First time dog owners or people who have recently relocated to a new area or state may find it difficult to find a good vet for their dog. This is especially true for dogs with specific characteristics, such as Bulldogs and other brachycephalic breeds, or dogs with special requirements, such as working or competition dogs.
When looking for a vet you are searching for more than just a medical expert. Your vet should meet your needs as much as those of your pet. So, don't delay this search until the first emergency comes up, but plan ahead and choose wisely. Here are some tips to simply evaluate the hospital and veterinarian you choose.
Where to start
Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations, especially those who own a pet of the same breed as yours. If you just got a new puppy, ask your dog's breeder which Veterinarian they use and why. You may also ask your pet's groomer, pet sitter, or an animal shelter worker or boarding kennel employee.
If Schutzhund training or performance training is important in your breed, you may also ask local training clubs for a vet who is familiar with the requirements of working and competition dogs. Get a sampling of opinions before you make a final choice.
If you are relocating to another city or state, you may also ask your current veterinarian for advice. Many times they are glad to recommend colleagues in other towns whose practice policies and services are similar to theirs. Your current veterinarian should also give you a copy of your dog's medical records to hand over to the new vet. In this way your pet's medical history and specific requirements will be known to the new staff.
A visit to the clinic
Schedule a first visit to the clinic (with or without your pet) to evaluate the facility, meet the staff and ask some questions about the hospital's philosophy, policies and fees. This first visit will also function as a practice drive to the veterinary office and allow you to check the itinerary and parking facilities. Trying to find the clinic when you really need it can cost precious minutes.
There are times of the day when a tour is not possible for a variety of reasons, but any veterinarian should be glad to oblige your request at a time that is convenient for them. Write down your questions ahead of time.
Important questions to ask
- How many veterinarians are in the practice ?
- Are appointments required ? Limited wait times (whether in getting an appointment or in the waiting room) will probably be an important factor in your final decision.
- Also ask what their emergency policy is and if they are available "after hours" in case of a real emergency. A vet who will automatically refer you to an emergency clinic might not be the ideal solution, especially if you are on your own or when the emergency occurs at night. The emergency in itself is already a stressful situation, so having to deal with a new vet and new location will only add to the stress.
- What kind of analysis and diagnostics can be done on-site (x-rays, ultrasound, bloodwork, EKG, endoscopy) ? Some specialty examinations may be carried out by traveling vets who are only available on specific days of the week. Ask for their schedule.
- What is their vaccination protocols for puppies and adult dogs ? This may be very different from one veterinarian to another. See also: vaccinating your dog.
- If finances are a problem, price may be a major consideration. Don't be shy to ask about prices on the outset so there will be no surprises. Always check what exactly is included when you are given a quote. Vaccinations may vary with what is included. If your pet is having an operation, will there be a charge for post-surgery check-up, or for removal of the stitches? Pet insurance is an excellent idea, but remember that some practices require payment of fees before your claim is settled. So, check if they have payment plans in case of important surgeries or emergencies, and in case of financial setbacks.
- Low prices are not the only criteria to judge if the vet is a sound choice money-wise. A good vet should also show you how to prevent diseases and injuries and teach you how to care for your pet by yourself whenever possible. He/she should always inform you about lower cost care alternatives and never do more than necessary. Some facilities, which perform special diagnostics and analyses on site tend to be overzealous in prescribing these extra examinations, even when they are not really necessary.
The staff and facility
How is your overall impression of the clinic ? Does it look and smell clean ? Is the office staff friendly and helpful ? Do they acknowledge you when you walk in or are you ignored? What is the attitude of the staff toward the other clients who may be present? You can learn a lot by just observing.
How is the waiting room? Is there enough space for you and your dog or is it all crowded ? Other animal patients may have contagious infections, so waiting times should be short and there should be enough space for your dog to wait without being bothered by the other visiting animals.
If your pet is staying at the vets overnight, it's worth checking whether someone will be monitoring them continuously and what the condition is of the kennels, crates or cages where your pet will be staying.
Your first appointment
A good chemistry between you, your pet and every member of the personnel (technicians, assistants) that will interact with your dog is very important. Are you satisfied with the way assistants and vets are with your pet ? Are they kind to your dog ? Do they seem experienced in handling pets ? Are they rough or gentle? In some cases pets may need to be firmly restrained or muzzled for treatment, but rough handling is always inappropriate.
Do they take time to talk to your pet and do they address him/her by his name. Do you feel comfortable asking questions and are your questions answered? Is the examination table being disinfected or covered with a new paper (before or after the exam). Is the material that should be sterile really sterile ? Do the assistants and vets wash their hands at some point (at the beginning or end of the visit) ?
Meeting the Veterinarian
Evaluate the veterinarian in the same way as described above. How is his/her rapport with your pet? Does he/she talk to your animal and try to establish a relationship before starting the exam? Is your pet called by name? Does he/she take the time to check your pet's medical history ? Are you given enough time to explain and ask questions? If your pet is ill or if some type of in-hospital procedure is required is everything well explained?
Your own responsibilities
- If a pet is not well, don't wait until he or she is really sick before calling your vet.
- Do not disturb your veterinarian during non-working hours for matters that can wait, and do not expect your veterinarian to diagnose a pet's problem over the telephone.
- Arrive on time at the appointment and keep your dog on a leash.
- Prepare a list of your your pet's habits, behavior and symptoms prior to the visit, so you can communicate clearly and efficiently with the vet. Also write down the questions you need to ask.
- Prepare your puppy from an early age for the vet visits. Handle your puppy two or three times a week, teach them to stand on a (grooming or kitchen) table and manipulate her paws, look in her ears, open her mouth and check her skin and coat. These handling sessions not only prepare your puppy for a visit to the vet, but also help build a close bond between you and your pet. It is also important in detecting infections, parasites and lesions in time.
- Schedule regular checkups and practice preventive care at home.
Vet On Call:
The Best Home Remedies for Keeping Your Dog Healthy
(Dog Care Companions)
by The Editors of Pets: Part of the Family
Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook
by Debra M., DVM Eldredge (Author), Liisa D., DVM Carlson (Author), Delbert G., DVM Carlson (Author), James M., MD Giffin (Author), Beth Adelman Editor)
The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health:
The complete pet health resource for your dog, cat, horse or other pets - in everyday language. (Paperback)
by Merck Publishing and Merial (Author), Cynthia M Kahn (Editor), Scott Line (Editor)
Choosing a Veterinarian
(How to Choose the Right Vet for your Dog)
Bulldogs for Dummies
by Susan M. Ewing
Better Food for Dogs
UC Davis Book of Dogs :
The Complete Medical Reference Guide for Dogs and Puppies
Bulldog Information 2003-2011 © All rights reserved.
Dr. Pitcairn's New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats
by Richard H. Pitcairn, Susan Hubble Pitcairn
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