Finding a Vet

Your vet will care for your dog for life, so it makes sense to find a vet you like.

When you bring home a new puppy, you tend to focus on play time, housebreaking, and obedience training. It may be hard to imagine that your new little ball of fluff will someday become ill or require expert veterinary care. It is vital that you put the proper thought into choosing a vet while you are going through puppy shots and routine visits, so that you are comfortable with your vet when a big health problem arises.

What concerns should I have?

Ideally, your vet, his staff, and you will work together to meet all of your pet’s medical needs. Depending on what these needs are, you may be dependent on your vet’s skills, as well as those of his staff, for an extended period of time. A few of the considerations when choosing a vet are:

  • Is the facility clean?
  • Do you like the vet personally?
  • Are there other vets on staff at the facility? How do you feel about them?
  • Do any of the vets specialize in areas such as oncology or geriatrics?
  • Have excessive complaints been filed against the vet, the clinic, or the staff?
  • Is his staff helpful and courteous?
  • Are the hours convenient?
  • Is emergency care available after office hours?
  • Are lab work, X-rays, and other tests evaluated in-house or referred out?
  • Can you afford the rates?
  • Does the vet offer any payment assistance or allow clients to pay their bills over time?
  • Are other services available at the facility, such as grooming, boarding, or day care?

Where to start?

Even the smallest communities generally have more than one vet from which to choose, and larger cities have hundreds of options. To narrow down your choices, it is often best to ask your friends for recommendations. If none of your friends have pets, find an employee from a local shelter, pet food store, groomer, or other dog-related business to ask. Getting opinions from several of these people may reveal a clear winner among the vets in your area.

Licensing Boards

Next, you can check with licensing boards to see if your vet carries any special certifications. Some vets choose to be certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, which requires that they meet certain standards for their facility, their equipment, and their quality of care. Other vets are board certified in a particular specialty such as cardiology or ophthalmology. Specialty board certification requires two to four additional years of study and passing both written and oral exams in the specific subject area.

Many state boards maintain a list of complaints filed against certain vets or facilities for variations from the reasonable standard of care or for ethical violations. Your local chapter of the Better Business Bureau may also be able to tell you if people have filed disputes over matters such as billing or collections.

On-site tour

Once you have narrowed your choice to one or two, call the facilities and ask for a tour. Your visit should include meeting the staff, seeing all areas of the facility (with the possible exception of the surgery center and any rooms that are occupied by other clients). While you are touring, you should look for things like general cleanliness, the presence of sanitizing solution (which you can usually identify by its aroma), the general mood of the staff, the condition of kenneling facilities for dogs who have to be left at the facility overnight, and the demeanor of any other clients who are at the facility. A veterinary hospital that will not allow a tour should be crossed off of your list right away, making you wonder what they are hiding.

Try to find a vet with values similar to your own.

You must take the time to interview the vet while you are visiting. If that cannot be arranged, make an appointment to come back and meet with the vet before you decide to commit to a certain facility. It is vital that you and the vet share the same philosophy about care. For example, if you are a person who believes that every possible attempt should be made to cure a dog who appears to be terminally ill, you will not be comfortable with a vet who believes in euthanasia at the first sign of a serious illness. If you are committed to leaving your dog unaltered, you will not want a vet who pushes spaying and neutering of all dogs.

It is also helpful if you “connect” with your veterinarian personally. This is the person who will be advising you on the care of a family member, and you don’t want personality conflicts to get in the way of doing what is best for your dog.

Payment policies

Ask about prices and payment policies, particularly if you are not particularly wealthy. There is no shame in comparison shopping and looking for the best value for your buck. After all, most medications and treatments cost about the same for each vet to provide. If one vet has a higher mark-up than another, you need to ask yourself if his additional training, expertise, or winning personality is worth the extra expense. It is tough to admit, but most of us have a limited budget and cannot afford to waste money paying extra for services from a veterinarian. Even if you want to do everything possible for your ill dog, the financial reality is that this is often just not possible. The time to check into the availability of an extended payment plan is before you need one!

Pet owner’s responsibilities

How can you help your vet help you? The best way is by properly preparing your dog for his visit. Socialize your puppy from the first day you get him by exposing him to lots of different people every chance you get. Teach your dog to stand on a table, where he will likely be while being examined or groomed.

Practice makes perfect

At least once a week, handle your dog as if you were a veterinarian. Touch his feet, look into his ears and mouth, and give him a good all-over rubdown. This will get him comfortable with what the vet will do during an examination. Give him a treat and lots of extra attention after you “examine” him so that he learns to associate the experience with something positive.

Good behavior counts

When you take the dog to his visit, make sure to keep him on a short leash in the waiting room and make him behave by sitting quietly, even though he will likely be nervous about being in a new place and excited by seeing the other animals. If your dog has EVER bitten anyone, put a muzzle on him before entering the waiting room.

Make sure the person with whom the dog is most comfortable is the one who takes him to the vet. This helps to put the dog at ease and makes it more likely he will not be upset by the examination. Also, be sure to bring the dog to the vet for routine visits when he is not in pain. The goal is to have the dog associate the vet with things other than getting shots and being poked at when he has sore spots.

Know what to look for

Observe your dog carefully on a regular basis. Check out how much he is eating and drinking, if he is having any trouble going to the bathroom, if he is grouchier than normal or if he has any obvious sores or pain. You will only know if something is wrong when you have taken the time to see what the dog looks like normally. Make a list of questions to take with you for each vet visit so you make sure to have all of your concerns addressed, particularly if you get a distressing diagnosis. However, be sure to focus on your main concern rather than waiting so long to visit the vet that you have a long list of little things to ask about.

Educate yourself

Use resources such as to learn about your dog, including things to be expected out of different breeds and diseases that might affect them. Although you cannot use the Internet to replace professional care, you can do enough research to figure out what to watch for and what questions to ask. If you don’t understand what your vet has told you, be sure to ask follow-up questions, either of the vet or of his staff, so you know exactly what home treatment you will be expected to give. You can also use the Internet to provide more information after you have received a diagnosis and to learn about any promising new treatments to discuss with your vet.

Using the information in this article, you can choose your new vet with confidence, knowing that you have done everything possible to make the vet/client/patient relationship a positive thing for both you and your dog. Good luck!


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