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Pets deserve good veterinary care. Regularly scheduled wellness visits will keep them as healthy as possible, and when an illness or injury does arise, seeing a veterinarian is the best way to help your pet feel better fast.
If you already have a relationship with a great vet, congrats! But changing vets or finding a veterinarian for a new pet can be difficult. Let’s look at what you can do to find a vet who will be a good fit for both you and your pet.
Start Your Search Early
The best time to find a veterinarian for a new pet is before that pet even arrives in your home. New pets should be examined by a veterinarian within a few days of their adoption or purchase. Health problems can develop quickly, but even if your pet appears to be healthy, an examination may uncover potential problems. These may be simple to fix—intestinal worms, for example—or they may be more serious. Reputable breeders, rescues, and shelters stand by their animals and should agree to help with their care or even take them back if a severe health condition is found soon after they go to a new home.
Talk to friends, neighbors, and family about who they use for veterinary services and if they would recommend them. Groomers, trainers, boarding facilities—essentially anyone who works regularly with animals—are other good sources of recommendations.
You can also look at review sites but read the comments carefully. People have different expectations from their veterinarians, so what is positive for one pet parent may be negative for another.
Now, put together a list of two or three veterinarians you’d like to get more information about.
Do Some Research
Look to see if complaints have been lodged against the businesses or individual veterinarians with the Better Business Bureau and with your state’s veterinary licensing board.
Some clinics go the extra mile and pursue optional certifications. The doctors and staff at fear-free veterinary hospitals have “taken the time to complete extra behavioral and fear-free practice training/certification to help aid fearful pets.” Veterinary hospitals that are accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have to “regularly pass onsite evaluations based on more than 900 standards of veterinary care.”
Visit the Clinic
Make an unannounced visit to any veterinary clinics that you are still interested in. Check out the reception area. It should look and smell clean. Talk to the front office staff. Are they pleasant? You will probably be able to get a feel for the clinic’s culture just by talking to them.
Ask for a tour and try to meet at least one veterinarian, but understand that depending on what’s going on at the moment, this may need to be scheduled for a future time. The clinic’s staff should be proud to show off their workplace when they aren’t too busy. Watch how everybody interacts with their patients. Are they talking to them and trying to put them at ease? Feel free to ask questions. The veterinarians and support staff should be happy to explain what they are doing and be able to answer your questions clearly.
Get a detailed cost estimate for a routine visit or procedure that applies to your situation. Good examples include a first preventive care visit for an 8-week-old, unvaccinated puppy or spaying an adult cat. Comparing estimates provided by different clinics will give you an idea of how expensive each one might be, the level of care that they provide, and their willingness to be upfront about their fees.
This is also a good time to be thinking about purchasing a pet insurance policy that will help you provide your dog or cat with the veterinary care they need.
Choose a Veterinary Team, Not Just One Doctor
Veterinary medicine is an increasingly complicated field offering many of the same complex treatments that are available in human medicine… and for more than just one species! It’s impossible for a veterinarian to stay up to date on all aspects of veterinary care and to be available 24/7. For this reason, you should be looking for the best veterinary team to take care of your pets rather than a single individual.
You’ll be dealing most frequently with your primary care veterinarians. These are your go-to people for wellness care (vaccinations, parasite prevention, dental cleanings, etc.) and relatively routine illnesses and injuries. But there are situations when seeing your “regular” veterinarian isn’t possible or even in your pet’s best interests.
Some clinics have specialists and after-hours emergency care available in-house. Others refer these cases to veterinary hospitals in the community. Neither situation is necessarily better than the other; it’s more a matter of convenience and personal choice. Ask the clinics you’re interested in how they handle after-hours emergencies and specialist referrals.
Feel Free to Change Your Mind
Once you’ve found a veterinary clinic that looks like it’ll be a good fit for you, go ahead and schedule an appointment for a check-up, even if your pet isn’t technically “due” to be seen. It’s best to get to know a new veterinarian when your pet is well, not in the middle of an illness or injury when your anxiety level is high. And if at any time you feel like your current situation isn’t ideal, you can always start this process over again and find a new veterinarian for your pet.