Tips in choosing a veterinarian

You understand the meaning of the phrase "man's best friend." Your dog is loyal, provides companionship and is there for you through good times and bad. So when your dog is injured or feeling under the weather, you want the best for it — though you'd like not to have to declare bankruptcy to get it.

Vetting the vets

  • You won't be able to measure all aspects of the technical skills of veterinarians. On the other hand, just as you can when choosing a physician, you can tell a lot about the performance of a vet.

    • Are they convenient? You'll want convenient hours, limited wait times, and a location close to your home. Most area vets have some evening or weekend hours for routine visits.
    • Can you make an appointment quickly? This is important to your peace of mind and to the comfort — and perhaps the survival — of your pet. You should ask what provisions a vet makes for covering emergencies outside of office hours.
    • Do they care? The first time you visit a vet you'll get a sense of whether he or she really cares about animals. Note how gentle the vet is and how interested he or she is in learning relevant facts about your pet. Note also how your pet responds to the vet.
    • Can you tour the facility? To make a reliable judgment about a veterinary practice, you have to see more than the front office. Find out how open the vet is to showing you treatment rooms and the cages and runs where animals are temporarily held or boarded. The facility's cleanliness, of course, is also important.
    • Do they give you advice on prevention and home care? For the health of your pet and for your wallet, you need advice on prevention, on how you can spot pet-health problems, and on how to take care of your pet when it is sick.
    • Can you easily communicate with them? Good communication includes listening, making you feel comfortable about asking questions and explaining what is wrong with your pet, what is being done, and what you can expect. A vet should frankly admit his or her limitations and the need for outside specialist consultation. The vet also should talk openly about costs. And the vet should let you make decisions based on your finances, your devotion to your pet and your informed understanding of the prognosis.
    • Are they competent and thorough? Does the vet give a thorough exam and take a thorough medical history to find out about previous medical problems, previous occurrences of the current problem, what treatments have worked and other matters? If your pet is referred to a specialist, does your primary vet follow up with the specialist and keep a record of what happened? If tests are done, does the vet keep a record of the results and share them with you?

    • Do they have reasonable fees? Unfortunately, this is an area where consumers are often dissatisfied. The most common complaints we received from surveyed vet customers were related to bills that seemed excessively or unexpectedly high.
    • Do they try to keep costs down? Low prices are not the only way a vet can save you money, of course. You also save if the vet is effective in showing you how to prevent disease and injuries and if the vet shows you how to care for your pet by yourself. Equally important, you want a vet that informs you about lower cost care alternatives and doesn't do more than necessary.
    • Does accreditation matter? Veterinary hospitals can become accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) by meeting certain minimum standards: keeping adequate medical records and having complete diagnostic, pharmacy, anesthetic, surgical, nursing, dental, and emergency-service facilities.