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.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #184

Tip #4: Ask About Pain Management

Weirdly specific, you think? Nope. Not only is pain a huge issue for sick animals, old animals, and animals recovering from surgery, but also how pain is managed tells you a lot about how up to speed a veterinary practice is. Once upon a time, in the Dark Ages, vets used to shy away from pain meds because they believed that animals in pain would remain quiet and thus heal more quickly. Notice I call that the Dark Ages: The truth is that good pain control speeds recovery and lowers the odds of certain complications, both in people and in other animals. As a behavior specialist, I often see pain contributing to aggression and other problems, as well.

Run screaming from any vet who isn’t up to speed on this issue. Really.

Tip #5: Ask About Overnight Care for Hospitalized Animals

A biggish hospital may have a tech on staff for this, or may hire freelancers or pay overtime as needed. Leaving hospitalized animals alone overnight? Dealbreaker.

Tip #6: Ask the Vet Who She Refers to

If there’s a vet school or specialty clinic near by, you want to hear that your prospective vet sends complex or specialized cases to them. And, by the way, if you’ve brought your dog in for treatment and the vet’s response to some question of yours is “I don’t know, let me check with a specialist” or “Let me look it up,” then you should stand and cheer. Nobody, no matter how expert, knows everything, and an expert aware that her knowledge has limits – that expert is golden.

Tip #7: How’s the Behavior?

A courteous reception staff is a big, big plus. But I’m talking about dog behavior, too. Few GP vets know much about noncoercive animal training, puppy behavioral development, or scientifically grounded behavior modification. What’s worse, many of them don’t know they don’t know much. That’s fine up to a point, as long as you’re getting your training and behavior advice from someone with real expertise, but beware of a vet who talks about being the alpha and showing your dog who’s boss. Why? Because you don’t want that attitude in the examining room with your sick or hurting and possibly frightened pet, that’s why. Tell him about Dr. Sophia Yin’s guide to low-stress animal handling (in fact, buy him a copy if you’re rich), and find another vet.

What About Online Reviews?

Sure, check them out. Remember, though: It’s the people with the most intense opinions who post the most reviews. Some angry people get very angry indeed, and not always with good reason. Also, who’s behind that screen name?

And Money?

Vet school costs just as much as med school does. Veterinary equipment and medications cost what the human equivalents do. The surgery to repair your dog’s anterior cruciate ligament requires the same time and expertise as that surgery done on you. Most vets really do care about their patients, and very few are getting rich. Odds are your vet is not recommending random expensive tests to rip you off – he’s trying to provide the best care for your friend. Discuss your financial concerns honestly, learn what your choices are, and remember, the best way to keep vet costs down is to give your dog good food, plenty of exercise, and regular checkups to catch problems early.

Here’s hoping you find a great vet, and that you hardly ever have to visit her. As for me, you can visit for free on Facebook, and you can also write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thanks for reading!

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About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).