional stress of having a sick pet. Make sure to go prepared with your pet’s medical records, including a full history of his or her vaccinations and a summary of any past health issues. Most clinics, breeders or adoption agencies should be able to provide you with your pet’s pertinent history upon request. The more information you supply for your new veterinarian, the better equipped he or she will be to give recommendations regarding the best care for your pet.
 
Important Licensing and Accreditations
Most veterinarians proudly display their national and state licenses either in their office or exam rooms. For pets with specific medical conditions, such as chronic skin or eye issues or pets receiving treatment for cancer, it might be advisable to visit a veterinary specialist for regular care. Your general veterinarian should be able to make recommendations regarding specialists in the area. The American Animal Hospital Association, or AAHA, is an organization that evaluates veterinary practices on specific standards of care in regards to facility, staff and patient care and is a good place to begin your search if starting from scratch. (A list of AAHA-accredited pet hospitals can be found here).

Some Questions to Ask
Specific questions to ask your veterinarian will vary depending on the type of visit, but here are a few guidelines to get you started:
  • What regular or routine health care do you recommend for my pet?
     
  • For pets on specific medications or with certain health conditions, what additional testing is required or recommended?
     
  • Who will see my pet if my regular veterinarian isn’t available?
     
  • Does the clinic offer after-hours services? If not, is there a nearby after-hours clinic with well-trusted veterinarians?
     
  • Where should I take my pet in the event of an emergency?
Knowing what type of routine care to expect is important for scheduling appointments and budgeting for your pet’s veterinary visits. In a practice with multiple doctors, communication among veterinarians is necessary to provide the best continuity of care for patients. You may wish to briefly meet other doctors on staff so that you have a familiar face in the event that you are unable to see your regular veterinarian. Taking the steps to get the answers to these questions in advance will make dealing with a potential emergency or other unexpected issues that might arise much more manageable.
 
When to Consider Switching to a New Veterinarian
Not every person or every pet is going to jibe with every veterinarian—it’s just a fact of life. It’s best to trust your instincts in these situations. If you feel your pet's needs aren’t being addressed, or if you find yourself constantly second-guessing or questioning your veterinarian’s recommendations, it might be best for you to consider another doctor for your pet. It doesn't mean that your current vet is necessarily giving you misleading or bad advice. You might simply get along better with another provider who does things a little differently, and that's totally fine. Above all, it's important for you to feel comfortable and confident in your relationship with your veterinarian.

Tips for Maintaining a Positive Relationship with Your Vet
Maintaining a good relationship with your veterinarian is a two-way street, and it’s important to do your part as well. Schedule regular appointments in advance, and do your best to be on time. If you have to cancel or reschedule an appointment, call the office and give as much notice as possible. Treat the staff at your veterinary clinic with the same courtesy you would give your own doctor.

As is the case with your own doctor’s office, every veterinary clinic is going to run behind sometimes. If you really detest waiting, schedule early appointments and try to avoid Mondays and Saturdays, which generally tend to be busier days filled with emergencies. Whenever possible, leave young children and any other family members or additional pets that are not critical to the appointment at home. The fewer people in the exam room, the easier it is for your veterinarian to address all of your concerns and focus on your pet.

Keep in mind that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes at a veterinary clinic than most clients realize. Many veterinarians are often managing multiple sick or hospitalized patients and dealing with emergencies on top of seeing regular appointments. Remember, too, that we all have bad days and mistakes can happen, even with the most well-intentioned veterinarians. If you feel that a major error or oversight has occurred, talk to your veterinarian or the clinic manager and give them the opportunity to rectify the situation.

Lastly, if you have specific concerns or requests for your pet, don’t be afraid to speak up! Many veterinarians, myself included, understand that maintaining a good veterinary-client-patient relationship means keeping pets and their owners happy, and they are willing to take the necessary steps to make it happen. As long as your requests are reasonable and safe for the health of your pet, your veterinarian will likely be on board. As is the case with any relationship, communication is key.
 
Source
American Animal Hospital Association, www.aahanet.org, accessed on July 23, 2013
 

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About The Author

Kristi Snyder, DVM Kristi Snyder, DVM
Kristi is a veterinarian and author of LifeSprinkles.com, a healthy living blog where she shares her passion for wellness and inspires others to live healthy, balanced lives. She lives in Phoenix with her three dogs (Eddy, Alan and Jelly Bean) and her cat Smush. She loves animals, cooking, running--and all things chocolate.

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