How to Choose a Veterinarian
If you’re not a veterinarian, how do you know which vets are good? The Dog Trainer offers 7 tips to help you find a vet who’s right for your pet.
I’m going to take a guess that you’d rather not find yourself poking through Yelp reviews for a good vet the morning after your dog has kept you up all night having diarrhea. (Yes, my insight is amazing!) The best time to pick a vet is, of course, before you even have a dog. Or, if you happen to have found the world’s cutest Dogalini on the street, then start looking for a vet about 5 minutes after you get her home. Or, if you’re moving, then start new-vet-shopping right about the time you start to pack.
But, if you’re starting from scratch, try these 7 tips for finding a good one..
Tip #1: Ask for Referrals
Your friends probably aren’t vet-evaluating experts any more than you are, but they can tell you whether the vet or the techs in an office manhandle the animals or coax them into cooperating, whether the office returns calls promptly, and how good the vet is at explaining health issues.
Tip #2: Check Qualifications and Expertise
DVMs and VMDs are the general practitioners of the veterinary world. But you’ll find many who treat only “small animals” (a label that stretches to include your 130-pound Mastiff). Also, some vets work mainly with dogs, or cats, or “exotics.” A species-limited vet can be a big plus. Doctors for humans work with just one species, of course, and can usually use words to communicate with their patients. A general practice vet, on the other hand, has to cultivate knowledge about several species, and not one of his patients can say to him, “Doc, it’s a chronic burning pain and it started last Tuesday.” So it can be a big plus if your vet limits her practice to a few species, or just one.
Like doctors for humans, veterinarians have formed what are called “colleges,” which certify specialists in various fields. Your own doctor may be a board-certified internist, for example. Most general-practice vets don’t have specialized board certification, and that’s fine – board-certified veterinary internists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists and allergists, neurologists, and surgeons are often affiliated with specialty practices or see patients only by referral.
However, if a practice bills itself as an animal hospital, it should be accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. Look for a nice certificate prominently displayed. If you don’t see it, ask. If it doesn’t exist, bye-bye.
Tip #3: Get a Tour
Call in advance, explain that you’re a prospective client, and set a convenient appointment – you don’t want to show up in the middle of an emergency, or at a just plain busy time. The whole clinic should be clean, of course. Do cut them some slack if a sick animal just vomited, urinated, or defecated, but overall the place shouldn’t reek. On your tour, keep a sharp eye out for the surgery room or suite. It should be squeaky clean, not used for storage or as a hangout for the office cat. If there’s a surgery taking place, you won’t be going in, but take the opportunity to make sure the office practices good sterile technique. Look for a full gown, mask, and gloves, not just a scrub top.
Oh, and if the clinic won’t give you a tour at all? Cross them off your list.