How to Choose a Veterinarian

yorkshire terrier in physician robe with stethoscope on light background

Veterinarians are not alike. Neither are veterinary clinics. Choose your pet’s veterinarian carefully, and when your pet needs veterinary care, everyone will be happier.

How to find a veterinarian

Telephone books and online searches will give you the names of veterinarians and veterinary clinics in your area. If a clinic has a website, you can find out a lot more from the site than from a phone book listing or advertisement.

Look around in your neighborhood. The closest clinic isn’t necessarily the best choice, but if a nearby one meets your needs, you’ll save traveling time when your pet requires veterinary care. While most dogs enjoy a car ride, most other animals become stressed when they have to travel. A shorter distance makes the trip easier, especially in an emergency.

Ask for recommendations from people in your area:

  • Friends and acquaintances who have pets, particularly those with the type of animal that you have
  • Staff at local animal rescue organizations and shelters
  • Pet care providers such as dog groomers and trainers
  • Local breed clubs

Factors to consider

  • Your approach to health care for your pet  Do you lean toward conventional medicine, alternative treatment, or a mixture of both? Do you want to be able to make informed decisions, or do you prefer to find a veterinarian that you trust and leave decisions to him or her? How much money are you able and willing to spend?

  • Veterinary knowledge  If your pet is aging or has other health concerns, you need a veterinarian who can inform and advise you about your pet’s specific health problems. Does the veterinarian continually update his or her knowledge and refer clients to specialists for difficult concerns?

  • The type of animal  Some clinics specialize in animal species. Most city veterinary clinics treat dogs and cats, but if you have a rabbit, ferret, hamster, or bird, for example, ask if a particular clinic is experienced with the type of animal that you have.

  • Clinic hours  Check that the clinic is open during hours that are convenient for you.

  • The size of the veterinary clinic  At smaller clinics, you’ll the see the same veterinarian most or all of the time, while at larger clinics, you may see a variety of veterinarians. Smaller clinics are more personal, and the staff will get to know you and your pet better. Larger clinics, on the other hand, may offer more specialized care and longer hours.

  • Payment options  If you have pet health insurance, does the clinic accept your insurance plan? Will the staff work out a payment plan for you if necessary?

A meeting and clinic tour

When you find a clinic that you’d like to learn more about, ask if you can meet the veterinarian (or one of them) and see the clinic. At many veterinary clinics, the staff will give prospective clients a tour of the premises. If the clinic has more than one veterinarian, find out if they have specialties. Ask to meet the veterinarian whose focus most closely matches your pet’s needs and your preferences.

  • The veterinarian  A veterinarian’s communication skills with people are just as important as the ability to treat animals. Does the veterinarian answer your questions satisfactorily? Is his or her approach to animal care similar to your preferences? Is the veterinarian willing to provide copies of test results and explain them in detail? Does he or she respect your knowledge and ideas?

  • The staff  You’ll be talking to staff members as often as you’ll be talking to the veterinarian. How do they interact with each other and with animals? Are they helpful and caring? Will they or the veterinarian answer questions over the phone or by email between appointments?

  • The clinic  Is it clean and well-kept? Do dogs and cats have separate areas? Is after-hours emergency service provided, either through the clinic or through a nearby animal hospital? Will you be able to see the same veterinarian at each appointment?

A test appointment

Before your pet needs major treatment or emergency care, bring him to the clinic for a routine appointment, such as for vaccinations or a checkup. Now is your chance to see how the veterinarian and staff interact with animals as well as with people.

Pay attention to the tone of voice and how the staff handle your pet. They should recognize species-specific body language and be gentle yet able to hold the animal without causing unnecessary stress. Observe how your pet responds to the veterinarian and staff.

The veterinarian should ask questions about the animal’s history and should listen to your answers. Ask questions about treatment options and their benefits and risks, and pay attention to the amount of detail in the responses.

Would you trust this veterinarian to treat your pet in a life-threatening situation? When your pet has reached the end of his life, will you feel comfortable sharing your pet’s last moments with this person? The answers to these questions will help you know if this veterinarian’s knowledge, approach, and level of compassion are suitable for you and your pet.

Becoming a client

Once you decide on a particular veterinary clinic, provide the clinic with copies of your pet’s medical records for their file on your pet. You won’t have time to find papers in an emergency, and it’s easier for the clinic to treat your pet with all the relevant information at hand. Routine visits will also go more smoothly if you’ve prepared for them in advance.