How to Choose a Veterinarian
Not too long ago, my cat started throwing up a lot. After expensive tests and X-rays, it turned out she just had a minor thyroid condition. The tests weren’t a bad idea, but they did make me second guess my relationship with my vet. If you’re looking for a new vet or just curious if your current one is right, here’s what you should know.
Check If They’re Certified
To practice, all veterinarians need a license in their state (you can look them up here). If you’re looking for accreditation beyond that, you can start with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). They require veterinarians to meet a specific set of standards in their practice. They also examine vet offices and equipment every few years to ensure they hold up to those standards.
Vets aren’t required to hold this accreditation and many of them don’t. If a vet isn’t AAHA certified, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but when a veterinarian is certified, you at least know they stick to certain standards. You can look up AAHA-accredited vet hospitals here.
Some vets are also members of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). It’s basically like American Medical Association membership for vets. Again, AVMA membership doesn’t necessarily mean better, but it shows that your vet is dedicated to the practice. Still, AAHA accreditation is probably a better indicator, as they have a specific set of guidelines offices have to pass to stay accredited.
Look for a Specialist
In some cases, you might need a veterinary specialist. If your pet has specific health issues, like a neurological disease, you probably want to take it to someone who has extra training in that area. A veterinary specialist should be accredited by the American Board of Veterinary Specialists (ABVS). The ABVS ensures your veterinarian has met specific requirements for their specialty and studied longer to become an expert in a specific area. The ABVS also works for species-specific vets. If you need a vet that specializes in birds, reptiles, pigs, or other “exotic companion animals” (turtles, parrots, and snakes for example), you want to make sure they’re certified to handle those animals, and you can look them up on the ABVS website. You can search by specialty and species here.
Look into veterinary networks like VCA and Banfield, too. These are sort of like chain offices that usually offer lower prices and have their own set of guidelines for vets to follow. Here’s what one writer and pet owner had to say about them over at Petcha:
These chain hospitals can often offer lower prices by spreading out overhead and leveraging their purchasing power to strike deals with drug manufacturers. But the trade-off, at least in my experience, is that you may not see the same veterinarian and staff members during each visit. I prefer to have a veterinarian who really knows me and my pets.
This isn’t always the case, of course. My cat goes to a VCA hospital and we see the same doctor every time. In fact, it feels just like an independent vet’s office.
When you go through a network, the same rules apply, though. Your vet can still be AAHA and AVMA accredited. But beyond the letters behind their name, you want to make sure the vet and their office is the right fit for you.
Schedule a Meeting and Tour the Office
You don’t want to wait until your pet is really sick to visit a vet’s office for the first time. You need time to make sure you actually like and trust a vet before you come to them with a life-or-death situation. The AAHA recommends asking the vet for a “get acquainted” meeting to meet them and see if the office is the right fit. You could also just schedule a checkup, though, which can actually let you see the vet in action, observe how they interact with your pet, hear how they communicate with you, and so on.
Here are a few specific considerations to think about when you visit:
- How clean and comfortable the facility is.
- How well the vet, vet techs, and front desk communicate.
- Whether dog and cat cages are in separate areas.
- What kind of emergency services the practice offers.
- What services they outsource (X-rays, blood work, etc.)
Ask some questions while you’re at it. Here are a few specific ones the AAHA says you should throw out:
- Can you request an appointment with a certain veterinarian? The answer should be yes.
- What is your response to emergencies? If your pet has a serious emergency (automobile accident), the hospital should be able to see you immediately or arrange for your pet to go to another hospital that can.
- How long should I have to wait to schedule a routine appointment? Most practices should be able to schedule an appointment within a couple days to a week, depending on how busy they are, and how urgent your pet’s needs are.
You can—and should—ask about money, too. Ask what kind of payment methods they accept and what kind of payment plans they have available, if any. Check to see what they charge for routine procedures like checkups and vaccinations.
Beyond that, when you actually meet with the veterinarian, you want to make sure you’re on the same page. A veterinarian might be great technically, but if he or she doesn’t communicate the way you like to communicate, they might not be the right fit.
For example, I used to take my cat to a vet who was really sweet and gentle with her, but when it came time to discuss the tough stuff, she hesitated a lot instead of giving it to me straight. Another vet over-explained things so much that it frustrated and annoyed my husband, but I actually preferred that level of information. The point is, there’s definitely a personal preference factor to consider when you deal with your vet, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, talk to them about your concerns, and examine how they interact with your pet.
How to Tell If Your Vet Is Gouging You
Everyone seems to have a veterinary horror story and 20/20 even did their own expose on the industry a few years back.
The problem is, when your vet suggests your pet’s vomiting could be something serious and recommends a series of tests that cost several hundred bucks, you feel like a bad pet parent if say no. But you feel like a sucker if they come back and it’s nothing. In most cases, the bottom line is that the vet is more concerned with your pet’s health than your budget.
One vet summed up this disconnect pretty well over at Slate:
“The veterinarian is on the cat’s side, not yours.”
While there are definitely legitimate horror stories, most vets just want to do what’s best for your pet, regardless of the fact that it may be expensive. In my cat’s case, the tests may have been overkill to some, but those tests alerted me to the fact that she had kidney issues, so I changed her diet to keep her healthy. Without them, I wouldn’t have known better. If you think your vet might be gouging, you, though, dog site Speaking for Spot says to look for these red flags:
- Your vet prefers telling you what to do rather than discussing options... Sentence starters from your vet such as, “You need to…”, “You should…”, “You have to…”, or an unsolicited, “If I were you I would…” are clues that you are dealing with a paternalistic provider.
- Your veterinarian is a 100 percent do-it-your-selfer, refusing to enlist help from other veterinarians... If your family vet has been unable to arrive at a diagnosis, your pet’s condition is worsening or not improving in spite of therapy, or a complicated procedure has been recommended, enlisting help from another veterinarian makes really good sense.
- Your vet doesn’t comply with current professional standards. For example, he or she insists on annual vaccinations (parvovirus for dogs, distemper for dogs and cats). The research supporting extension of the interval between these vaccines from one year to three years first became public knowledge approximately ten years ago. A vet who continues to administer them annually is completely missing the boat in the continuing education department or is eager to collect fees from unnecessary procedures.
Before you decide on a vet, Consumer Reports recommends asking what their physical exam fee is, then calling around to compare prices. This gives you a good idea of what you can expect to pay before you’re hit with a more serious situation.
Vet costs can be expensive, but that doesn’t mean your vet is trying to pull one over on you. Still, you want to make sure you’re working with a vet you trust, not just for the sake of your finances but for your pet’s sake, too.
This article was written by Kristin Wong from Lifehacker and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
Explore more articles
Ask the Expert: Do Dogs Get Depressed in Winter?
What to Ask Your Vet Before a Dental Cleaning
Want to know what to ask your vet prior to a dental cleaning? Here our expert lets us know!