How to choose a veterinarian for your dog
WHY Choose a Veterinarian
It’s sometimes hard to believe that our best dog friends might need to see a doctor at some point in their short lives. Or, for others, it might seem very obvious.
Dogs, like humans, have a body full of functioning organs, joints, bones, ligaments, muscles, and on and on the list goes. Moreover, dogs, unlike humans, jump from couch to couch daily, leap onto their owners without remorse, scarf down dish towels, toy cars, pens, chew toys, and any human food they can get their paws on. Dogs will dart out into traffic with the delusional belief that they are SuperFido. They’ll try to prove to a Rottweiler that they’re the boss even if they’re a teeny tiny Chihuahua. Do you get where this is going? Dogs certainly live in the moment, and sometimes that can work against their best interests. The opportunities for bodily injury to your dog are countless.
In other instances, the illness is unavoidable and a natural result of the progression of life. Dogs have shorter life spans than humans and reach a senior age long before their owners do. With aging, an entire host of new ailments arise, such as arthritis, cancer, hip dysplasia, kidney and heart failure, and the list goes on and on. Man’s best friend is very resilient, but their humans should still help them stay healthy along the way. One essential step pet parents can take for their pup’s best health is choosing their pet’s veterinarian.
WHEN to Choose a Veterinarian
“But Fido’s not sick!” you might exclaim. Well, who says choosing a veterinarian should only enter a pet parent’s radar when Fido’s already sick as a dog? The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advises all pet parents to choose a veterinarian long before their pets are in dire straits. They even suggest pinning the right vet down before bringing your new family member home. “In fact, a veterinarian can assist you in selecting a pet that complements your personality, work schedule, and home life,” says the AVMA.
Like humans, having a permanent and consistent relationship with one specific doctor will help your dog’s overall health in the long run. A vet that knows your dog’s medical history will know how best to diagnose him. “The veterinarian you select will maintain an ongoing history of your pet, including health records that detail immunizations, reactions to medications, illnesses, surgical procedures, behavior traits, etc. He or she will also advise you on the best preventive care program to maintain your pet’s health,” says the AVMA.
WHERE to Look For A Veterinarian
Once you’ve made the decision to choose the right veterinarian, there are many ways to go about choosing the best one for your dog. First and foremost, it’s important to consider what you personally would want from your dog’s veterinarian. Are you looking for a friendly, dog-loving, get down on all fours for doggie kisses type of veterinarian, or would you much rather have a no-nonsense, get right to the facts veterinarian that gets you in and out of the clinic lickity-split? Are you looking for a holistic veterinarian that would consider alternative therapies before using routine treatment? Would you like a veterinarian with a particular specialty? A veterinarian that will coddle your Pit Bull like he would a Pomeranian?
The Healthy Animal’s Journal says, “There are veterinarians who make house calls, have a one-person practice, have large staffs and lots of state-of-the-art equipment, offer some holistic care, offer only holistic care, offer only one type of medicine or see only one type of animal.” The possibilities are boundless. Sit down and make your own list of everything your heart desires out of your pooch’s veterinarian. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) suggests that you then talk to other pet parents that have a similar approach to pet care as you do. Consider striking up a conversation with dog lovers at the dog park, jumping onto Twitter and searching out the pet health experts, and asking the dog lady across the street who obsesses over her French Bulldog where she takes her pooch.
The AVMA and HSUS also suggest asking breed clubs, animal shelter workers, dog trainers, groomers, pet sitters, and dog walkers. The resources are infinite and many veterinarians have extensive web sites with information at a pet parent’s fingertips.
HOW TO Choose A Veterinarian
Once you’ve built your list of prospective veterinarians, both the AVMA and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) suggest scheduling an appointment to meet the veterinarian and to tour the facilities. Feel free to visit as many of the veterinarians on your list as you deem necessary. Once there, AAHA says to “Use your eyes and nose to detect cleanliness.” As you tour the facilities you’ll get a sense of the environment and will most likely quickly determine if it’s the right place for your pooch.
The AVMA has compiled the following list of questions to have in your pocket when considering each veterinarian:
- Office Hours: What are the regular office hours? Are they compatible with your schedule? Will they accept e-mails or appointments electronically (if that is your preferred scheduling method)? Who covers the practice when the doctor is unavailable? Do they have after hours’ emergency coverage or do they refer emergencies to a local emergency clinic?
The HSUS also says to consider if appointments are required or if you can walk in if necessary.
- Professional Staff: How are telephone calls handled? Can you request an appointment with a specific veterinarian? Does the staff dress and act professionally? Do you feel comfortable talking with the doctor? The technician? How well do the staff and doctors interact with your pet?
AAHA says, “The veterinarian should be able to communicate with you and make you feel comfortable asking questions. Even if the doctor is highly qualified, if you don’t hit it off, you may need to go elsewhere.” The HSUS suggests asking yourself, “Is the staff caring, calm, competent and courteous, and do they communicate effectively?” Also, consider asking how many veterinarians are in the practice.
- Fees and Payment: What methods of payment are accepted? Does the hospital accept pet insurance policies? Which ones does it accept?
- Services: What is the range of medical services that the practice provides? Does the hospital have educational materials for pet owners on a variety of topics?
The HSUS also suggests finding out if x-rays, ultrasound, blood work, EKG, endoscopy and other diagnostics are done in-house or referred to a specialist.
- Emergency Care: How are emergency calls handled during regular office hours and after office hours? Is there an emergency facility in your area should you need it?
- Facility: Is the building environment clean and orderly? Are there any unpleasant odors? Can you take a tour of the non-public areas?
- Professional Affiliations: Are the doctors members of a professional veterinary association such as the AVMA or a state or local veterinary association? Also consider if they’re AAHA accredited. The HSUS suggests that if you are looking for a specialist, also look into board certification. What is the hospital policy regarding continuing education for the professional staff?
AAHA mentions on their website that “Approximately 12 percent of the small animal veterinary hospitals in the United States and Canada are accredited AAHA members.” Ultimately, make sure that your new veterinarian fits your budgetary needs while still meeting your expectations. You might also consider asking if they have any discounts for senior citizens or for multi-pet households, as suggested by the HSUS.
Looking for a Holistic Veterinarian?
“Holistic medicine takes the perspective of treating the whole animal… [Holistic veterinarians’] goal is to make the animal healthier for life, not just to get rid of the current symptom. They will educate you and explain what they see when physically examining your animal,” says The Healthy Animal’s Journal. Holistic veterinarians will look at an animal’s diet, suggest certain vitamins and supplements for their needs, and might suggest alternative therapies such as reiki or acupuncture.
If you are looking for a holistic veterinarian, your first stop should be with the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA). As you begin your search and select your pet’s veterinarian, it’s important to remember that veterinarians are human just like everyone else. There is no perfect veterinarian, but there certainly can be a veterinarian that’s perfect for your dog.
The Healthy Animal’s Journal says, “Your animal should at least be comfortable with your choice, you should be able to get your questions and concerns addressed, and the health of your animal should be moving in a positive direction in all ways.” Keep in mind that the relationship you build with your veterinarian goes both ways. Be a good client and establish a mutual respect with your veterinarian. Observe their policies and try to be flexible as well. Both your dog and veterinarian will love you for it!