For pet parents, choosing a veterinarian is just as important as choosing a family doctor. Our furry kids are so much a part of our families that we would never think of entrusting their care to just anyone!
Choosing the right veterinarian for our pets isn’t simply a matter of searching for the best reviews on Yelp, or limiting our choices to whichever vet is closest and most convenient. Finding the right veterinarian involves research, a little perseverance, and knowing exactly what to look for so we can find a vet who not only has the best qualifications, but also knows how to communicate well with both us and our furry kids.
So where do we start?
Ask For Recommendations
When choosing a veterinarian, the best place to start is also the easiest: ask for recommendations. Talk with family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors (especially those whose pet-care philosophies are most in line with yours) and ask which vet they use and recommend, and why.
Other good sources of recommendations include local rescue organizations and animal shelters, which often work directly with vets who generously provide discounted rates and donated services.
Look For A Veterinarian Who Has AAHA Accreditation
My cardinal rule for choosing a veterinarian who is most likely to provide the highest quality of patient care is this: find a veterinarian who works in a clinic or hospital that has been accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Being accredited by AAHA is voluntary, which means that hospitals who choose to commit to participating in this program must adhere to very strict requirements for patient care, client service, and medical protocol.
AAHA-accredited veterinary facilities are inspected and evaluated on approximately 900 (!) standards in a variety of different areas, including emergency services, nursing care, pain management, surgery and anesthesia, dentistry, medical record-keeping, cleanliness, maintenance, and overall facilities.
Only about 15 percent of small animal practices in the U.S. are AAHA- accredited, so don’t worry too much if there isn’t one near you. But if you have the choice, it’s best to choose a veterinarian with this affiliation, as these facilities consistently go above and beyond when it comes to patient care. You can use the AAHA-Accredited Hospital Locator to find the ones nearest you.
Find A Vet Who Specializes
All good veterinarians seem to have one thing in common: they don’t stop learning after graduating from vet school. Many of these vets do internships and residencies, or take additional specialized classes. When searching for a veterinarian, look for the abbreviation “ABVP” after their name, which means they completed additional work to become certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners.
Many veterinarians go on to specialize in specific areas, like neurology, ophthalmology, or orthopedics. Some become experts in the area of geriatric medicine, which means they specialize in treating the unique needs of senior pets. If possible, try to find a vet who specializes in the species your pet belongs to. If you have a bird, look for an avian clinic; if you have a ferret, reptile, or fish, search for a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals. There are even cats-only clinics who offer a dog-free environment to help reduce stress in their feline patients.
If the clinic or veterinary hospital you’re considering has a website, you can go online to review the biographies and additional qualifications of the veterinarians on staff.
Ask To Tour The Practice
Choosing the right veterinarian also means choosing the hospital or clinic where they practice. Once you’ve found a veterinarian you think you might like, contact the facility where they practice and ask for a tour. Most veterinary hospitals are very willing, and proud, to show you their facilities.
During the tour, take notice of the following:
- Does the hospital look (and smell) clean?
- Do the patients seem safe and comfortable?
- Are the dogs and cats kept in separate areas so as not to cause additional stress?
- Are the treatment rooms clean and organized?
- Does the equipment and surgical area look up to date?
- Does the hospital have the capability of monitoring hospitalized patients overnight?
- Does the hospital accept pet insurance? Do they offer Care Credit or payment plans, if needed?
- Are diagnostic tests (like blood work, x-rays, ultrasounds, fecal tests, etc.) done onsite?
- Is the hospital busy? (A busy practice usually means a popular one.)
While on tour, make sure to evaluate the staff too! This includes receptionists, veterinary assistants, groomers, and kennel workers. These vital people are just as important as the doctor. Are they friendly and helpful? Do they talk to, and show affection towards, their patients?
The last question to ask is one of the most important. ALWAYS ask if the hospital has registered veterinary technicians on staff. Registered Veterinary Technicians are formally educated, highly trained, licensed professionals who are the equivalent of Registered Nurses in human medicine and provide the highest level of patient care. Not all states require veterinary technicians to be registered and licensed, so be sure to ask if the hospital you’re considering employs them.
Meet The Veterinarian BEFORE You Need Them
If the veterinary hospital meets your standards of care, the next step is scheduling a “meet and greet” with the veterinarian to meet with both you AND your pet. This brief, get-to-know-you session can provide a great deal of information to help you determine if this veterinarian is the right one for you and your pet.
Just like a human doctor, a veterinarian can have all the qualifications in the world, but if they are lacking in bedside manner, it can greatly impact your, and your pet’s, experience and relationship with them. When they enter the room, is their demeanor calm and friendly? Do they greet not just you, but your pet too? Do they refer to your pet by name? When they interact with your pet, are they gentle, and do they talk calmly to your pet while handling them? How does your pet react to them?
You can also use this opportunity to ask specific questions to get a better idea of the veterinarian’s philosophy of care. For instance, what is their policy on topics like annual vaccines, spaying and neutering, euthanasia, nutrition, or cancer treatment? When they talk with you, do they take the time to explain things in detail and answer all your questions, or do they just tell you what to do? Do they listen to your input?
Choosing the right veterinarian means creating a partnership with someone who will work WITH you on providing the best care for your pet. Having like-minded philosophies with your veterinarian can make a huge difference when it comes to doing the right thing for your pet for the remainder of their life, especially when facing potentially difficult decisions.
Choosing The Perfect Veterinarian For Your Pet
Although it may seem like a lot of work up front, here’s my advice in a nutshell: choose a veterinarian like you would choose a pediatrician. The vet who is geographically closest and most convenient may not necessarily be the one you want to partner with into your pet’s senior years.
A good veterinarian is worth their weight in gold. They will collaborate with you on all aspects of your pet’s health and quality of life, which is not just your priority, but your veterinarian’s too!
Do you have any additional tips for choosing the right veterinarian for your pet? Please share them with us in the comments below!