Finding a good veterinarian is as important as finding a pediatrician or family practitioner; it’s a relationship you’ll have for your pet’s lifetime. Here’s how to pick one who works for you and your pet.

By Justine A. Lee, DVM
August 26, 2020
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Do Your Homework

First, get recommendations from your pet-owning colleagues, neighbors, or friends at the dog park, and ask what it is they like about their vet. Also check out online recommendations (e.g., Nextdoor, Facebook neighborhood groups, Google reviews). The reviews don’t always provide a complete picture (a small percentage will inevitably be complaining about the bill—understandably so, veterinary care can be expensive!), but they’ll give you a reasonably good idea of the overall quality of care, efficiency of the office, and compassion of the staff. Next, look at the clinic’s website and read the vet team’s biographies—obviously they should have DVM or VDM degrees from accredited colleges of veterinary medicine; for more recent grads, I also like to see a rigorous internship (an extra year of hands-on experience). I appreciate if they’ve shared any information about their personal interests—bonus points for talking about their own pets!

Make a List

Before your first appointment, pull together some questions to help make sure your pet-care priorities align with those of the staff:

• Are there payment plans? Do they recommend pet insurance? (They should!) Ask about costs and any specific policies they have.

• Is the hospital or practice accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association? This means the clinic has been evaluated by the AAHA and shows that it provides the highest quality of care.

• Does the practice have digital radiography and an electronic medical record system? You want the answer to be yes to both—an electronic system allows you to access your pet’s medical records even if you’re traveling.

• How does the practice communicate with pet owners—via text, email, phone call?

• How are prescriptions handled? Some vets have their own dispensary at the clinic, but othersmay write prescriptions for an outside office or pharmacy.

• How are emergencies managed?

• What is the protocol for pain management?

• How are overnight patients monitored?I’m not a huge fan of leaving pets alone at night; there may be local emergency clinics that can provide 24/7 overnight care if needed.

Test it out

Your dog or cat will likely be on edge for the first visit, and that’s OK—there are a lot of new smells and faces to process. Just focus on the vet’s bedside manner, style of communication, patience with your pet, and how she works to put your pet at ease. (Have a nervous or reactive/aggressive pet? Seek out a veterinarian or clinic that has Fear Free certification, which shows they have been educated on how to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress in pets.) Does the vet take the time to answer all your questions? It’s hard to judge an entire practice during a 15-minute appointment, but you want to make sure you find someone who cares for your pet as much as you do.

Justine A. Lee, DVM, is a board-certified veterinary specialist in both emergency critical care and toxicology. She’s the author of It’s a Dog’s Life...But It’s Your Carpet and It’s a Cat’s World...You Just Live in It. She’s the former cohost analyst on Animal ER Live on Nat Geo Wild. For more information, visit drjustinelee.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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