It is important to take good care of your pet's health, and for that you will need a reliable vet.
If you're a pet owner new to an area, or have a pet for the first time, you're going to need to find a vet at some stage. But rather than simply taking out the yellow pages and going to the nearest one, do some research first.
Don't be shy to quiz a prospective vet directly to find out if he or she's the one for you, but also remember that nothing beats local knowledge. Speak to your neighbours and other locals, go down to the nearest park and find out where people take their pets.
The following are important aspects to consider when tracking down the perfect vet:
Type of practice
What kind of pet do you have? If we're talking horse, pig, cow or sheep, then you’re going to need a large animal practice, where the vet sees these animals regularly, and is au fait with their particular medical issues.
If we're talking small animals, a further division takes place. Birds, rats, fish, guinea pigs and hamsters are critters not seen as often as dogs and cats, so always check that a prospective vet has experience with critter treatment protocols.
Vet's age and sex
Some people prefer an older vet, the logic being older equals wiser. Bear in mind that older can also mean set in ways. For example, developments in the field of anaesthesia may mean that the old-fashioned general anaesthetic administered by the older vet may be putting Fido under anaesthetic risk unnecessarily.
Younger vets are usually still keen to keep up with developments in pharmacology and surgical procedure, where an older vet may have an entrenched "we've always done it like this" attitude.
The sex of a vet may also be a consideration. The perception is that women vets may be more empathetic than their male counterparts, and possibly less profit-oriented.
Is the parking at the practice sufficient to allow you to open the car door and maneuver the cat basket or great dane out easily?
Is the waiting room big enough to ensure that Fido doesn't tangle with that pitbull that's waiting to be stitched up?
What kind of hours does the vet keep?
Is the practice on a consulting hours or appointments only system?
Is the vet available after hours in an emergency situation?
Does the vet do house calls when needed?
Is the practice employing sufficient staff to keep the practice clean, or is Fido going to pick up a bug when he comes in for his annual shot? Enough staff also means that if Fido ends up in hospital he's going to get the kind of attention you will be paying for.
Are the staff members friendly, efficient and knowledgeable enough to give you general information with regard to parasitic control of fleas and worms for example, and things like your pets' dietary needs?
Most vets charge according to their professional associations' tariff schedules, but you'll get an idea of the vet's attitude towards profit-making by the costs of veterinary diets sold on the premises. If Vet A is charging 5% more for a bag of food than Vet B, then you can be fairly sure that procedures will be charged more expensively as well.
Ask the vet what his/her policy is with regard to pain management. If a professional body is recommending a rate for a cat neutering that the vet must charge, he/she may not give painkillers after the operation so as to increase those profit margins.
Does the vet talk down at you? Some vets like to blind clients with science, which does little to reassure, although it may impress. You want someone who is going to tell you what is wrong with your pet in words you can understand.
Furthermore, does your pet like the vet? Visiting a vet that your pet looks forward to seeing makes the whole process a lot less stressful for all.
Last, but not least: does the vet's ego allow him/her to refer your pet to a specialist if necessary (and if your budget can stand it)? Everybody is entitled to a second (or specialist) opinion, and a vet's unwillingness to refer could be grounds for suspicion – has he/she done something incorrectly that he/she doesn't want another vet to pick up?
With these pointers in mind it should be possible to find a vet that will suit both you and your pet.
- Clair Sawyer, Health24, updated July 2010
Clair Sawyer works as a veterinary assistant