Whether you need an auto mechanic, a lawyer, or a locksmith, there’s an old saying that holds true: you should find one before you need one.
You should add veterinarian to that list, too.
Finding a vet isn’t always top of mind for pet owners. Maybe you’ve had your pet for a long time and have gotten lucky in terms of health, or you’ve just adopted and gotten caught up in the whirlwind of getting shots, getting chipped, getting trained, and more. You have things to deal with, and a vet might not be one of them unless your pet is sick.
That’s a mistake.
You need a good vet for a few reasons. First, you need to keep your pet healthy with regular vet visits. Not only will it keep them happy, it’ll keep you from being saddled with a bill for a procedure that could have been prevented if you’d only stayed current with medicine and checkups.
Second, in the event that you do have an emergency, that’s not really the time to think, "I really should have found a vet…" Better you get your pet treatment as quickly as possible instead of scrambling to find a vet that’s nearby, and open, and affordable.
There are three things you should keep in mind when you’re looking for a vet: how comfortable you are with them, their medical expertise, and how practical it is for you to become a patient.
Make yourself comfortable
We’ve talked before about how you need to be comfortable with your kid’s pediatrician. Well, it’s the same with your vet. Having a relationship with a medical professional is of the utmost importance – even when you aren’t the patient.
In fact, it’s especially important when you aren’t the patient. If you aren’t happy with your own doctor, you can probably rationalize it and suffer through any annoyances just to get a checkup out of the way. But when it isn’t your doctor – such as a vet – you’re not just responsible for yourself. You have to make sure that Garfield (or your pet with a more original name) is comfortable, too.
Pay attention to the vet’s "bedside manner." How do they handle your pet – physically and figuratively? How do they treat you? Are they easy to work with and willing to give you information you ask for?
Also keep in mind that a vet’s office isn’t a one man (or woman) show. There are receptionists, technicians, and other staff involved, so make sure you’re comfortable with them, too.
While we definitely support the use of facts and quantitative information in your decision-making process, don’t ignore your gut. It’s normal for you pet to get antsy in a new place (especially a vet’s office), but if you feel funny about it, too, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. The last thing you want is a level of uneasiness on top of the worry that comes along with dealing with an emergency.
Vet your vet
Going into any medical field requires quite a bit of expertise, so while your gut is important, you should also check to make sure that your vet is, you know, good at being a vet.
Take this account, for example, where the pet owner could tell right away that the vet didn’t know how to deal with the issue of a dog’s bloated stomach. Luckily the author had some knowledge herself and could diagnose the situation, but even if you’re not in that position, you can still vet your vet – or, rather, double check that other institutions have vetted them.
If you’re looking for a specialist, you can check to see if they’re board certified. You can also check an animal hospital’s accreditation. This information should be readily available online, and if you’ve ever been to any doctor you know they can’t help framing their accomplishments and hanging them around the office.
If all else fails, ask the vet! If they don’t share that information with you, then you can call it quits then and there.
Finally, you can also look for an animal-specific doctor. You might prefer seeing a vet who works exclusively with dogs instead of a general practitioner.
Does it make sense for you?
Of course, it’s easy to find a great vet if you don’t place any limits on yourself. It’s also easy to decide that your next car is going to be a Telsa Model S if you ignore the fact that you can’t afford it and don’t have anywhere to charge it and...the point is, a good vet is really only a good vet if it’s practical for you to become a patient.
What sorts of things should you keep in mind?
What are the practice’s hours? Are you going to have to miss work or go in at odd hours just to bring your pet in for a routine checkup?
What about emergencies? How easy is it to contact your vet after hours? What happens when your cat’s kidneys decide that 2am is the perfect time to have issues? Is someone at the vet’s office reachable?
Where are they located? Is getting there and back going to be more trouble than it’s worth, especially when you’ll have a pet in tow?
How much do different procedures cost? Obviously you hope you’ll never need to bring your pet in for an emergency procedure, but you should be aware of the general costs so you’re prepared for the worst. Plus, you should know the costs of more common services that you’ll make more use of, like preventative medicine and wellness exams.
If you find a vet that’s great but will be a major inconvenience because of their hours or location, that means your search isn’t over yet. And if it’ll be so expensive that you can’t make use of it, that’s another sign to keep looking.
But on that last point, you do have pet insurance, right? Getting reimbursed for the cost of a vet visit makes it more affordable, meaning cost may be one less thing you have to worry about when making your decision.
How to find a vet
So now that you know what you’re looking for, where exactly are you supposed to look?
As always, personal recommendations are a great place to start. Talk with pet-owning friends or reach out on social media to see which vets they refer you to. When you get a recommendation from someone you already know and trust, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process.
If none of your friends are pet owners, think about other people you come across when dealing with your pet. Have you ever left your dog at a kennel or with a pet sitter when you travel? Do you get your cat groomed? Do any of your pets have trainers or walkers? You might know more people than you realize who have experience dealing with vets. Pick their brains.
There are also other, non-human resources you can use. The trusty yellow pages (or the 21st century equivalent) will list vets, and you can do your due diligence after you find some promising prospects.
Online, the following sites are great places to find vets in your area:
Regardless of where you get suggestions from – whether it’s online to find a nearby vet or a trusted friend who has been with their vet for years – you should always follow through and do your own research. Everyone’s situation is different, and just because a vet works out for one person doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
So do your homework, and don’t put it off! Getting a vet lined up will give you – and your furry friend – real peace of mind.