1. Ask around
Start searching for a vet as soon as possible. “Don't wait until it's an emergency,” says Dr. Kathleen Cavanagh, a veterinarian based in Ridgeville, Ont. Start by asking family, friends, dog walkers and neighbours where they take their pets. “You trust opinions from people that you know,” adds Shaw, so you can start visiting vets with extra confidence if they come recommended.
Make a list of your top three choices and call the clinics to inquire about a tour or meet-and-greet with your pet. One of the most effective ways to establish whether the relationship between the vet, your pet and you is going to work is to schedule a routine health check, suggests Shaw. “That gives the veterinarian the opportunity to not only discover background history but also get to know your pet,” he says. This can be particularly important if you have an exotic or “pocket” pet, such as an iguana, rabbit or parrot, which some vets may not be experienced in treating.
2. Visit the premises
Outside: Evaluate a clinic or hospital from the outside in. If the premises, such as location, accessibility or parking, are a concern, consider how the hassle will affect how often you visit the clinic. Survey the parking lot: are there any grassy areas where you can take your dog for a quick stop before or after an appointment? Is the parking lot so busy that you fear getting hit on the way into the hospital? Take out a notepad and keep track of pros and cons, starting with the outside environment. This list will grow as soon as you enter a facility.
Inside: Assess the waiting room. Some clinics split their waiting rooms into canine and feline sections so that cats and dogs can't see one another, which helps create a calmer environment. Note the number of people in the waiting room and ask about wait times, but be aware that a full waiting room could be the sign of multiple emergencies, not necessarily long waiting periods.
Cavanagh says many vets will also put educational materials in their waiting rooms or are willing to loan material to clients from a hospital library. These resources can help you learn about medical conditions or how to handle a new pet. Some clinics also offer seminars on caring for puppies and kittens, so if you are looking to learn, this may be a bonus. This interest in informing clients speaks to the vet's care and concern for the well-being of his patients.
Page 1 of 3 – Why being curious can help you find a great vet on page 2.
3. Ask questions
• What are your qualifications? Choosing the right vet is like interviewing a candidate for any other service. You want to make sure the vet you choose meets your needs and those of your pet. Most vets will be proud to share their accomplishments and any special training they have received.
• What equipment is on-site? You need to know if the practice has specialized equipment, such as ultrasound or endoscopy. “If you find a clinic that has that piece of equipment, and the people are appropriately trained, that's certainly a nice thing to have available,” says Cavanagh.
• Are any tests or treatments outsourced? Ask about what is available right in the clinic and what treatments or tests may be outsourced to another practice. “If there are top-notch specialists in the neighbourhood with all the bells and whistles, a lot of practices won't make that investment,” says Cavanagh. “They can send [patients] down the road and get that expertise and special equipment without having to train themselves.”
• Do you provide emergency care? Not all clinics deal with emergencies on-site. Vets in larger cities, for example, may refer you to an emergency hospital during off-hours, such as late at night or on weekends. Ask for a referral for emergency care so you are prepared for injury or sudden illness.
• Who decides which vet will treat my pet? If you are visiting a clinic with multiple doctors, you might not see the same veterinarian every time. Some clinics take on a team mentality, while others ensure owners will see one vet consistently. Cavanagh says both methods are effective, but owners must be aware of the differences and determine what they are comfortable with.
• What are your hours? The clinic that looks and feels best might not be the one for you if its hours don't match your schedule, so ask about vet hours as well as the hours of the clinic, which is useful if you want to pick up medication or food.
4. Feel it out
Cavanagh and Shaw agree that the vet's ability to communicate and show compassion are important factors in choosing a veterinarian. Good communication includes involving you in the decision-making process, explaining conditions or treatments as much – or as little – as you wish and giving you the opportunity to express any concerns without rushing.
“You can be a brilliant person in terms of your knowledge and ability to diagnose disease, but if you can't communicate that effectively with clients, you really can't do your job at all,” says Shaw, who conducts a communications rotation with senior-year students at the Atlantic Veterinary College to reinforce the importance of doctor-client relationships.
Vets, like other professionals, all have different personalities. Some may want to get down on the floor and fawn over your pet like a long-lost friend, while others are more business-like. After your initial visits, consider which style feels most natural to you and what suits your particular needs.
Page 2 of 3 – Find a helpful online resource and other tips on page 3.
5. Dollars and sense
When comparing prices, keep in mind that one vet's price for a specific treatment may include painkilling medication and monitoring, for example, while another vet's price may not include these necessary treatments; ask for the total price for a procedure. All clinics will have varying overhead costs, which is why practices in urban centres may have much higher prices than those in smaller towns. Fees are not standardized across Canada to account for these differences.
Check it out
Hosted by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), healthypet.com offers an online search for accredited animal hospitals anywhere in Canada or the United States. Accredited practices have completed the application process of the AAHA. Accreditation includes an on-site visit to evaluate facilities, staff training and more.
Your pet's body talk
Animals use body language to communicate and show emotion. “You want to see your pet react to the vet as he or she would a friend at home,” says Janet Parker, owner of Clever Canine Training and Behaviour Consulting in Victoria, so make the vet's office a fun place. She suggests taking extra trips to the vet's office for a weigh-in and treat so not all veterinary experiences involve needles and uncomfortable prodding.
Parker says a comfortable pet will display the following behaviours.
• Eager to enter the vet's office
• Loose and relaxed attitude
• Interest in surroundings and alertness
Behaviours of an uncomfortable pet include the following.
• Clinging to your side
• Stiff movements
• Ears pinned down
• Refusing food
• Excessive drooling or panting
Parting with your vet
Most people cease their relationship with a veterinary clinic due to perceived attitude or communication problems, says Dr. Scott Kelman from Bow Bottom Veterinary Hospital in Calgary.
While it might be awkward, vets will appreciate feedback on why you're leaving, particularly if it has to do with inadequate services such as outdated technology. “Writing a letter or an e-mail is a great idea because it starts dialogue and allows the veterinarian to respond,” says Kelman. If you can't sort things out, many vets are happy to refer you elsewhere. All of the information in a patient's file belongs to the practice, but owners can pay for copies.
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|This story was originally titled "The Canadian Living Vet Finder" in the September 2007 issue. |
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