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 a good geriatric veterinarian… and I know that for sure!
I use the word “great” but I realize 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.
An Example of Poor Senior Dog Care
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 Current Vet?
Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with people in waiting rooms.
I’m often surprised by how many dog owners 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 dogs – especially when they are older – 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 such as:
- 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
These are all valid points!
However, I beg you to find a new vet that will hear your concerns and take better care of your senior dog if you are not currently satisfied.
What Matters Most to Me When Choosing a Geriatric Veterinarian
Having wanderlust means, among other things, having to leave my favorite 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 when finding a veterinarian for my older dog 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
Finding the Best Geriatric Veterinarian Near You
This post is divided into two parts.
In part one I list various criteria to help you determine/narrow down what type of vet and veterinary practice you’d like.
Part two focuses on how to find what you are looking for so, by the end you, will have all the information you need to find a great vet.
Part One: Determining Which Senior Dog Veterinarian is Best For You
Below are things I suggest you think about when it comes to the care you want your senior dog to receive.
Does the size of the veterinary practice 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 at a larger, stat-of-the-art facility in every bill?
Will an smaller, independently owned veterinary practice have more flexibility to meet your needs vs a practice that is part of a chain with policies and procedures to follow?
The Invisibility factor: are you just another wallet with a dog?
I don’t have an inferiority complex that requires everyone to remember me or I’ll feel bad about myself. I do, however, like it when I walk into a practice and the people at reception begin to recognize 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 recognized 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.
How experienced do you want your veterinarian to be?
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 veterinarian graduate?
Before you’re quick to answer, “of course I want an experienced vet to provide my senior dog care!” keep these things in mind:
An experienced vet went to school years and years ago. While they may have been providing care to animals for a long time, they may not be up-to-date on the latest veterinary science.
Someone who more recently graduated from veterinary school is probably younger. That means if you are younger too, they may be able to relate to you, and understand the way “your generation” views pets (ie. Like a child vs “just a dog”), better.
Is it important that your veterinarian have a good 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, 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 to travel to see a veterinarian?
How far are you willing/able to travel to take your senior dog to the vet?
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.
Also think about emergency situations. They are more likely to occur when you have an older dog.
How long are you willing to wait between a crisis and assessment by a veterinarian?
What hours of availability do you need?
Going hand in hand with distance are office hours.
Do you work a M-F 9-5 job so you will need a vet who is open evenings and weekends?
Do you typically work evenings and weekends so it’s acceptable if the clinic is only open 9-5 on weekdays?
Can you easily take time off of work any time your senior dog needs to go to the vet?
You’ll want to find a vet with hours that work with your schedule.
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?
- Do you believe in 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 tumor 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 tumor 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 that 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 our cat 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.
Are you open to alternative veterinary medicine or just 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.
In the end though, some people are only comfortable with traditional, “western medicine” treatments that are backed by hard science. It’s ok if that’s you!
Do you like to ask a lot of questions?
I don’t liken the asking of questions to second guessing, but in my experience many vets do.
I’ve always been one to ask a lot of questions. I’ll keep going until I 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.
Not every vet is comfortable with feeling “second guessed” though and may get frustrated when you don’t just say thank you and do what they say.
If you are the type that feel overwhelmed by too much information, and too many choices, a vet that doesn’t appreciate a lot of questions may be find for you.
Continuity of care
I want continuity of care, especially if I’m dealing with a pet who has ongoing medical issues like Red does.
I don’t want my regular vet to refer us to someone else every time things get complicated or he or she is out of town.
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
- Ask if they travel a lot
- Do they split their time between other practices?
- Who is around to take their place?
- Ask how far treatment can typically go before they have to refer to a veterinary specialist
Having a “back up” vet you trust, even if it’s at another practice might be something for you to consider.
Do you need your vet to be able to board your senior dog?
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 is it? 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 older dog off at any boarding facility or home:
- Will your dog be in a cate or run?
- 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 dogs?
- Can you bring your own food, toys, beds, blankets, etc?
- Be very clear on what is covered in the basic cost and how the fee is calculated (per day? 24 hours? Is there a charge if you’re late in picking up?
- Are they capable of administering medication? Is there an extra for that?
Really think about how well your dog would do in kennels and if it’s the best place for them.
An alternative is finding a reliable pet sitter who will stay in your home or host your animal(s) in theirs.
What is the veterinarian’s attitude toward senior dogs?
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 senior dogs.
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 because you believe vets are supposed to care for all animals no matter the age. Unfortunately valuing senior dogs as much as younger dogs 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 the Best Vet for Older Dogs Near You
You’ve read the tips and narrowed down the type of practice and vet you’d most like to find.
Now you have to figure out how to locate a veterinarian matching your criteria. These tips can help!
Start with an internet search
How did we manage when we didn’t have a search engine to provide us information?
The first thing I do is a search for vets in my area on the intermet.
How far afield I look will depend on where I’m living, whether or not I have a car, traffic, weather, etc.
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!!)
Ask people for referrals
If I’m trying to find a vet in an unfamiliar location, I ask people around me if they have a local vet they would recommend.
I ask people with pets that I meet on the street; I ask the clerk at the pet store when I check out; and I ask in pet-related Facebook groups focused on the area where I live.
It’s helpful to find out what kind of ailments 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, take that into account when considering the veterinarian they refer you to.
I do add the vets to my list to check out, but I don’t put a lot of stock in their praise because if the person recommending them has had very limited experience.
Dig deeper online
Once you have a list of a few options, take the first step in the screening process by digging deeper into internet research.
First, I visit their website.
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.
Is it easy to find information about who they are and what they offer? What is your initial impression?
Next, I look for reviews.
Type “*name of vet* review” into your preferred search engine and see what comes up.
Keep in mind that people are more likely to leave a negative review if they had a bad experience than take the time to leave praise. However, a veterinarian that receives all good reviews, or all bad ones, is suspect in my book.
When looking through the reviews, is there anything in particular that stands out to you – good or bad?
Make the rounds and start talking
Once you have narrowed your list of options, and a list of questions you want to ask, start calling each veterinarian on the list (or stopping by in person if possible).
Start by introducing yourself and ask if they are accepting new patients. If not, you may want to move onto the next one on your list.
Alternately, if you think you may want to be put on a waiting list, go ahead with your questioning.
What is your general vibe during initial conversation? A cold reception doesn’t mean the vet isn’t amazing, but it can be off-putting and make you wonder why rudeness is tolerated there.
What does your gut say? Do you get a good feeling?
What you ask is usually personal and specific to your senior dog’s health. However, some of the items from Part I above can help you determine what questions you want to ask.
Is the person you are talking to willing to answer all of your questions, or refer you to someone who can, or are do they seem impatient?
Are they friendly and cheery or do they sound stressed and curt?
You can 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.
If you are able to visit in person, 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.
Essentially, you are looking for any red flags, or really positive things, that can help you narrow down your list.
Accept 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.
It may take some trial and error to find a vet that is a perfect match for you and your senior dog.
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.
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.