Your veterinarian is nearly as important in your dog’s life as you are. So, when looking for a vet, keep in mind they’ll be doing more than just administering vaccines and performing check-ups. They’re going to accompany you and your dog through your pet’s entire life. That’s why finding the right vet is so crucial.
A veterinarian’s role
Finding the right vet is a proactive measure. The veterinarian you choose isn’t just for when your dog becomes ill. First and foremost, they are there to help you prevent your dog from becoming sick. Knowing what normal behavior for your dog is will help you to spot when something isn’t right. If your dog is ill, don’t hesitate to take them to the vet. It can be devastating for you and your dog if you wait, only to find out that he could have been treated if you had only brought him into the clinic earlier.
Considerations when choosing a veterinarian
When considering a veterinary clinic, evaluate not just the doctor, but the entire staff. This includes assistants, technicians, and administrative employees. You won’t have a good experience if the front office staff can’t keep your appointments straight, no matter how great the vet is.
Convenient hours and lower costs are both good things to consider, but at what cost? For instance, if the facility is dirty or the office is understaffed, the time and money you are saving may not be worth the potential cost to the health of your dog. You should evaluate a vet based on what is important to you all the while remembering you and your dog will likely be happier, and healthier, if you drive a few extra miles or pay a few extra dollars to get the level of care you both need and want.
Finding a good vet
The best way to locate a good veterinarian is to check with people who have the same thoughts on dog care as you do. Family, friends, pet sitters, or kennel employees may have recommendations. If you find a vet online, make sure to do your due diligence. Read online reviews and check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints.
Some veterinary hospitals maintain membership in the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). AAHA membership indicates a veterinary hospital has willingly taken steps and met AAHA’s standards for facilities, equipment, and quality care. Other veterinarians are board certified in a specialty area of veterinary medicine such as ophthalmology, surgery, or cardiology, which means they studied an additional two to four years in the specialty area and passed a thorough examination.
Once you have compiled a list, call and make an appointment to visit the facility and meet the staff. Find out about the clinic’s values, hours, and philosophy toward pets and people. This is a sensible request that any responsible veterinary clinic would fulfill. Save time by making a list of questions or information needed before going.
What to look for during a clinic tour
While visiting a veterinary clinic, pay attention to the following:
- Is the clinic clean? Does it appear organized? Are there any unpleasant smells?
- Do you always need appointments? Are there open clinic hours for vaccinations or check-ups?
- How many doctors practice at the clinic?
- How many vet technicians or assistants work at the clinic?
- Are dogs and cats separated in the waiting area and in kennels?
- Does the staff listen to clients and empathize with the pets? Are they well-trained and experienced?
- Do the veterinarians also practice specialty medicine, such as behavioral problems or senior pet care?
- Does the standard fee schedule meet your budgetary needs? Are there fee discounts for seniors or multi-pet owners?
- Are all medical procedures and diagnoses (x-rays, ultrasound, blood work, EKG for example) performed at the clinic? If not, which are referred to a specialist?
- Does the clinic offer emergency services?
- Is the clinic location convenient? Do the hours work for your schedule?
How to be a good patient
When you make an appointment, be on time. When you arrive, always bring your dog in on a leash or in a carrier to protect both your dog and other patients. If you have an emergency problem, call the clinic to be sure a doctor is available. Be sure to have contact info for an emergency clinic in your area on hand for off-hours situations.
Be sure to write and post all of the vet and emergency vet numbers in your home. Program the numbers into your cell phone. Put your dog in the car and drive a practice run to the clinic just to see how long it takes. Do the same with the emergency vet clinic. If problems arise during off hours, you will need to judge whether it is an emergency or not. Try not to call your vet during off hours if it is something that can wait until they are open. Most vets will not diagnose medical issues over the phone as there are too many unknown factors.
How to be a conscientious dog parent
The first thing is to help with the pet overpopulation problem. Have your dog spayed or neutered as soon as they reach a reasonable age. Spaying or neutering your dog can also help prevent medical and behavioral problems. Keep your dog indoors when possible and be sure outdoor kennels and dog houses are clean, comfortable, and protected from the elements. When you adopt or buy a dog, remember you are making a lifetime commitment. By finding the right vet, you’re helping your dog have a quality, healthy life.
What to do if you choose the wrong vet
Remember, Fido can’t talk, so you are accountable for your dog’s care. If you or your dog is not receiving the quality care you want, it is time to advocate for yourself. First, try to work out the problem with your current vet. Lack of communication or misunderstanding could be the reason for the problem and simply informing the vet may resolve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction. If you cannot work out a fee or treatment issue with your clinic, you may contact the ethics and grievance committee of your local or state veterinary association and/or the American Veterinary Medical Association.
For severe problems of medical competence, you may file a formal complaint with the veterinary licensing board in your state. As a last resort, you can take legal action, but consult an attorney first. You can steer clear of such disagreeable and time-consuming problems by finding the right vet the first time. Remember, your vet is your dog’s second-best friend.