When you choose to adopt a cat or dog, they become part of your family. As with any family member, regular doctor visits are essential for their health. Choosing a veterinarian should be treated just like choosing a doctor for yourself or your child. Look for someone who meets your needs as well as your pet’s needs. People skills are just as important as animal skills. They need to be able to put you at ease while taking care of your pet.
You not only want to evaluate the veterinarians themselves, but also the staff and technicians who work with them. Location and fees may also be a factor in making an informed decision. Is driving a few extra miles or paying a bit more worth it to get the quality of care you want for your pet? Here are some tips for choosing the right veterinarian for you.
Ask other pet parents for advice
You can either make a general inquiry, or find someone who has a pet similar to yours. You may start with friends, neighbors, an animal shelter, trainer, groomer, boarding kennel employee, or even a pet sitter.
Visit the clinic(s)
Don’t be afraid to visit the clinic or clinics you are considering. Is the facility clean, comforting and organized? Are appointments required? This may be a factor in case you have an emergency with your pet in the future. How many veterinarians are in this practice, and are there technicians or other professional and knowledgeable staff members? Are dogs and cats kept in separate areas? This could be important if your pet doesn’t necessarily get along with the other species, and could help in making visits less stressful for them.
You also want to get a feel for the veterinarians and staff themselves. Are they caring, calm, competent and courteous? Do they communicate effectively? Do they talk directly to your pet, or just to you? Do they show a genuine affection for animals? When a veterinarian speaks directly to an animal, it shows they value your pet, and it also relaxes your pet. Does your veterinarian have any special interests such as geriatrics or any other special conditions that may apply to your specific pet?
Just as when choosing a human doctor, you may want to take into consideration the following: Are X-rays, ultrasound, bloodwork, EKG, endoscopy and/or other diagnostics done in-office, or referred to outside specialists? What emergency services are available? Gather information about hours of operation, staff qualifications, availability of advanced training, and fees. Do they offer additional services such as boarding and grooming? Do the costs/fees fit your budget? You may also want to see if there are discounts for senior citizens or multi-pet households.
Investigate the veterinarian’s education and experience. Does the clinic or hospital have AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) approval? While many quality clinics are not AAHA members, the membership does ensure a certain level of medical care. Does the veterinarian get involved with the community? Do they invite dogs and guardians to visit the clinic and staff socially, during times of wellness?
Does the veterinarian’s philosophies match yours? How do they respond to your questions and concerns about pet care? Are they someone you think you can communicate with? Can you get timely answers to your medical questions? If your pet is hospitalized, can you call as often as you want for updates?
Tips for you as a pet parent
Finally, it’s not just up to the veterinarian. You as a pet parent need to be proactive in your pet’s care. See your vet regularly for preventative visits, such as vaccinations, dental cleaning, and bloodwork…not just when your pet becomes ill. You should also know what’s normal for your pet so that you can recognize the first signs of illness. Is your pet suddenly more lethargic than normal? Do they have a sudden loss of weight? If a pet’s not well, don’t wait until they are really sick before taking them to a vet. It’s entirely possible that an illness can be treated with enough notice, and it’s heartbreaking to learn that something might have been treatable if caught early.
While emergencies happen, when possible try to schedule appointments in advance, and be on time. Lateness can not only be seen as rude, it can also throw off the timing and care of other animals at the clinic. Also, your pet should be brought in on a leash or crate; and cats should be brought in carriers. This is for their safety and the safety of other pets in the clinic. Even if you do have an emergency, try to call ahead to ensure the veterinarian is available, as they will need to work your pet into their regular schedule, and/or shuffle appointments to make room. Be prepared to have your pet referred to an emergency vet hospital if they can’t be seen at your regular vet that day, or if they need a specialist.
When at all possible, be considerate and don’t disturb your veterinarian during non-working hours for issues that can wait. You should also not expect a diagnosis over the phone.
When you’re not happy with your veterinarian
If you are unsatisfied with your veterinarian and/or find they are not meeting your specific needs, you may need to search for a new one. However, sometimes misunderstandings and conflicts can be resolved by talking with your veterinarian and looking for solutions. If you can’t come to a resolution regarding fees or treatment, and if it’s severe enough to warrant it, you may contact the ethics and grievance committee of your local or state veterinary association and/or the American Veterinary Medical Association. For serious issues of medical competence, you may file a formal complaint with the Veterinary Licensing Board in you state. And finally, if deemed necessary, you can take the matter up as a civil suit with an attorney.
In essence, you should treat your pet as your family. They are a lifelong commitment…your life and theirs. Their health should be just as important as your own and that of your human family. When adopting a pet and bringing them into your home, you should take into consideration the physical, mental and medical care needed for them. After all, they are depending on you.
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