In my post on bringing home a puppy or a kitten I briefly touched on the necessity and alluded to the challenges in finding a good veterinarian for your new family member. This post will elaborate on that concept because it’s an important one that I have been through many times myself, and with many of my pet care clients.
Make Sure You Have the Same Care Goals
First and foremost you want to find a veterinarian that is aligned with your level of care expectations and your health expectations for your pet. While some would assume, “to keep my pet healthy and fix what ails them” is the general notion let me go a little more in depth.
I for example, have a specific set of needs for my dogs and my style of animal care. I have three Boxers and a domestic short-haired cat. I do only core vaccines, feed a species appropriate raw diet and use only natural flea, tick and heart-worm preventatives. Therefore, I have the challenge of finding a vet that supports the health choices I have made through research for my pets. I am also a breeder so finding a vet that doesn’t schedule a spay or neuter on our first meeting are important factors for me.
I am a tougher case than most, many people, especially new pet owners may not have their rearing style figured out yet but they may have done their research or have specifics in mind from their breeder. My point is, call around to different veterinary facilities to find a practice that is most aligned with what you value as the best care for your pets. Make certain they understand your particular breed of animal and respect your decisions for care.
Check It Out
Before committing to an appointment I would recommend stopping by, you can pop in and check out the waiting room, warmth of the front staff and of course go in to book the appointment. I have been to some tired, rundown and seemingly filmy veterinary hospitals. Ones that certainly don’t vacuum or mop the floors at the end of the day. It’s not always true that the level of care can be dictated by the level of care they spend on their waiting room, but it certainly can be an indicator.
So far the receptionist has confirmed that you’re health care plans for your pets can be met and the waiting room is in order, now you have some important questions to ask that often wouldn’t come up until after something has happened. Over the years clients and I have been surprised at how some seemingly awesome veterinary facilities operate. Questions I would recommend getting answer to are:
- Who do they refer to when they cannot perform the services or feel a specialist is needed?
- What diagnostics are performed on site like x-rays, ultrasounds, or dentals?
- What constitutes an emergency service, what functions can they not perform for emergencies and where do they refer if different from the initial question?
- If your pet must stay overnight, how are they monitored? Meaning does staff stay overnight or are they left alone and for how long?
- Do any of the on-staff veterinarians have specialities? For example I specifically go to a veterinarian that specializes in holistic and Chinese medicine but go to a completely different practice for reproduction.
- What types of payment does the practice accept? Are there payment options like care credit available?
- Do they work with all pet insurance companies? Unlike with human health insurance the owner is expected to pay up front and submit the forms but some veterinarians can make this process easy, or terribly difficult for the owner.
- How involved is the practice with the community? Who do they recommend for pet sitting, grooming, daycare etc.? A good veterinarian will network with other companies in the area and have a good referral network.
Be a Good Client
When you feel comfortable with your due diligence and make the appointment, be a good client. Show up on time and be patient. They may have an emergency they could not plan for or are running behind because animals are unpredictable.
Be tolerant and understanding that they perform services and then have to bill for them. I can admit to getting upset about a poorly communicated payment issue and taking it out on the front staff. It makes you a difficult person to work with and makes the staff not want to work with you. I’m certain I have a red flag in my file now at this particular vet office because getting appointments has become more challenging. I could have communicated better.
Find out what their policies are and be respectful. When do they expect payment, how are animals to be brought into the clinic, where is their scale for weighing? If your dog may have something contagious like kennel cough, be respectful of other patients and leave them in the car when you check in.
Veterinarians have a tough job. They are animals lovers that frequently deal with sick animals. They have some of the highest suicide rates among other professions and they really don’t get paid that much. Many have student loans and those that own their own practice have huge overhead. Veterinarians aren’t getting reimbursed by insurance and while veterinary care is certainly pricey, it’s not going to their new Lamborghini.
Be kind, be appreciative and if they aren’t the right fit, you have the freedom to take your pet anywhere you choose. That’s an advantage over our human health care system where we have PCP’s and tougher referral systems, not to mention health insurance restrictions.
Our course is never a substitution for veterinary care but the more you know to recognize issues, attend to them quickly – the less chance your pet has to suffer and your wallet. If you notice a lump or bump because you have learned to pay closer attention to your pet then you could have a cyst removed for a few $100 instead of a few $1000 when it gets larger and turns cancerous. Did you learn to notice a limp or do you know how to help your pet who’s face is swelling from a bee sting? These are important things to learn before you go to the vet. What you do at home can make the difference between life and death or a lot or a a lot less money spent – not to mention the stress saved for you and your pet.
What else do you feel is important to finding a great vet for your pet?