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 my 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.
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 most 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?
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 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, and 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.
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?
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 emphasis 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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.