The process of finding a vet should be similar to selecting your own doctor. You’ll ideally want to seek recommendations from trusted sources and also research the veterinarian (and the clinic) on various criteria to ensure that they best meet your family’s needs and your pet’s individual health care requirements.
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Where to look for a veterinarian
Ask friends, family and colleagues for recommendations
Similar to your search for human health care providers, the best recommendations often come from family, friends and colleagues who are already utilizing these services and can vouch for their quality. Ask your contacts why they chose their veterinarian and how long they’ve been using the provider. Has their pet received any specialized care? It’s also appropriate to ask about the cost of care for comparison purposes.
Ask rescue groups and shelters for recommendations
Rescue groups and animal shelters are great resources for finding a veterinarian or clinic. You may have recently adopted your pet from a shelter or rescue in the area, or you may volunteer with a local group. Find out who they are using for their medical care and what their experiences have been, including quality and cost of care. If they give a positive recommendation, that’s helpful information, and you can also feel good about potentially working with a veterinarian who supports local shelters and rescue groups. Additionally, some shelters operate veterinary clinics that are open to the public and these are a great resource for pet health care needs, particularly wellness exams, vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries.
research VET OPTIONS ONLINE
If you have a trusted source for online pet information, such as a rescue network, a pet-sitting company or a breed rescue group, they can be good sources of recommendations. But in general, exercise caution when looking at online reviews for selecting veterinary health care providers because individual comments may not accurately reflect the actual quality of care given by a provider.
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Important things to consider
It’s important to start looking for a veterinarian as soon as possible, so that your pet doesn’t end up having a medical emergency without already having an established relationship with a provider. Additionally, if you are moving from another location, once you’ve selected a veterinarian, you’ll want to have your pet’s medical records, including vaccination history, transferred from your previous veterinarian so that the medical history is readily available to your new provider.
Once you’ve identified a potential new provider, schedule a visit to meet the veterinarian and discuss your pet and his or her health care needs. This will be a good opportunity to see if you and your pet are comfortable with the veterinarian and the clinic and to get answers to your questions about their services.
Every family has different needs and the reasons for selecting a particular veterinarian for a particular pet may differ widely. The following are some suggested criteria to consider when evaluating a new veterinarian and their clinic.
What are the vet's clinic hours?
Find out the regular clinic hours and the average length of time to get an appointment. If it’s important for your own schedule, find out if the clinic offers evening or weekend appointments and any after-hours or emergency care. If the clinic houses patients overnight, it’s important to find out if staff are on-site overnight so that your pet would not be left unattended.
What services do they offer?
Find out what range of medical services the practice offers and if it meets the needs of your pet. For example, if you have an exotic or nontraditional pet (these include rabbits and birds), will the veterinarian be able to provide care for that species? Some clinics offer in-house specialty services—such as behavior counseling, orthopedic surgery or emergency care—but many do not. In case your pet has a future need, it’s good to find out if specialty services are available or if the clinic has a specialist referral network.
What are their fees and payment options?
The cost of veterinary care can quickly add up, even for routine care, and fees can range significantly between veterinary providers, depending on their location and the type of services offered. Therefore, it is helpful to shop around for estimates from clinics in your community and the surrounding area. When comparing providers, it may be helpful to learn their fees for standard services, such as physical exams and vaccinations, as well as for routine medical procedures such as spay/neuter surgeries or dentals. If emergency services are offered, those fees are usually higher.
It's also helpful to find out if the veterinary clinic accepts pet insurance (if you have pet insurance or are considering it) and whether the clinic offers payment plans or other financial assistance options such as CareCredit. Some clinics have emergency assistance funds available for families in need or offer help in obtaining financial assistance from local nonprofits and other groups.
Some veterinary clinics are co-located in pet stores, like Banfield and Vetco, and offer lower cost options or low-cost vaccination days. Please call to confirm that they are the best option for you and your pet.
Finally, there are some veterinary clinics operated by animal shelters or by nonprofit organizations that typically offer more affordable veterinary care than private clinics. In some cases, these clinics offer sliding-scale payments for families who are facing financial challenges. Check with your local animal shelter or rescue group to see if this type of clinic operates in your community and, if so, investigate its rates as well as the services offered (which may be limited in some cases to spay/neuter and basic wellness care).
Do they support animal welfare?
You may want to make certain that the veterinarian treating your pet is animal welfare friendly. This can encompass a wide range of factors and what’s most important will vary by family. Some veterinarians are certified as “Fear Free” practices and focus on creating stress-free environments for their patients. Some refuse to do unnecessary and harmful procedures such as cat declaws or ear crops, tail docks and devocalization of dogs. Many veterinary clinics partner with local rescue groups and shelters to offer discounted or free services for their animals. And some veterinarians volunteer for local vaccine clinics or trap-neuter-return/community cat spay/neuter events. Some veterinarians devote time outside their practices to animal advocacy, volunteering to speak to the media or at legislative hearings in support of animal welfare legislation, for example. If these types of activities are important to you, you may want to ask your veterinarian about them and, of course, to thank them if they are taking these extra steps to promote animal welfare.