How to choose a vet
Your vet is a pretty significant figure in your dog’s life – and thus, in yours. Hopefully, you will only ever need him or her for routine checkups and preventative procedures; but just in case, it’s worth taking the time to develop a good relationship with a suitable vet, before you need their services.
WHERE TO LOOK
Sure, you could just pick a vet at random from the Yellow Pages or from an Internet search; but having the right vet is crucial to your dog’s health and happiness (and, presumably, this plays at least some part in your own happiness and peace of mind as an owner, right?)
Think about it this way: if you were trying to choose a doctor for yourself, would you be happy to just select one at random from an impersonal list?
Probably not. You’d want somebody who comes highly recommended – somebody you feel like you can trust.
Your vet isn’t just your dog’s doctor; he or she is also the dentist, manicurist, psychologist, and – hopefully! – a friend. When you roll all these things up into one, you can see why it’s necessary to spend some time confirming that you’ve made the right choice.
The best place to start looking for a vet is by word of mouth. If you have any friends or relatives who take good care of their dogs, then that’s a great place to start: ask them who they’d recommend, and why. This last one is particularly important, because everyone has different priorities: for example, perhaps they like their own vet because he/she is a specialist in their own particular breed; or they don’t charge very much; or the clinic is only five minutes’ drive … their priorities are not necessarily yours, so it’s a good idea to make sure that your values coincide with the person giving the recommendations.
Another great place to find a vet is through local training clubs (Schutzhund, agility, herding classes, police K-9 academies, etc.) These organizations are almost guaranteed to place a great deal of importance on high-quality veterinary care, because the health and well-being of their dogs is such a priority.
Once you’ve got a list of vets that you’re interested in pursuing further, all you have to do is call up the clinic and explain that you’re looking to find a regular vet for your dog(s): can you come in for a quick chat, introduce your dog, and have a look at the premises?
TALK TO THE VET FIRST
Before you decide to align yourself and your dog with a particular clinic, test the waters first. Ideally, you want a chance to talk to the vet, and discuss his or her philosophies and approach to pet care.
This is really important. If your dog ever really needs vet-care (if there’s an emergency, or if she needs an urgent short-term appointment), you want to be sure that you’ve made the best possible choice as far as her health and comfort levels are concerned. Neither of you should be subjected to any unnecessary extra stress at a time like that – and you can avoid a lot of grief by spending a bit of time in preparation.
THINGS TO ASK THE VET
While you’re at the clinic, you’ll want to be assessing your potential vet’s overall attitude and approach to health care and animals; and you’ll also probably want answers to some specific questions.
Here’s a list of useful questions to help you on your way:
- How many vets are there on staff? If you need to make an urgent appointment, you don’t want to be waiting around while precious minutes tick past. Ideally, there’ll be at least two qualified veterinarians on hand (not just technicians or assistants.)
- What kind of testing and analysis capabilities does the clinic have If they have to send away to a lab for this kind of stuff, it means that the results are going to be delayed. If your dog is very sick, time is an important factor: it’s best if the clinic has at least blood-analysis testing on hand.
- What after-hours services are available? A lot of clinics close the doors in the evenings and on weekends, which means that if there’s an emergency, you’ll have to go somewhere else – and subject your dog (and yourself) to an unfamiliar vet. (If you don’t mind this, then that’s fine; but be aware that in a high-stress situation when emotions are running high, it’s reassuring for your dog and yourself to deal with someone familiar.)
- What is their price range? How are payments made? Is there a facility for payment plans in case of unexpected vet bills? The payment-plan option is particularly important. Even with pet insurance, vet bills can sometimes be astronomical – and not everyone has the resources to deal with large vet bills straight away. Ask the clinic how they cater for situations like that.
- How up-to-date is the staff with advances in the industry? Do the vet, the technicians, and the assistants attend seminars and workshops regularly? The field of medical care is always moving forward – responsible vets make the effort to keep up with the times, and see that their staff do, too.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
When you choose a vet, you’re balancing convenience and quality. There’s no right or wrong vet for you and your dog – which is partly why making the choice can be so confusing. There are lots of vets to choose from, and they’re all different!
Even though it’s tempting to go for the one right around the corner with the rock-bottom prices, it really is worthwhile taking the time to shop around. Your dog is utterly dependent on you for her healthcare – and if you take her seriously as a companion and member of the family, you’ll want to do the best thing by her.
A good vet knows how to take care of you as well as your dog. The relationship that you have with your vet will hopefully be one that’s based around a healthy mutual respect and positive synergy - there should be very little scope for misunderstanding. When the two of you see eye to eye, it makes caring for your dog that much easier.
You can read more about all of this and more in my guide to dog health HERE