Finding a veterinarian to care for your pets can be as simple as lucking into an awesome referral or as challenging as interviewing lots of potential clinics. We’ve been through the range of vets from the best to the not-so-great, and we’re embarking on a search for a new vet for Cooper! I’m hoping by sharing our experience, I can help you find the perfect vet for your family!
Since we first adopted Emmett in 2005 through today, we’ve run the gamut of vets. We started at a Banfield, then moved to a small clinic that was in walking distance of our DC condo when we adopted Lucas. When we moved from DC to Indiana, we chose a practice based solely on proximity to our house–and lucked into one of the best vets we could’ve dreamed up. When she moved away, we got an OK vet for a little while. Then we moved and chose a vet in our small Louisiana town because it was the only AAHA accredited vet in driving distance. When we moved back and back to that same, previous practice, the OK vet had also moved on and we were matched with a brand-new vet who proved to be the absolute perfect fit for us. Then we moved again and picked an AAHA animal hospital that was open 24 hours. For whatever reason, their turnover rate has been ridiculous… we’ve had four vets in three years, and saw a fifth vet once in between, and none have been the right fit.
So, we’ve decided–for the first time ever in all this–that it’s time to move on not because we’re actually moving but because this practice doesn’t meet our needs. And that’s OK! More on that in a minute.
Your relationship with your vet… and why it matters
Among the relationships your pet has outside immediate family and friends, the one with the vet matters the most. You need to trust your vet. So does your pet. You need to feel secure with your vet. So does your pet. No, it won’t always be super comfy for your pet. Cooper’s a nervous Nelly, and the cats are, well, cats. But, I need to feel confident that their vet will be compassionate with their, ahem, quirks. That’s the baseline for me. Even bigger than that, though, are the super tough times. When Lucas received his osteosarcoma diagnosis, his vet sat with him and sat with me, tears filled her eyes, and she took as long as we needed to ask questions and to make a plan. When he passed away, she came to our house and made the entire experience as gentle as possible. It was personal. She and the vet tech shared stories with us about Lucas from his stay at the animal hospital. It meant something. When Emmett passed, well, that vet was also gentle and compassionate, but we didn’t have a relationship with her, so it felt different, less authentic. Less personal.
Ultimately, your relationship with your vet matters because it won’t always be checkups and vaccines. Someday you might face disease or injury, and someday we’ll all face end-of-life care. Having a good relationship with your vet truly matters in those times.
What to look for in a new veterinarian
I’m not sure Cooper will ever feel relaxed at his vet’s office, but he did fine (for Cooper) with two of the roughly 10 vets listed above in no small part because of the effort those vets put into making him feel safe. That’s huge. If you have a nervous pup, it’s worth asking before you head in: What do you do for a fearful animal? (More on Q’s to ask below, btw!) Same thing for cats: Most will never be happy at a vet visit, but can you find a vet who will at least try different tactics to help your cat feel settled?
Here’s what to look for in a new veterinarian:
- AAHA accreditation: No, it’s not a deal-breaker for us, but it at least shows that the practice follows a set of rigorous standards.
- The lobby: This might sound silly if you’ve never loved a reactive dog but. When we lived in DC, Lucas was still new and intense in his reactivity. The lobby of the clinic near us was small. So, the receptionist would wave to us through the glass front, then kindly ask the other patients to move to one side so we could zip him through and straight back. Considering new vets now, I happened to be at another vet’s office in town and texted John that there was no way we could consider them. The lobby is SO small with two side-by-side benches and one way in or out. Our current vet, the one we’re leaving, has one thing going for them: You don’t wait in the lobby. You wait in a room.
- Specialties or certifications: Are they a fear-free vet? Or a Cat-Friendly Practice?
- Hours that work with your schedule: For example, if there’s no way you can ever get off work between 8 am and 5 pm, do they offer evening or weekend hours? If they’re not open 24 hours, do they have a relationship with an emergency hospital?
- Payment methods that work with your needs: This includes accepting things like CareCredit or setting up payment plans.
- Proximity: Can you get there quickly in an emergency?
Finally, are they willing to schedule an interview or a “get-to-know-you” appointment? This allows you to tour the practice and meet the staff before you commit. Some vets charge for this, and that’s perfectly OK since you’re using 30 to 60 minutes of their time.
How to interview a potential new vet (aka, how to vet your vet!)
Here are a few tips on how to find and arrange an interview with a potential new vet:
First, research potential vets on social media and among friends and family. Check out the comments and reviews on the practice’s Facebook page. Read their Yelp and Google reviews (bearing in mind people often use those channels to gripe), and check out your local Better Business Bureau for any reviews or complaints.
Second, call your selected vet and ask to schedule a meet-and-greet at a convenient time. A busy practice won’t appreciate or necessarily be able to accommodate a walk-in, so get it on the schedule! Ask if you should bring your pets along, too, so they can meet each other in a non-clinical setting.
Finally, have a copy of your pet’s records transferred to the potential new vet ahead of time. This is especially important if your dog has a chronic condition and you want to ask questions about their treatment methods.
Then, on the day of the appointment, arrive a few minutes early and be prepared with a list of questions. Here are 10 to consider if they’re relevant to your pet and situation (not all will apply to everyone, of course):
- Will my pet always see the same vet / can I request a specific vet for our appointments?
- What is your emergency response? Are there immediate appointments in a real emergency? Referral to an after-hours hospital?
- Do you take questions via email? Or phone only?
- Does your practice consider treatments / feeding / therapy beyond the traditional? (Depending on your situation, this question could cover raw feeding, acupuncture, etc.)
- How do you approach budgeting for treatments? Can you work with my threshold / payment needs?
- What’s the follow up / support / resources available for any diagnosis or treatment?
- I’m the kind of person who has a ton of questions. How long is a typical appointment? If I need more time, can I book extra time or a last of the day?
- How do you handle end of life care?
- Do you have a referral network of specialists if they’re needed?
- What steps can we take together to help my fearful dog / scaredy cat feel safer?
This is so important
In a perfect world, you and your pet would have the same vet for life. That doesn’t always happen. This relationship is so important that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable… or to move on if they’re just not a fit for you. I recently posed this question in the OMD Facebook group and was so happy to see how many people have wonderful relationships with their pets’ providers, and it was fascinating to hear how most people found their current vets. As we look for Cooper’s new vet (and, by extension, the cats’ new vet, too!) I’ll share what we learn along the way! Join the discussion here in the comments or hop into our Facebook group to share your experience!
Have you ever interviewed a vet? What questions do you ask potential new pet care practitioners? What would you add to this list? Any experiences–good or bad–with changing vets?