Bringing home a new pet often means choosing a new veterinarian. Other times, moving your family to a new location, or dissatisfaction with a current practice, prompts you to find a veterinarian that best fits your needs. When I rescued my spectacled amazon parrot many years ago, my dog's veterinarian referred Venus to an avian specialist. Just as your child's pediatrician isn't a good choice to treat you, it's important to match your pet's needs to the right veterinarian.
Veterinarians learn to care for many kinds of critters. If possible, though, choose a doctor who focuses on your species of pet. For example, cats-only practices offer the best in feline medicine—and your cat won't be bothered by dogs in the waiting room. A large animal practice for farm animals probably isn't the best choice for your ball python. For pocket pets, look for a specialist in exotics like hamsters and sugar gliders. There also are veterinarians with a holistic focus practicing acupuncture, veterinary chiropractic care, and natural medicines. Multi-veterinary practices offer many services like sonograms with different specialists under one roof. A great way to find a new veterinarian is to ask pet-loving friends, shelter staff, or your pet's breeder for a recommendation. Once you've narrowed your choices, here are next steps.
Visit a potential veterinary clinic ahead of time. The doctor's office is busy, though, so call to schedule a time. Chat with the office manager, technicians, and the veterinarian when possible, and ask for a brief tour of the facilities. During your visit, ask the staff and yourself these important questions.
Are you fear-free certified?
Dr. Marty Becker created the Fear Free initiative to make veterinary visits stress-free happy places, so your cat isn't terrified and your dog loves visiting. A fear-free practice can help you teach pets to at least tolerate important health care like giving a pill without melting into a trembling puddle.
What is your AAHA accreditation?
The American Animal Hospital Association has standards of excellence, such as separate areas for quarantine, that offer an additional level of trust. Learn about a potential vet's level of accreditation to decide if it meets your standards.
What about emergency and referral services?
If the worst happens, you need access to life-saving care. Practices often partner with other veterinary clinics to offer rotating 24-hour emergency services.
Do you have separate waiting areas for dogs and cats (or other critters)?
That can ease the stress level of your pet, and it might be a very important consideration for some owners.
What are your hours?
Are the hours convenient, and is the facility located nearby? Many times, veterinary hospitals offer drop-off services in the morning before you go to work. The closer the clinic, the better the chance you'll seek care promptly rather than putting it off until it's more convenient to travel a long distance.
Are boarding facilities available?
If you need to go out of town, you'll feel more comfortable leaving your diabetic kitty where she can receive her insulin without worries.
Is the cost something we can manage?
Do they offer payment plans or insurance programs in case of emergencies? Pet care can be expensive, and specialty practices typically cost a bit more than general practice care. Of course, when it comes to your pet's health, cheaper isn't necessarily better. The expertise of the veterinarian and staff should come first.
Do you like the veterinarian—does the vet like you and your pets?
While folks study to become veterinarians because they love pets, some doctors may prefer dogs (or other animals) over other pets. Trust is a huge issue, and you must feel comfortable with the person responsible for your pet's care. The veterinarian you choose should be willing to answer your questions in an understandable fashion, without jargon, and without making you feel "funny" for asking. After all, you both want the best for your pets.