Soon you’ll be searching for a vet practice that suits both your needs and those of your favorite furry friend.
Like any healthcare decision, this one shouldn’t be taken lightly. Hopefully, you and your pet will have a long relationship with your veterinarian. If you take your time with the selection process and choose wisely, you can avoid feelings of disillusion or distrust down the road.
Important things to consider when selecting a veterinarian include:
- Does the practice offer emergency services and after hours treatment and monitoring? If not, to whom do they refer seriously injured and ill patients?
- What kind of diagnostic and monitoring equipment is on hand?
- What’s the average cost of routine procedures like wellness exams, titers and teeth cleaning?
It may feel strange or uncomfortable to quiz prospective veterinarians about their practices, but keep in mind — you are your pet’s advocate and voice.
According to Louise Murray, D.V.M., Vice President of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City:
"The best way to love your pet is to educate yourself so you can be an educated advocate. Your pet can't speak up, so you have to become brave for your pet."
The worst time to find a new veterinarian is when you’re in dire need of one, so I recommend you make a conscious, careful selection well ahead of time.
Ask Around for Recommendations
An ideal way to find the right vet for your pet is to get recommendations from other pet owners who share your general philosophy about pet care.
For example, if you want your pet titered rather than routinely vaccinated, try to find other pet owners near you who take a similar approach to the care of their pets. These folks should be able to recommend veterinary practices that are holistically oriented.
Your next best option is to get recommendations from local animal caretakers you trust – perhaps an animal shelter employee, a dog trainer, groomer or pet sitter. You can also consult with a pet-owning friend or neighbor.
Online directories and resources:
- Go to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) website for a list of accredited vet clinics in your area.
- Visit the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) website for a list of holistic veterinarians in your area.
- To learn about board certification for specialists, go to the AVMA’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties webpage.
- A state-by-state listing of animal acupuncturists can be found at the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture website.
- A similar list of animal chiropractors is located at the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.
Tips for Sizing up the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ of a Prospective Veterinary Practice
I recommend you write down all the questions you want to ask your short list of prospective veterinarians. Make an appointment – without your pet -- to see the clinics and talk with the doctors on your list.
Some veterinarians will do a preliminary clinic visit at no charge. Others will charge you for their time.
Here are some things to look for when you visit a veterinary practice for the first time:
- Is parking convenient to the office? You shouldn’t need to walk a long distance from your car to the door of the clinic, especially if you’re bringing in an injured, seriously ill, or large, heavy pet.
- Is the facility clean and well-organized? Look around at the reception and waiting areas, exam rooms, animal holding areas, operating and procedure rooms. Unless they are in use during your visit, they should be spotless. Floors and walls should be clean and without stains. There should be no detectable odors like urine, feces, vomit or blood. The general atmosphere of the clinic should be one of calm competence.
- Observe the staff during your visit. They should have a clean, neat appearance. They should strike you as caring, professional and able to communicate effectively.
- How many veterinarians are in the practice? Do any of them specialize? Do they have evening and weekend office hours? Are there licensed or certified vet techs and assistants on staff? As a general rule, the larger the staff (including number of veterinarians), the more services the practice can offer.
- Does the practice handle emergencies? If so, what services are available? If the clinic does not deal with emergencies, find out where they refer those cases.
- Do they do overnight monitoring of patients? If not, where do they refer them?
- What diagnostic equipment is available? Are they set up to do x-rays, ultrasounds, EKGs, bloodwork? Or do they refer those procedures to specialists in other locations?
- What are standard fee ranges for office visits, physical exams, dental procedures, diagnostic evaluations, etc? Does the practice accept payment plans or extend credit? Do they offer discounts, for example, to multi-pet households or senior citizens?
Understanding a Veterinarian’s Practice Philosophy
In the world of veterinary medicine, there are allopathic and holistic vets. Those who combine the two approaches, and I am one of them, are called integrative vets.
Allopathic veterinarians are Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVMs) traditionally trained in western, or conventional, medicine. The general approach of allopathic vets is to treat symptoms of illness or disease with drugs and/or surgery. The primary focus is on treating existing symptoms.
Holistic veterinarians are also DVMs. They receive the same training from the same institutions as allopathic vets; they receive the same licensing and certification. Then they go on to pursue additional training in alternative methods of healing, including:
- Herbs and nutritional supplements
- Chiropractic (www.animalchiropractic.org, www.avcadoctors.com)
- Acupuncture (www.aava.org, www.ivas.org)
- Homeopathy (www.theavh.org)
- Nutrition and movement therapy
The focus of holistic veterinarians is to promote wellness and prevent health problems from developing.
Integrative vets bring the philosophies of both western and alternative medicine to their treatment of patients. Both types of medicine have practical application in the care of companion animals.
In your search for the right vet, it’s important to know which treatment approach you prefer for your pet.
A few things to think about:
- What is your position on vaccinations for your pet? Many traditional vet offices are quite aggressive in insisting pet owners re-vaccinate their animals every year.
- Would you prefer your pet be titered instead of vaccinating? Titering your dog or cat will tell you what diseases he’s already protected against from prior immunizations. If titers show your pet needs a booster, or a change in your pet’s location or lifestyle suggests the need for an additional vaccine, most holistic vets will do single immunizations for specific diseases.
- How do you feel about treating your pet with drugs – antibiotics, for example? As a general rule, allopathic vets will be much quicker to dispense pharmaceuticals than holistic vets will.
- What do you prefer to feed your pet? If you feed raw or prepare homemade meals for your dog or cat, it will be important to find a vet who is supportive of your efforts to provide your pet a balanced, species-appropriate diet.
When evaluating prospective veterinarians, there’s a lot to consider.
If you do your homework before embarking on a relationship with a new vet, you can gather the information you need to make the best choice for you and your four-legged family member.