Veterinarians: How to Choose a Vet

What to look for in your veterinarian.

woman and cat

When I adopted my first pet -- a three-month-old grey and white cat -- I took him to the vet recommended by the local animal shelter. Unfortunately, the vet's office was small and cramped and felt dirty - even for a place with animals traipsing in and out all day long. The vet wasn't exactly rude, but he wasn't overly friendly either. Something about his manner just didn't make me feel safe and confident with him handling my new little kitty. After just one visit I decided to look for another doctor. Two tries later, I now have a wonderful vet that listens to me, cares for my animals, and goes the extra mile to keep them healthy.

Whether you're new to pet ownership or just need a new vet, here are some tips for finding the right one for you and your pet.

Who

Don't be afraid to ask about the doctor's credentials. Look for a vet who has graduated from a veterinary program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). You can also check to see if the vet is a current member of AVMA or other state or local veterinary associations. Some animal hospitals are members of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which signifies that they have voluntarily pursued and met AAHA's standards regarding their facility, equipment, and quality of care.

Who will care for your pet if your regular vet is unavailable? My parents used to take their cat to a vet with a good local reputation. But they never got to see the well-respected vet. Instead, they routinely dealt with his associates - who turned out to be less than stellar. When their cat almost died after a botched routine surgery, they promptly found a new vet.

Keep in mind that some veterinary offices may have more than one vet in the practice. Find out if you'll see the same vet for each visit or if the doctors rotate and share cases. If it's the latter, make sure that you evaluate all of the vets while doing your research.

What

Schedule an appointment to visit the office and talk with the vet. Keep in mind that not all vets see all animals.  Most veterinarian are trained in dogs and cats, but some may not be specialized in other animals such as rabbits, ferrets, birds, and even reptiles.  Calling the office ahead of time to see which animals the veterinarians on staff will see is important to finding the right doctor for your animal. The AVMA recommends considering the following:

  • Office hours: Are the regular hours compatible with your schedule? What is the average wait-time for a non-emergency appointment?
  • Professional staff: Is the staff professional and friendly? Do you feel comfortable talking to the doctors, technicians, and front desk staff?
  • Fees and payment: What methods of payment does the office accept? Does it accept pet insurance?
  • Services: What kinds of services does the vet offer? Does she have a network of medical specialists to tap into if needed?
  • Emergency care: How are emergency calls handled both during and after office hours? Can the vet recommend a nearby emergency facility?
  • Facility: Is the building clean, well-organized, and free from nasty odors?

When

Don't wait until your pet gets ill or needs a regular check-up to establish a relationship with a doctor. You can even look for a vet before you have a pet! Having everything lined up and ready to go for the newest member of your family helps things to go more smoothly - and reduces the risk of ending up at a vet you don't like.

Where

Consider the vet's distance from your house. How far are you willing to drive for a routine checkup? What about in the case of an emergency? Don't sacrifice quality for convenience, but be realistic about such practicalities.

One way to find a good vet is to ask friends with pets for recommendations in your area. If you're moving to a new city, ask your current vet if she can recommend a trusted colleague in your new location. Reputable breeders and breed clubs can often make suggestions, as well.

Why

Finding a good vet makes annual appointments a breeze and helps to minimize the stress and frustration if your pet is sick or injured. Take the best care of your pets by being proactive in their medical care.

Read more about how to care for your pet in Care.com's Pet Guide.

Jennifer McGuiggan writes about pet care for Care.com and other publications. She has two cats and writes about them on her blog at thewordcellar.blogspot.com.

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