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Choosing a Veterinarian

Whether you are a first-time pet parent or moving to a new community, one of the most important decisions facing you is choosing a veterinarian. Ideally, this is not something you postpone until there is an urgent need. Go for a new puppy wellness exam, a vaccination, or a nail trim so that you can “audition” a prospective vet clinic.

Sometimes breeders and pet rescue organizations have a veterinarian they regularly use and can refer you to. This can be an excellent resource, as it offers an element of continuity if you like the provider. If you don’t, nothing says you have to stay with them. Try to get a copy of whatever records the clinic might have for your companion and move on.

Talking to neighbors, friends, and other pet parents is often the best way to find a new vet.

Probably the best source for referrals is word of mouth. Talk to some of the pet parents in your group of friends, your workplace, or at the local dog park (they likely live in the area and know the providers in town). Which veterinarian do they use? What do they like or not like? Also, reaching out to the community online through facebook groups or nextdoor is very common.

Online reviews, such as Yelp, can be a source of ideas. Bear in mind, however, that many reviews are written by people who loved a resource and can’t say enough good things about it, or those who hated it and would love to see it go belly up. What can be helpful, though, is looking for trends. Do the positive reviews outweigh the negative? Are there general themes, such as competence and friendliness of staff or cleanliness of exam rooms and waiting areas? Do any of the reviews lead you to question whether your pet’s health or safety might be compromised in any way?

Thinking through what's most important. Be sure to consider who you will be seeing, where to turn in emergencies, and cost.

Make a list of considerations that are important to you. Many of these you can find on the clinic’s website or through an exploratory phone call. How many providers are there? Single practices can be excellent. However, multi-vet clinics can offer the advantage of having a doctor on duty during business hours. If it is multi-vet, can you choose which provider you see on a regular basis?

How do they handle after-hours crises? Do they always have someone on call, or do night and weekend crises need to report to a central emergency vet center? (Most cities will have at least one, although people living in rural and suburban communities will want to check the availability of emergency resources before they need them). Your emergency center may also be different from your primary vet, so it’s good to research those and know where to turn if you ever need to.

Is the practice in an area that is safe and reasonably convenient? If you or your dog have accessibility needs, can the facility meet them? Are appointments walk-in, by appointment, or both? Can you see a list of tentative costs of services? What forms of payment do they accept? Are there any special promotions that would interest you? For example, the veterinary hospital that I use runs a rabies clinic in March, which offers a nice discount on vaccinations. Since we are a multi-dog household, this is particularly attractive.

Another resource to consider is licensing board for your state, usually accessible by following the appropriate links on the state’s .gov websites. If ethics or other malpractice charges have been filed, this information will be noted.

Finally, go for your first visit. See what you think. Do the reception staff greet both you and your pet warmly? Does this seem like a place that genuinely cares about both pets and their people? Is the overall quality of communication good? Are treatment options explored and the pros and cons of each explained to your satisfaction? Are your questions welcomed?

In some cases, an interaction or an incident will provide the “This is it!” recognition. We had just moved to a new city, and I took our two-year-old Schnauzer mix for his annual vaccinations. The practice had come highly recommended, and I really liked the young vet we saw, Dr. C. On the ride home, Wolfie started to pant a little. He calmed down readily, so I attributed it to anxiety. I kept a close eye on him, and things seemed OK-ish until I noticed around 11:00 that he was developing hives. Dr. C was the vet on call, and I remembered his mentioning that they had a new baby. I hated to call, but I was afraid not to do so.

Dr. C. could not have been nicer if I had been a long-term patient. He explained that the second round of vaccines was when allergies could begin to show up and told me the Benadryl dose that Wolfie would need. If it didn’t do the trick, I should not hesitate to call him back. I had found our vet! Everyone at the practice is good, but I have a special soft spot for Dr. C. because of his kindness that night. Wolfie still takes a prophylactic dose of Benadryl before his vaccination. May your search for the veterinarian be just as productive.

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