How to Find a Great Vet

how to find a great vet to help you care for your senior dog

how to find a veterinarian

 

If you’re concerned about the care your pet is receiving, you are definitely going to want to read this article on how to find a great vet.

My sweet Red, the love of my life, would not be with me today if I had not found my vet…and I know that for sure!

I use the word “great” but I realise that means different things to different people. I’ve had some wonderful vets, and I’ve had some horrific experiences that ended in the deaths of 2 of my dogs. As seriously as I’ve always taken How to Find a Great Vetmy search, I’ve become even more headstrong and unforgiving as a result of those tragedies and Red’s health issues.

Here is a fairly recent example 

Let me begin by saying, as much as I love Red and cannot imagine a single minute without her, I do not believe in heroic measures or compromising her quality of life just so I don’t have to face the unthinkable. My primary concern is and always has been her well being. If I thought for a second I was being unfair, I would not hesitate to take that final step

I know my dog very well so even the slightest change I can detect, and one day she was not herself. I didn’t want to wait until the practice opened at 9:00 to see if my vet was there so I went. Naturally he wasn’t there and someone I don’t trust at all was. I knew she was a bit dehydrated so they put her on fluids, but that was all I would allow him to do. 

In the meantime I called a practice I used to go to before I moved, checking if a certain vet was there and thankfully she was! I had met her a few months before when a different vet told me she thought Red’s liver was enlarged and I would have to put her down. Not on her recommendation was I going to do something like that!  I asked for my dog back even though they hadn’t finished with the fluids, but instead the vet and a nurse tried to convince me to leave her there, and basically put her down. 

I explained that if they didn’t hand my dog back I would call the police. I grabbed her and made the hour long journey to the other practice, feeling so much better I was off to see someone I trusted.

It’s the second time she “saved” Red, but I fear how many people who have blind trust might have lost their pets too early. 

That’s why this topic is so important to me. 

How do you feel about your vet?

Over the years I have had many conversations with people in waiting rooms. I’m often surprised by how many pet parents are fine seeing “whomever” and don’t think much about whether they like the person treating their companion or not. No judgement, merely an observation.

I know we all want the best medical care we can find for our pets, yet I’m always surprised by the number of people who aren’t wild about their vet or don’t particularly trust them, yet don’t make a change.  Having said that I know circumstances can come into play.

Sometimes where we live and the distance we’re able to travel makes change difficult

We don’t want to make waves

Feel bad or uncomfortable expressing concerns

Would be too awkward asking for records to be transferred to a new practice

All valid points!

What matters to me

Having wanderlust means, among other things, having to leave my favourite vets and going through the pain of finding another. Sometimes it also means bad, even horrific experiences along the way.

The things that are important to me are:

  • Continuity of care (seeing the same vet unless of course they’re away)
  • A kind and compassionate bedside manner
  • Someone I feel comfortable talking with and who listens
  • Open to alternative and natural treatments if they don’t offer them
  • Someone I trust and have confidence in
  • Excellent at what he/she does
  • Friendly and helpful staff
  • A practice culture where old dogs are seen as having value, and deserving of the same level of care and respect as a puppy

 

This post will be divided into two parts. In part one I will list various criteria to help you determine/narrow down what type of vet and veterinary practice you’d like. Part two will focus on how to find it, so by the end you will have all the information you need to find a great vet.

Part One

Does size matter?

Veterinary practices come in all shapes and sizes. From one vet in a small room (like in the local village where we are in Spain as you will see in the picture to the right), to animal hospitals open 24/7 with the mosa one vet practice in a one room clinic in Spaint technologically advanced equipment known to man, and everything in between.

You can find the most incredible vet in a small private practice, and be made to feel like the worst pet parent ever at a state of the art hospital (both scenarios I’ve experienced by the way!!).

Think about what kind of tests can be performed at the office, and which, if any, would have to be performed elsewhere. That will impact how long it takes to get results, not to mention convenience or inconvenience for you. Also think about the cost of basic tests like blood and urine at the various facilities. Are you paying for the expensive medical equipment in every bill?

Will an independently owned veterinary practice have more flexibility to meet your needs, over a practice that is part of a chain with policies and procedures to follow?   

Invisibility factor

I don’t have an inferiority complex that requires everyone to remember me or I’ll feel bad about myself. I do, however, like when I walk into a practice and the people at reception begin to recognise me, and greet me in a genuine manner.

I used to go to an animal hospital in Florida, and before I would get the door open 3 young girls with fake smiles plastered on their faces would be yelling hello. That happened each and every time I went which was fairly often since I bought food there, and one of my cats was going for chemo. Do you think they ever recognised me? Of course not, they barely registered the faces of those who walked through the door. There’s friendly and there’s phony “customer service.” You can tell the difference.

Level of experience

Does the vet you choose have to be practicing for a minimum number of years for you to feel he’s qualified enough, are you happy to see a new graduate, or a vet is a vet?    

Bedside manner

Bedside manner is very important for me whether it’s my own doctor, dentist, hairdresser or vet. I have to like the person treating my animals and need to have rapport. At times I have been forced to see other vets in a practice, A holistic vet Red sees in Spainand while I was always grateful they were available to help, if I couldn’t stand them I would not feel entirely comfortable they did right by us. I’m not saying they didn’t  (although many times they didn’t!!), it’s how I felt.  

Distance

How far are you willing/able to travel, and be realistic when making your decision. Factor in your workload, car pool, extra-curricular activities, weather (snowstorms for instance), traffic and anything else you can think of.

Social or anti-social hours

Going hand in hand with distance are office hours. Does the practice offer early morning or evening appointments? What about Saturdays and Sundays? Are they only open the hours you’re at work? 

Handling emergencies

Red is quite a complicated case so yes, I would love my vet to be available 24/7, but unfortunately that can’t happen. What if you have to see another practice vet who isn’t qualified enough to treat your dog? Would your regular vet be reachable by phone for advice? How about out of hours care? Do they offer an emergency service, or do you have to rely on a local emergency hospital?

Do they share your view on “heroic measures”

What is your view of heroic measures? For example…if your dog had cancer, would you put him through treatment or leave him be as long as he is comfortable and pain free, providing hospice care as needed? How long would you allow treatment to last? What indicators would you use to decide when enough was enough?  

I am more comfortable with a vet that shares my view, because I know he will always put my dog or cat’s comfort and best interests first.

Using my Florida hospital experience again (what can I say, I had a few bad experiences with different vets in that state and that hospital) – we saw an oncologist after a cat of mine had been diagnosed with cancer. Because the tumour was sitting on his carotid artery, surgery was not an option but chemo was so we tried it. He responded well, never seemed to feel ill so we carried on. After a few months the treatment stopped working, and we agreed to try another drug. Quite quickly we saw it took less and less time for the tumour to start growing again. The oncologist pushed hard for us to try a third drug, but we said no. The cancer was not causing him any pain so we decided to let him be and care for him at home as long as he was comfortable. When he got to the stage where he wasn’t okay we would do what needed to be done.  

We knew from the beginning nothing was going to cure him, only prolong his life. We knew we did right by him, had no regrets but there was a limit to what we would allow TT to endure. The attitude we got in response was disgusting. We are excellent pet parents and any animal would be fortunate to be in our care, yet listening to how she spoke to us you’d think we asked her to kill our perfectly healthy pet. We made the best decision for our cat and that’s what caring for another life means.

Just a quick note – there is a difference between heroic measures and sucking more and more money out of you. Keep your eyes and ears open and question. 

Alternative or traditional?

Are you okay with traditional veterinary medicine and the prescribing of drugs and prescription diets? Do you prefer a purely holistic approach? How about a mixture of the two? I’ve noticed more and more practices are offering alternative treatments such as acupuncture, reiki, homeopathic remedies and the like, as well as a greater This is a holistic vet that cares for Redemphasis on natural nutrition and supplements as a way to keep pets healthy.  If you aren’t familiar with holistic medicine, there is plenty of information online or better still, find a holistic vet in your area and book a consultation to learn more about their approach. 

Not everyone likes to be second guessed

I don’t liken the asking of questions to second guessing, but in my experience many vets do. I’ve always been a big asker of questions, I like to understand the who, what, where, when and why of a situation. I am conscious of taking up too much time so I do watch the clock, but answers are important to me and my vet has to be willing to listen to my concerns. I also appreciate them being open minded to other approaches when I ask.   

Continuity of care

I want continuity of care, especially if I’m dealing with a pet who has ongoing medical issues like Red does. Vets will have different opinions on treatment, and not having one protocol to follow is absolutely not in the best interest of my animals.

If this sounds important to you, find out how often they are in the office, do they travel a lot, split their time between other practices, who is around to take their place…

Having a “back up” vet you trust, even if it’s at another practice might be something for you to consider. 

Boarding facilities

If you prefer to board your pet at your vet’s office when you’re away, a practice that offers that service will be important, but how important? If you find a vet you like and the practice does not offer boarding, is it a deal breaker? 

Here are some things you need to know about before you drop your pet off.

  • Are they in cages or runs?
  • Ask to see the facilities beforehand, and if they won’t let you they’re hiding something and just walk away
  • Are staff there 24/7 or are animals left alone overnight?
  • How often do they walk the dogs?
  • Does anyone come and play with the cats?
  • Can you bring your own food, toys, beds, blankets…
  • Be very clear on the cost – is it a per day fee? 24 hours? A charge if you’re late in picking up? Extra for administering medication?

Really think about how well your dog would do in kennels, and is it the best place. An alternative is finding a reliable pet sitter who will stay in your home or host your animal(s) in theirs.  

Attitude towards seniors

Last on my list of criteria but for me one of the most important factors, is the attitude of the vet and the culture of the practice as a whole, towards seniors. The fact I even have to mention this quite frankly disgusts me, but sadly I do.

You may be surprised to see this as an issue, vets are supposed to care for all animals no matter the age. Unfortunately senior worth is not an attitude every vet shares. Take a look at how society views the elderly (animal or human), so why are we surprised by some in the medical profession with that very same view.

Unfortunately I have come across a couple of vets who need a serious attitude adjustment in their feelings towards senior dogs, probably seniors of any species.  You can be sure I told my vet about it since they were part of his team, and he was shocked both at their attitude and how wrong their diagnoses were. 

Part Two

How to find a vet

You’ve read the tips and narrowed down the type of practice and vet you’d most like to find. Now we have to figure out how to find it.

Internet search

How did we manage when we didn’t have a search engine?

The first thing I do is a search for vets in my area. How far afield I look will depend on where I’m living, whether or not I have a car, traffic, weather… If I’m living in a crazy congested city where rush hour seems constant, I’m going to prefer someone closer to home (as long as I like and trust them of course!!)

I ask a ton of people

I ask people around me if they have a vet, know of a vet, do they like them and anything else I can think of. It’s also good to find out what kind of conditions their pets have been treated for. If they go to the vet once a year for vaccinations and you have a dog with serious health issues… To be clear, I take recommendations with a grain of salt. I do add the vets to my list to check out, but I don’t put a lot of stock in their praise because I have had some bad experiences, near misses and even a couple of deaths by vets that came “recommended.”

Walk in and start talking

When I first moved to England I didn’t know a soul and only had cats, so it’s not like I was out dog walking and meeting people as a source of info. One day I went to a chain pet supply store to buy food and found a veterinary office there. I had a pre-conceived negative opinion from the start, for no reason other than I couldn’t believe a reputable vet would operate out of a store.

Nevertheless I approached the women at the front desk and started asking them about the practice. They were so lovely and helpful I left with a positive feeling. I spoke to them a couple of more times over the course of a few weeks, and each time they were as friendly and helpful as the time before.  

When I was finally ready to give one of the vets a try, each one recommended the same vet. We stayed with him for years until we finally moved away. When we returned he had moved back to his home country, but still came back twice a year for a few weeks to practice. Yes we did see him whenever he was back. I’d never known such outward compassion before, and he went far beyond what you would hope to expect. 

One of my cats, Tyler had cancer in her jaw and her surgery was scheduled for the day we were leaving on a two day trip. We were going to cancel but were told not to because we wouldn’t be allowed to visit anyway, so as not to upset her. Without even being asked he called twice each day to update us, even though we were in another country!  

A glance through their websites

I know anyone can produce a beautiful looking website and write anything they want on it, but I can’t help but form a bit of an opinion based on the look, layout… I like to read about the staff, qualifications and anything else I can learn. I don’t base my opinion solely on it, but I do give it some weight.

Compiling the list

I got lucky in England (walking in and finding my amazing vet, who later recommended my current one), but usually I end up making a list of possibles. Depending on where you live there may be two names or twenty.

Narrowing it down

We all have our ways of arriving at decisions, so you can narrow down your list by:

  • Checking out their websites
  • Seeing what services they offer
  • Number of staff and qualifications
  • Prices
  • A general vibe
  • Friendliness and helpfulness of the reception staff
  • All of the above and more

Why not call the practice and introduce yourself. Explain you’re looking for a new vet then guage the reaction or welcome you receive. A cold reception doesn’t mean the vet isn’t amazing, but it can be offputting and you wonder why rudeness is tolerated.

Ask if it is possible to schedule a short visit to see the practice, and meet the vet and staff. Some vets offer a tour of their facilities and that’s a good sign since they have nothing to hide.

Take note of waiting area and exam room cleanliness, and pay attention to how the staff at the front desk speak to clients both in person, and on the phone. While you’re waiting, chat with others in the waiting area and see what they think.

A bit of trial and error

Sometimes you get lucky and hit the jackpot on the first try, and other times you have to go through the hell of lack of compassion, greed and even the death of two dogs. I fall into both those categories. If you ever get a bad vibe, question his or her abilities, or something just puts you off run and check out the next vet on your list. Don’t feel bad and certainly don’t feel obligated to continue. Trust me, it could be your pet’s life at stake and I don’t want you to go through what I did. 

How to find a great vet – conclusion

The most important thing is to find a vet you are comfortable with, trust and can communicate with. After all, your fur babies rely on you to take the best care of them you possibly can. I do hope you find the tips on how to find a great vet helpful, and please share them with others you know who are looking for the same. 

 

 

Do you have a great vet? What makes him or her so great? Please share your experiences in the comment section below or on my Facebook page. It helps others!

 

I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a new Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Find a Great Vet
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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18 thoughts on “How to Find a Great Vet

  1. I agree that distance is an important feature when you are looking for a veterinarian. I would imagine that you would want to find somewhere that is close by because it would stress your pet out less when you take them there. I’m looking for a vet for my dog so I’ll have to find somewhere close by to take him.

    1. Hi Olivia, you raise an excellent point about stress. Some pets are very unsettled even nervous on car rides, so if anyone shares their life with a pet who shows those signs, distance is definitely an important factor to consider.

  2. Henry and I might be moving soon and I’m so nervous to find a new vet! My childhood vet was AMAZING and even still has a photo of my childhood dog hanging in his practice. My current vet is also great, and Henry isn’t as nervous with him as with other vets. We had a bad experience when we tried a closer vet 🙁

    1. Hi Rochelle, I know how you feel. Start researching early and don’t worry about hating a vet that everyone loves. If you feel pressured, get a bad vibe or anything else that unsettles you find another. When I first moved to Florida I had 9 different vets, but that’s also because I detected a very different attitude than I did from my vet in Canada. There are great vets out there so good luck finding the best one for Henry.

  3. When I arrived in SF with Baby R.I.P. I was fortunate as PAWS (Pets are Wonderful Support) where she was a client and now Layla also work with an amazing clinic, the Vets are fantastic, and what I really love about them is that I can email to ask questions (not pay) plus her entire medical file is online and I can access it anywhere in the world. Makes life very easy plus they are open 24/7

    1. You’re so lucky you found such an amazing clinic, and you know Layla is in good hands. Being able to access medical files online is not something I’ve heard before, but definitely a handy feature if you move. I know 2 of my dogs died because of veterinary incompetence, but even before that happened I took vet care very seriously and never just saw the first one that had an appointment.

  4. This is great information. It’s so hard to find a vet that you will trust with your pets and have the utmost confidence in. I went through a couple before I decided on my current vet.

  5. We would not hang around at a vets we didn’t like. In fact when they tried to bleed us dry for caring for our late cat Weasley we never went back. I hate money grubbing so called ‘vets’ who may be qualified who who put profit first.

    1. I hear you! Until I moved to Florida I had never experienced money grubbing before, so I was shocked by what I encountered there. The most expensive and invasive tests were always recommended first, I got attitude when I questioned anything and they had a knack for making me question the care I took of my animals. The last straw was when one of my cats who had cancer suffered a seizure and I rushed him to the vet. We knew we had to put him down so they took him out of the room to put a catheter in him, then the receptionist walked in for payment. They wouldn’t bring him back until the bill was settled. If I could have shut that animal hospital down I would have.

  6. As someone who used to work as a veterinary technician, I can tell you that finding the right vet for you is so important. Even within the same hospital walls, there are several vets to choose from. Thank you for sharing your experience, I know a lot of people will find this information helpful.

    1. Thanks Rachel I hope people find it helpful, because I rely so much on my vet. Before I left England (taking a few months break) the practice I went to had about 4 different vets, but there was only one I would see unless it was an emergency. I hope people realise just because one in a practice is great, don’t expect them all to be.

  7. My wife and I have been trying to find a veterinarian for a while now and we haven’t really been sure about what to look for when it comes to finding a good one. I liked that you had mentioned that it can be important to narrow down your list by making sure they offer all needed service and have the proper qualifications that are needed. We’ll have to start looking around and hopefully we can find a veterinarian that will be able to help out our dog and leave us worry-free in that regards.

    1. Thanks for your comment Roger. Everyone has their own definition of what “good” means, but it is super important to have a vet you can rely on to help you care for your pet. I hope my tips will help you and your wife find a great vet.

  8. Hindy, thanks for your comment about how a good veterinarian should care about your pet and making sure that they do a good job helping them. I like how you said that you should choose someone who you believe to be trustworthy and whom you feel comfortable being around. My husband and I are considering vets that we can take our baby husky into to get a check-up once in a while.

    1. I believe it’s very important to have a good relationship with your vet, as they are instrumental in helping keep them well. Good luck in your search, and I hope you’ll be taking your pup for yearly checkups not just “once in awhile”, as a problem caught early has a better chance of being “fixed” or at least managed. Good luck.

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