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home>>family>>pets>>right veterinarian

What You Need to Know to Select the Right Veterinarian

by: Louise Louis -

Get Referrals.
By all means, ask your friends, but expand your circle of contacts. If you visit an animal shelter or if the canine dog patrol visits your child's school, ask what vet they use. Call the local breed club in your area and ask the secretary whom most club members use.

Visit dog shows.
Buy a program and find a breeder, owner or handler who lives in your area and has the same breed of dog you do. Call them for a recommendation.

Make sure the veterinarian works with Toy breeds.
Not all veterinarians work well with or want to work with Toy breeds. The ideal veterinarian is one who owns or has owned the same breed of dog you do.

Check your state's Veterinary Medical Board website.
See if it has an area called "enforcement" or "complaints" or something that indicates which veterinarians have been disciplined by the board. The doctors you're considering using should not be listed.

Plan an inspection visit to the prospective Vet (without your dog).
Stop by the office of each veterinarian you are considering during the day (not after work or on Saturday morning when the office is apt to be packed) and tell the receptionist you are looking for a veterinarian. Reputable vets do not object to this, in fact they expect it.

Ask where routine exams are done and if owners are allowed to be with their animals. You should be shown everything including any back rooms and any areas used for recovery after surgeries as well as kennels and boarding facilities (if applicable).

Check the Staff's Credentials and Behavior.
Ask if there are any state-licensed technician(s) and if they are members of the North American Veterinary Technicians Association (NAVTA). Practices that want to reduce operating costs often won't pay the additional costs to hire licensed, experienced technician(s) and have them participate in continuing education required by groups such as NAVTA.

Ask who gives the shots and takes the X-rays.
The licensed technicians should be the people doing these things if not done by the vet. You don't want some recent high school graduate with minimal training giving shots to your dog.

Check the staff's behavior.
See how the staff, including the receptionist, greets patients and their owners. Does the vet and staff speak and write the same language you do (literally)? In many offices, a staff member writes out the prescription, and the Vet just signs it. Make sure these staff members can understand you, and you can understand them. Mistakes can be deadly.

Find Out about Emergency Service.
You're going to have your dog for 12-17 years. At least once, you're going to need emergency, middle-of-the-night service. Any Vet who cares about his/her patients will have some standard practice or referral system to handle emergencies.

Find out if the Vet is a specialist.
Ask him if s/he specializes. If you're just taking your healthy dog in for vaccinations and an annual checkup, you may not want to help pay the overhead costs for the advanced training and equipment a specialist may have.

Some of the specialties prevalent today follow. The "AV" refers to American Board of Veterinary Specialists.
AVDC = dentistry
ACVB = behavior
ACVIM = internal medicine
ACVD = dermatology
ACVN = nutrition
ACVR = radiology
ACVO = ophthalmology
ACVS = surgery
ACVPM = preventative medicine
ABVP = advanced general practice
ACVECC = emergency and critical care

Ask if the Vet Makes Referrals to Specialists?
No one veterinarian can do it all. Ask him/her who handles dental surgery. Ask him/her who removes cataracts. If s/he claims to do it all himself, go to the next name on the list.

Ask her/him about anesthetics.
What anesthetics does s/he use, who administers them and are they used for routine procedures such as X-rays and grooming (if done at his office).

Toy breed dogs should never be routinely anesthetized. Modern vets use Isoflurane or Sevoflurane; however, both are more expensive than older anesthetics so some vets may opt for cheaper substitutes.

Ask About the Vet's Fee Structure.
There is a world of variation among fees charged at veterinary offices. There is no reason you can't call your list of possible veterinarians before you visit and ask how much he/she charges for 1) vaccinations,
2) an X-ray of a hip with a possible fracture and
3) treatment of heartworm disease.
Don't forget to check the chain vet facilities at the national pet stores.

Ask about payment plans and credit cards.
If your dog requires surgery, you do not want to be charged an interest fee if you have to pay the surgery/hospital bill over two or three months.

Ask if he takes pet insurance.
If you work for a large company or belong to a professional or fraternal group, see if the group has a relationship with a pet insurance company. Make sure the Vet is part of the plan you want to use.

Ask about medication policies.
Some Vets will give you a prescription for flea or heartworm medicines while others give only the medications. Even if your Vet gives you a prescription, don't expect to fill it at Walgreen's. There are Vet pharmacists on the Internet, however, and you may find much better pricing there if you want to use them.

Beware of Veterinarian-entrepreneurs.
Your Vet also may sell dog food and other ancillary products. There is nothing wrong with buying these from him, provided s/he is not pushing or strong-arming you into doing it.

How Does Your Dog Act?
Is your dog happy to go the Vet's office? He will be if the staff is friendly and makes a fuss over him. Does he go to the Vet willingly or does he hang back and try to hide?

What Is Your Gut Reaction?
Do you feel you can openly communicate with the Vet or does s/he make you feel dumb or like a nuisance when you try to ask a question? Is s/he calm and pleasant or rushed and curt? If the personality, communication skills and ambiance aren't right, don't hesitate to go another Vet.

One final note - until your puppy has all his vaccinations, hold him in your arms when you visit the vet. Don't put him on the floor or let him run around the office as he may pick up a communicable disease from the sick dogs or other sick animals in the vet's office.


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