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Choosing a Vet: Services


Finding the Right Vet for your Cat

One of the most important things you as the caregiver of a pet will do, is to ensure your cat is at their utmost optimal health. This can be accomplished by finding the best vet possible for your pet and for you.  Below is a suggested guide for screening and selecting a vet.

Vet Holding Cat

Beginning the Search

Before you begin, take a moment to think about what is most important to you.  Some factors for consideration are:

  • Training, experience, and competence  

  • Bedside manner   

  • Comprehensiveness of services offered

  • Allopathic vs. holistic

  • Convenient location

Compile a list of potential vets/clinics.  If at all possible, get recommendations and referrals from folks whose judgment you trust or from other reliable sources [rescue groups and locally-owned pet supply stores are often good sources to check]. 

Call the clinic.  Inform the staff of who the “patient” is in terms of: age, physical condition, any special needs, and ask for their feedback in terms of what they would suggest for a get-acquainted visit. 

Ask whether the vet would be amenable to scheduling a preliminary visit for you, without your pet, so that you may interview him/her, ask some pertinent questions, and have a look at the clinic space.  Depending on their response, tell them that you'll call again to schedule a preliminary appointment.

Choosing a Vet: Text

If you like what you heard on the phone, you can walk into the clinic unannounced, and let the receptionist know that you are a potential new client.  Ask for any pamphlets they might have on the clinic, their services, philosophy, costs, etc. Sit down in the waiting area and observe how the staff interacts with clients and, more important, their patients: 

  • How do they schedule appointments?  Do they book 15-, 20-, or 30-minute appointments for their patients?

  • How does the clinic staff interact with clients in the clinic and on the phone?

  • Does the vet come out to the waiting area, and if so, how does he/she interact with clients and patients?  How does he/she interact with the clinic staff?

  • Is the general look and feel of the clinic appealing to you?

  • Is the reception/waiting area comfortable for people and pets?  Is it chaotic or quiet?

  • How does the clinic smell? 

  • What is the noise level in the clinic? 

Choosing a Vet: Text

The Interview

If the clinic passes muster so far, schedule a preliminary visit with the vet [without your pet].  Ensure that you ask for a reasonable amount of time so that you can get all your questions answered.  Be prepared to pay an office visit fee for this appointment. 

During the visit, be prepared with a brief history of your pet, particularly if there are any relevant medical issues [chronic illnesses, allergies, vaccination reactions, sensitivities, behavioral, or personality issues] that the vet should be made aware of.  Ask the vet what their recommendations are taking in consideration your pet's profile.  Even if there is no relevant medical history, ask about their recommended protocol, given the pet’s age and general physical condition. 

Ask to get a tour of the vet clinic.

Choosing a Vet: Text

Other specific questions to ask:

Qualifications:  What is the vet's training and are there any special certifications; also what kind of continuing education do they and any of the clinic staff receive?

Back-up and referrals:  What professional support does s/he provide for patients with difficult or specialized medical or behavioral needs?  Where do they turn for help when s/he doesn't have the answers?  [This is a critical question for owners of special-needs pets.] 

Vaccination protocols:  Particularly for cats, it’s important to find out whether the vet follows the latest vaccination guidelines by the Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force. Ask whether they follow the stringent guidelines, including: 

Accessibility to emergency care:  Does the clinic provide emergency support? What about Urgent Care?

Hospitalization:  If an animal needs to stay overnight, will it be supervised around the clock, and if so, by whom?  What are that person's qualifications and what is their access to the vet in case of an emergency?

Boarding:  Does your vet offer boarding services and can you leave your pet in their care if you need to be away from home?  If so, are cats and dogs boarded in separate areas?  If not, can they refer you to a pet sitter qualified to care for your special-needs pet?

House calls:  Does the vet make house calls in an emergency and will they make a house call for a home euthanasia?  If the vet does not make house calls, ask him/her for suggestions – can they refer you to a vet who does home emergency calls and/or euthanasia? 

Nutrition: Does the vet recommend only super-premium foods?  How do they feel about homemade and/or BARF diets

Preventive care:  What is the vet's preventive health care approach for kittens/puppies, for adult pets, and for geriatric pets?  Does the clinic have a blood pressure monitor, and does their routine protocol include checking BP on animals that are at risk for hypertension?

Holistic/alternative care: What are the vet's views on alternative and complementary medicine for animals?  Which of these methods, if any, do they use? Are they willing to work with a holistic vet if you request that? 

Declawing, ear cropping, and tail docking:  If the vet does it, how often and for what reasons?  How easily can a client get a cat declawed or dog’s ears cropped or tail docked?  What, if anything, does the vet do in terms of educating clients and persuading them not to elect these procedures?  [We prefer to patronage vet offices who do not perform these procedures except if medically necessary].

Other clinic policies: 

  • What is the vet clinic's policy in terms of you being with your pet during certain procedures such as blood draws?

  • What is the vet's stance when a client wants an animal euthanized for behavioral problems?

Choosing a Vet: Text

The Introductory Office Visit

If the vet and clinic pass the above steps, it's time to take the "patient" in with you for an introductory visit.  Be sure to bring a copy of your pet’s health records to this exam. 

This is the critical final step in the process of assessing the vet.  

1] How thorough is the exam?

The vet should at least check the following during a first exam: 

  • heart/lung auscultation 

  • heart and respiration rate 

  • temperature 

  • weight

  • ear, eye, mouth, gum, and teeth check

  • general body/skin/hair condition check

  • palpation for lumps and lymph node enlargement

  • Depending upon your pet's age & physical condition, a blood screen, blood pressure check, urinalysis and/or fecal exam may be needed as well

2] How does the vet interact with your pet? 

  • How is the vet’s bedside manner?  

  • Do they genuinely seem to like animals?  

  • Do they handle your pet gently? 

  • Do they talk to and reassure your pet? 

  • How does they deal with frightened or aggressive animals?  

  • Are they focused on your pet or is s/he easily distracted?  

  • Do they take her time, or does s/he seem to be in a hurry to get to his/her next appointment?  

  • How do the veterinary technicians & other clinic staff treat your pet? 

  • Does your pet seem to like the vet and the staff?

3] How does the vet interact with you? 

  • Is s/he courteous?

  • Do they explain what s/he is doing, and why, during the examination? 

  • Do they encourage you to ask questions, and answer all of your questions clearly and completely? 

  • Do they explain his/her observations and findings to you, and tell you what you need to monitor or watch out for? 

  • If medications are prescribed, does s/he explain what they are for, and explain about possible interactions and side effects?  

  • If your pet is going to require any sort of home nursing care, did they make sure you are sufficiently prepared and equipped to handle that responsibility? 

  • Do they make recommendations regarding follow-up visits and/or follow-up care?

  • Do they tell you to be sure to call if you have any questions later?

A truly excellent vet will score high on all three of the above criteria, and will likely be someone with whom you'll be able to communicate with clearly & easily.  Ideally, you'll find a vet that will meet all of your criteria, but if you find yourself having to choose between vets that have different qualifications or strengths, you need to be clear about what the most important decision criteria are for you.

Not all vets are created equal. While some vets initially enter the field because they love animals and want to help, Veterinary medicine ultimately is a business. A certain amount of profit is needed to keep the business going.  Having that said, some vets go the other extreme and seem to care more about padding a bill for services your pet doesn't really need instead of actually caring for the health of the creature. Also vets tend to be very by the book, and don't explore alternative therapies that may available often not even becoming aware of them until after the FDA has approved it [FIP medication for example]. 

Always ask questions, and if you ever feel rushed, pressured, patronized, or your pet is given vaccines you didn't ask for without talking to you about first, switch vets asap.

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