Finding the Vet right for your pet

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Finding the Vet right for your pet

My veterinarian is retiring. He’s been my pets’ vet for many years and the fact that I drive more than an hour each way so that he can treat my six-pack of cats says a lot about the excellent care he and his staff provide. I’m very picky when it comes to my pets’ health care, as most pet owners (hopefully) are about the care of their own furry friends. And I tend to be a bit of a nervous Nelly when it comes to health care in general. I’m signed up for recall alerts and I spend some time each week surfing the AVMA’s website to find out about the latest breakthroughs, vaccines, and treatments.

I had a minor panic attack after learning about Cytauxzoon felis (Bobcat Fever,) which is transmitted by ticks and can affect domestic cats but not dogs or humans. As someone who hikes and who occasionally picks up a stray tick on her boot, the thought of tracking the troublesome little parasites into the house is alarming enough without worrying that they might be infecting my cats with an untreatable disease. Prevention is, currently, the only course of action. So even though my kitties are indoor only, they now are rocking Frontline, as well as Heartgard for cats.

As I’ve been vet-shopping this month, I’ve collected an ever-growing set of questions to help me decide on my new pet health provider. But choosing a vet is more than just finding someone with the most expertise, it’s finding someone who is comforting to your pets, who is willing (in my case) to consider therapies that aren’t conventional, who has an office staff who are a joy to deal with, and who is willing to put up with my own backseat driving. That’s a tall order for one person or even one office. And to top it off, I have two older cats, one with arthritis, and another kitty who is FIV positive, but asymptomatic.

My first thought was to ask my friends for referrals, but many of them could make recommendations only based on their experience with general exams. They’d never had to deal with a crisis or a pet who needed ongoing preventative care (like my FIV+ kitty). I also considered online reviews and word-of-mouth from other folks that work with feral and rescue cats. Hearing that a vet or vet’s office was kind to rescue organizations or that they even placed stray and feral cats gave them a gold star in my book.

You can also visit the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) website to see an evaluation of some of the veterinary practices or veterinarians you might be considering. But I found that personal reviews from friends, neighbors, and even from strangers on the vet’s website and social media pages were more useful and contained more specific information about the practice.

In the end, I chose a short list of vets based on my online research and friend recommendations, and then made appointments to scope out the practices, cat in carrier. I settled on four potential vets for a general check-up for Yuki, the least demanding of my divas. I made one appointment, each Saturday, for a month, giving each practice time to follow up, as well as me time to absorb what I’d observed.

In general, I found the online reviews to be completely on-target. If a practice has multiple four and five-star reviews, they tend to be deserved. And I was able to contact a few of the people who had left Facebook and Google+ reviews publicly to ask them for more information. All were more than willing to endorse their vet and one reviewer had a FIV+ kitty and could provide more information on the kinds of treatment (vitamin therapy, stress control, and diet recommendations) that his clinic of choice offered. Depending on your pet’s particular needs, you may want to search for veterinary practices that offer tailored care for cats and dogs with special needs. Many practices now offer certifications in therapies like acupuncture, nutrition, and holistic care, as well as conventional medicine.

For me, I found it helpful to keep a notebook detailing each visit. I definitely considered the office staff and office space, as well as the credentials of the veterinarians on staff. But, in the end, it was the vet’s connection with my pet and willingness to listen to my concerns that was the deciding factor. Your vet may see your pet a few times a year (or in the case of a special needs pet on a monthly or bimonthly basis,) but you observe your pet daily. You know the ins and outs of his or her personality, and you are always the best judge of when there is something “off” about your pet’s behavior. If you think there’s something wrong, there probably is.

If you’re in the market for a new veterinarian or know a friend who is, there are a few of the things I considered beyond the practice’s online “rep,” the veterinarian’s training and personality, and the office staff and practice presentation:

  • Are your veterinary technicians licensed? In many states, licensing for vet techs is not required.
  • How many veterinary nurses do you have on staff? Which tasks are performed by techs instead of nurses or the vet him/herself?
  • What services do you offer in-house and which are sent to other locations? (blood work, testing, x-rays, etc.)
  • Do you have any specialists on staff? Which specialists in the area do you recommend? (It’s always good to gauge a practice’s relationship with other practices in the area.)
  • What services do you offer other than those that are health-related? (grooming, boarding, workshops, etc.)
  • How do you monitor overnight and boarded pets? Does someone on staff stay with pets over the weekend/overnight?
  • What are your procedures for evaluating pets before anesthesia and surgery? (If they didn’t recommend a blood test, at the least, I marked them off the list.)
  • What pain management options do you recommend for pets with issues like arthritis?
  • Do you have much experience treating and caring for FIV+ cats? What treatments do you recommend when a patient learns their cat is FIV+? (This was a deal breaker for me. Unless they led with therapy options and a discussion about how FIV+ cats can lead a long and healthy life with proper treatment, I was out the door.)
  • Do you work with any rescue groups or provide placement/adoptions yourself? Which pet rescue organizations do you support?

Your vet should be more than willing to discuss your pet with you, as well as to disclose the kind of care that he or she recommends for a particular disease or condition. If your vet isn’t willing to have a dialog with you, then they’re probably not the right person for you.

In the end, I settled on a holistic vet slightly closer to my house (forty minutes of drive time each way) who offers acupuncture, vitamin therapy, their own line of pet food, and weekly workshops on a variety of topics. They also work with several local rescue groups, all of which gave glowing reviews.

Choosing a vet is hard work and a little nerve-wracking. If you’re looking for one yourself, I wish you good luck and happy hunting! For a few more tips on choosing the right veterinarian, you might want to drop by ASPCA’s website or the Humane Society’s page on choosing a good veterinarian.

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