Vet Choice

By Diane Schlindwein

January 16, 2009 5 min read

VET CHOICE

Find the best caretaker for your special pet

Diane Schlindwein

Creators News Service

When you bring home a new pet, you become that animal's provider, master and forever friend. However, besides you and your family members, the most vital person in your pet's life is your veterinarian.

Choosing a vet requires more effort than opening the local Yellow Pages or Googling "veterinarians." Although family and friends can recommend a doctor, there are other ways to find just the right health care professional for your new fuzzy bundle of joy.

"Just like people in other professions, veterinarians have different personalities, skill levels and abilities to listen well and communicate clearly," said Barbara Shumannfang, a certified dog trainer and founder of Top Notch Dog in Durham, N.C. (topnotchdog.com). "Because your pet's health care -- and your wallet -- depend on it, it's important to look for a few things when choosing a new veterinarian."

Before you commit to a particular vet, make an appointment to tour his or her clinic. While you are there, keep a few things in mind. "You should find a courteous staff, a veterinarian willing to answer a few questions about what he or she can offer you and your pet, and a clean smelling, bright, modern-looking facility," said Shumannfang. "Separate areas for dogs and cats in the waiting room are a nice bonus."

When touring the office, make sure to ask about the people there. "The practice manager should gladly answer questions about whether the veterinary technicians are certified, how the staff handles it if a pet is afraid of a procedure and to what extent they can work with budget limitations or pet health insurance," she said. You should also ask if the office offers boarding and grooming services.

A veterinarian should always see the pet owner as a vital part of a pet's health care team. After all, your pet can't speak for himself, so it's up to you to help. "A skilled vet values your input," Shumannfang said. "One of your top priorities should be to find a veterinarian who listens well, takes your concerns seriously and acknowledges your priorities."

Because many veterinarians work in a practice that's made up of several doctors, Shumannfang prefers that pet owners cultivate a relationship with a particular vet at a practice. "That way, as your pet's health needs change over time, your vet will know what is normal for your pet and what requires further investigation," she said.

Since there probably is no such thing as a perfect pet, veterinarians are often called upon to answer questions about behavior. Shumannfang, who leads workshops for vets and dog trainers on dog behavior and training, believes some behaviors are best left to professional trainers.

"One of the concerns most frequently raised with veterinarians by their clients is about problem behavior in their dogs. But veterinarians typically do not have the expertise or time to help with training problems," Shumannfang said. "You should choose a veterinarian who has established a referral network of local experts who use modern, reward-based methods to work with dog training challenges."

Sometimes people forget that veterinary appointments take time, noted M. A. Gorman, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Puppies" ($15, Alpha). That's why she suggested that when you are choosing a vet it's important to check office hours and pay attention to just how long you'll travel to get your pet from home to an appointment -- and back.

Also, because accidents and sudden illnesses happen, make sure you ask about after-hours visits. Find out whether your vet offers on-call service. If he or she can't see your pet in an emergency, make sure that you know where the nearest emergency clinic or animal hospital is located.

Finally, Gorman instructs that you should treat your pet's visit to the vet as a fun experience. That way your canine or feline friend won't be nervous about getting a check-up or when he is seeing a doctor for a future illness or procedure.

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