One of the most vital parts of being a responsible pet owner is having a veterinarian for regular and emergency care. While many of our pets might not love going to the vet, these professionals can help our pets healthy! And while we might do the best we can, there are sadly going to be times in which our pets might need additional care for illnesses or injuries.
Finding the right vet for both you and your pet is important it’ll take more than a quick google search for the closest practice. There are so many things to consider with finding a vet: what services they provide, their relationship with the community and with other veterinarians, and how they interact with all kinds of animals all make a big difference.
Different veterinary practices/hospitals will provide the same basic services but might differ in approach and might provide other services. There are a few vets, for example, that solely focus on home visits and will be able to help out with regular physicals or illnesses. Rooster’s vets are these two wonderful vets who come to our house to see him and their whole practice is doing house visits. He’s had to go to other vets for specific issues (like when he got several teeth removed) but having his regular vets make house calls has made the entire process so much easier.
For us, this is easier because of his severe anxiety but I’ve heard from others with multiple pets that this practice makes annual physicals so much easier. For people with multiple animals, having vets do house calls is amazing because it means all of their animals can get checked out without the hassle of multiple vet appointments on different days or travelling with many animals.
However, each person and their pet(s) will have different needs from their vets and while home visits might work for us, there are others that might go to an actual animal hospital for care. There are other practices with animal hospitals that, for example, do hydrotherapy to help with injuries and others that do radiology, all in addition to typical services. The important thing, if possible, is to find a veterinarian and associated practice that works well for you and your pet.
Here are some questions to ask a new veterinarian and their office (and why you should ask them):
- How long has the practice been open? And how long have different staff members been working there or in the field? Experience isn’t always an indication of quality care (as there might be some with lots of experience but aren’t the best!) but having vets and their staff who’ve been in the community and with the same practice can be important!
- Is the staff educated and licensed? And is the practice accredited? Like with human doctors, veterinarians must also go through intensive training and licensing to practice medicine. Finding a license will depend on where you’re living in the US (as each state has its own licensing board!) but the American Association of Veterinary State Boards has a list of each state’s board and how to look up a license. Similarly, vet techs and assistants will often go to a local community or technical college for a year to gain the right skills to help out around the practice.
- While hospitals that serve people with Medicare must be accredited through a board, the same is actually not true of veterinary hospitals! Vet hospital accreditation is only voluntary and according to the American Animal Hospital Association, only 12% of animal hospitals in the US are accredited. A practice that isn’t accredited isn’t necessarily worse than one that is (as it could be that the practice does not offer all the services needed to pass evaluation).
- What services do they provide? Some veterinarian hospitals provide more services because of the equipment they have on hand and experience of their staff. And some pets will need regular but specific care (like hydrotherapy), which could mean going to one practice for everything (physicals and specific care) the best decision.
- If they’re not able to provide a specific kind of care, do they have a list of specialists and other vets to recommend? For example, during a routine vet visit with our normal vets, we discovered that Rooster would actually need to have a tooth removed. Our vets did house calls and didn’t the space and equipment to do such a procedure. However, they were able to recommend a nearby vet hospital and veterinarian.
- Similarly, do they have a good relationship with other veterinarians and practices? With Rooster, he did need some specific care but for other things, it’s so much easier to have our regular home visit vets. But the fact that our regular vets were able to communicate with the other practice helped a whole lot.
- What are the ways to contact the office? There are so many things to consider with this part: what’s the telephone and email policy? Are you able to call or email with questions and talk to an educated staff? Are you able to email and set up an appointment if you don’t like talking on the phone? If your pet is staying over for observation (or the like), are you able to get updates and/or call to check in? Are you able to schedule with a specific veterinarian? Many hospitals will have a few different veterinarians on staff but it can be nice to schedule an appointment with the same vet.
- How long should I wait to schedule a routine appointment? Many places will be able to schedule an appointment within a couple days to a week or so. This will depend on the level of urgency in your pet’s health and how busy the hospital is.
- And it’s also important to know if their hours work with your schedule. For example, are they open on Saturdays for a few hours if you work during the week? Not all vet practices are going to be open all the time but many will be open 5-6 days a week and many regions will also have an emergency vet hospital open during the times when other practices are closed in case of an emergency.
- What are their responses to emergency situations or irregular issues? Some vets will have a couple openings each day to deal with more imminent type issues. For example, there was one time I was caring for a dog and he ended up getting an eye infection in both eyes. His regular vet was able to fit us in the next day to deal with this issue (as leaving the infection alone could mean loss of sight for the dog!). Many vets will have open appointments each day to deal with more immediate care.
- It’s also vital to know where to go if your dog has any sort of serious emergency (i.e. in a car accident) – is your vet able to deal with those sorts of issues and if not, do they know where you should be going?
- What types of payment methods are offered? Many places require full payment the day of any vet care.
- Do you like them? This seems like a weird thing to consider when deciding on a vet but it is by far one of the most important things. You are going to have to interact with your vet, their associates, and their staff at least once a year and it’s important that you like them! You’re trusting them with your pet’s health.
- Similarly, how do they interact with you and your pet? Are they friendly and kind to you and your animals?
- Finally, what are people in the community saying about them? Talk with your friends, family, and neighbors that have pets about their veterinarians and what they think about local practices. Even people you meet at the dog park (if you have a dog) might have a recommendation! Lastly, look up reviews online (Yelp, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc) to see what others are saying. That way you can see what others in the community think of the vet/hospital.
- This goes for moving to a new area too! Your vet might have some recommendations for the new area but if they don’t, the internet can be very helpful!
These are just some of the questions you should be considering when looking for a vet. Everyone is going to have different priorities when looking for a veterinarian but finding the perfect one for you and your pet(s) can make such a difference! And if you just got a pet, are in the process of getting one, or moving to a new area, it’ll be important to at least know of some practices in the area in case of an emergency.
While our pets might not like going and these things tend to be expensive, going to the vet is an important part of being a pet owner. And like I’ve said many times, finding the right one for you can make all the difference!
Great article Andrea. Just wanted to mention that there are Vets who also do Chinese Medicine and Accupuncture on animals. These approaches have been very helpful to my animals.
Thanks Robyn! And you’re totally right! I’ll have to write a follow up about vets who do medicine that’s considered ‘untraditional’ in the western world.