Finding a veterinarian isn’t something to take lightly.
While selecting the right veterinarian is a very personal decision, there are things you should keep in mind to help you in your search for Dr. Right. To help you in that search, we talked to Dr. Scott Perry, one of the veterinarians on-call with Ask.Vet, a free text messaging veterinarian service that allows pet owners to ask questions right over the phone and without charge.
The Honest Kitchen: What’s the best way to find a vet? For example, if you can’t get any recommendations from friends/family, how do you start looking for one?
Scott Perry: The process of choosing a veterinarian that is a good fit for each individual can be more complicated than simply going to the nearest pet clinic. Always begin by evaluating the qualifications of the hospital and support staff. For instance, are any of the technicians certified? Most veterinary hospitals will have this information displayed on their website.
You can also text our free veterinarian service Ask.Vet at 858-877-9797 for referrals. Ask.Vet’s concierge service will refer you to a pre-screened local veterinarian based on your pet’s unique issues and your preferences. It is more thorough than a simple internet search for veterinary hospitals or Yelp and Google reviews, since those are based on people’s pets that may have very different issues and circumstances than yours.
THK: When choosing a vet, what would you say are the pros and cons of small offices vs. large hospitals?
SP: Small veterinary hospitals bring with it the opportunity to get to know the staff on a more personal level. It is easier to feel valued when one does not think they are just a number in a long assembly line of customers. The personal attention that is received in a small animal hospital is more difficult to find in a large one.
The benefits of a large animal hospital is typically associated with the facility and equipment. Larger hospitals often have more capabilities to perform complex procedures and surgeries. They tend to be better equipped to handle complicated medical cases, such as having blood donors on site, laser surgery, endoscopy, etc.
THK: When considering a clinic, would you recommend a “tour”? If yes, what things should you look for and check during the visit?
SP: Many people do not realize that some veterinary hospitals may be certified by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which establishes a standard of care in the areas of facility, equipment, and medicine. This would be an important question to ask. Other important factors are if the veterinary hospital is equipped to be “cat friendly” if that is important to a pet owner. For instance, does it have a separate waiting area for people with cats from those with dogs? Is the staff friendly? What equipment do they have to monitor anesthesia? Are treatments performed in the exam room or does the animal get taken to a treatment room?
Other questions may include the following: Is the hospital clean, is the location convenient, are the prices affordable, and does the hospital have access to board certified surgeons and radiologists? These are all questions that hospital staff should not mind answering if they value transparency.
THK: Any specific questions you should ask a vet when considering their practice?
SP: Always start with basic questions such as:
How long has the veterinarian been practicing medicine?
Is the doctor accessible to talk on the phone or by email?
Where do they refer their emergencies, and do they prefer a certain emergency pet hospital over others?
How much time do I get to spend with the doctor?
THK: When choosing a vet, is it better to go with a general vet or choose a specialist as your main vet?
SP: A general practitioner is more than competent to handle the majority of cases that walk through the door. Although it would be fine to use a specialist as a primary veterinarian, it is not pertinent for this to be the case. A specialist is there to take on cases that involve more complicated management of medications or if specialized procedures need to be performed.
For instance, there are certain surgeries that require years of experience that a specialist would be better qualified because general practitioners do not get the regular exposure. General practitioners are seasoned at knowing what is in the spectrum of their ability and what requires a specialist attention.
THK: Should you ask the vet about his philosophies regarding care? For example, does he agree with alternative medicine?
SP: It is perfectly reasonable to discuss with the veterinarian their veterinary care philosophy. Most veterinarians will want to work with the expectations of the owner, but it is important for the owner to make sure the fit is right and their approach to veterinary care is compatible. For instance, asking about their philosophy about vaccinations is a good place to start. Veterinary medicine is moving away from over-vaccination and towards vaccinating for risk associated with exposure and activity level.
Some people want to incorporate more of a holistic approach so that natural products, acupuncture, and essential oils are utilized. Some veterinarians either have extensive experience in this area or they are at least able to adapt and facilitate the owner’s request. Other veterinarians are simply not interested in that kind of medicine, so it is important to make sure one knows what they are getting in their veterinarian. It is not offensive to ask!