Whether you’re a first-time pet guardian, moving to a new city, or just unhappy with your current vet, there’s no doubt that finding the right doctor for your animal companion is important. Just as you would for your personal physician or dentist, the key is doing some research to find the best match for both your needs and your pet’s.
Locating potential vets
Getting referrals from friends, family, coworkers, or even your current vet is an ideal starting point because it allows you to ask questions and get feedback from a trusted source. If that’s not an option, an online search will produce lists of local vets. In most states, the local veterinary medical association (VMA) will have a list of veterinarians in your area. And with more than 67,000 vets practicing nationwide, you will probably have a number from which to choose.
While credentialed vets have studied many species of animals during medical school, you might want one with more specific expertise. If the dog or cat is a purebred, local breed clubs or breed rescue groups might have suggestions for vets who are familiar with breed-specific health problems. Increasingly, larger cities also tend to offer clinics designed just for cats.
“[Some] people feel cats get very stressed if they go into a general practice where dogs or other critters might be in the waiting room,” explains Faith Maloney, co-founder of the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society. “A lot of cat people prefer a feline-specific veterinarian.”
For other animals, groups like the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV.org) and the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV.org) maintain searchable lists of specialized doctors. For exotics such as rabbits and ferrets, some pet-specific clubs also have recommendations available online. Sites such as Morfz.com, Rabbit.org, and Ferret-Universe.com are all helpful.
No matter how many vets you want to arrange a meeting with in person, make sure to do your research before your pet has a medical problem that needs attention. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends choosing a vet even before adopting your pet if possible, since your vet can be a resource for selecting the right companion.
“It’s also a good idea to check with the state VMA to make sure the veterinarian is licensed and hasn’t had anything in their past that might raise red flags,” says Michael San Filippo of the AVMA.
Ask the right questions
Once you have a list of area vets to consider, call or visit and talk with them to make sure their approach and philosophy match your needs. Again, it’s best to meet with them before your pet needs them.
“Location is obviously important, but you don’t want to base your decision on ‘this is around the corner’ by default,” San Filippo says. “Go in and ask questions, like an interview. Go to a couple different places so you really get a sense. Until you shop around, you can’t really gauge the level of competency and your comfort level. You might not wind up with one a couple blocks away, but ultimately you’re going to be happier there and your pet will be better off.”
Keep logistical concerns in mind when asking questions. Does the vet have emergency service available on-site? If not, what would you have to do in an emergency? If your pet has a pre-existing condition, such as cancer, does the vet either treat it or have access to a network of specialists? Does the doctor’s office hours work with your schedule? Does she make house calls? What technological or research-driven advances has the vet implemented? If you prefer incorporating alternative medicine, does the vet do so? Does she offer non-medical services such as boarding, grooming, or training? In multi-vet offices, can you request appointments with a specific doctor? Does the practice require payment up front? Does it accept pet insurance? The answers can go a long way toward making your decision.
Bringing your pet to a visit is also an ideal opportunity to gauge the doctor’s interaction with animals and see if your pet is comfortable with her. It’s also important to make sure you feel at ease talking with the doctor and the staff, as good patient-vet rapport is critical in a long-term relationship.
“Like in any relationship, a big part of it is whether you like being in the company of this person,” Maloney says. “It’s so individual; I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all. You know what kind of medical professional makes you comfortable. Is it someone who smiles and hugs your pet, or someone who begins with, ‘I’ve been looking at your chart’? There are many approaches, and you have to find the one that suits you.”