When you are looking to find a new veterinarian, you can become overwhelmed by the choices. Since the regular pet owner cannot really see all the inner workings, it often seems like all of the choices are comparable.  But this may not be the case.  Here are some guidelines to help you know the right questions to ask and how to pick the best pet health partner for you.

When you go into the facility, do you feel welcome? Is the staff friendly?  I took my cat to a veterinary facility recently as a pet owner and not a veterinarian.  The vet that was seeing patients that day is a friend of mine, but I have not been to the facility before so the staff there did not immediately recognize me.  It was such a valuable experience for me. The staff member at the front desk was on the phone.  He did not acknowledge my presence until he concluded his phone call. I think I would have felt more welcome had I been greeted when I came in.  There were staff members bustling around, but no one really spoke to me. We have a bell on our door and I hear people enter.  My staff always greets everyone (often by name since we are small and know everyone), but I know that it’s not always possible in a large facility. Since I saw what it felt like to not be greeted, I will make sure that we double our efforts at my hospital!

Are they recommended by someone you trust?  Ideally, ask friends who have pets and love them like you do which facility they recommend.  If you don’t know anyone yet, look at online reviews.  Do remember that the reviews may not be accurate, good or bad. But I always cringe when I see bad ones and take them with a grain of salt, especially if the others are all good.  Sadly, there are always people out there that want to create negativism.  But if someone (or several people) took the time to rave about a facility, your chances are better.  Make sure that you read all the reviews and take an objective look at what is said.  For example, if the review bashes the vet for recommending testing or suggesting referral, then you should think that this vet was trying to suggest all the best care for the animal and the owner could have some bitterness because of sticker shock or guilt.  It is our job to recommend the gold standard of care and if it is not possible, then help you prioritize what you can afford.  If someone says that their pet died at a facility, do remember that death is a part of life and animals’ life spans are not like ours. Someone may be venting their grief.  By the same token, some of the positive reviews could be employees or friends.  I am the most touched personally when a review is given by an owner who did lose a pet and they know we did our best.  I love the “Thank You” reviews (and cards and letters). They mean a lot to me and my staff.  Sadness can build up on us sometimes and it is nice to know that people appreciate us even in unhappy outcomes.

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Ask if they have an in-house lab and other diagnostics.  I love my in-house lab! It is and was expensive but there is no substitute for a 20 min turnaround time when I need to know the answers.  I am always extremely frustrated by human facilities’ long turnaround times.  I can do most necessary labs and radiology in my facility and I can have at least preliminary answers very fast.  I like that. I can run clotting tests and chemistry panels on the same day of outpatient surgery so I know the animal’s status right then before I go to surgery.  There are still tests that require sending to a big off site lab, but I love my lab too and if you are a person who does not like to wait, ask about the diagnostics at the animal clinic you are considering.

Does it smell fresh? We have accidents sometimes, as does every hospital, but odors can indicate lack of cleanliness. If the hospital smells like a wet dog every time you enter, it might not be the place for you. Animals are tuned into scents and just the smell of other animals passing by might be enough to frighten your pet, but just think…if you can smell it, it is overpowering to your pet!

Do you feel a genuine concern for you and your pet? Listen to your heart.  Do you feel good about a place or person? Are they right for you? Did your concerns get answered? Are they available for you to ask questions even after you leave? Not every vet is right for every pet owner. It doesn’t make them a bad vet or you a bad owner if you just do not feel rapport with someone.  The value of that camaraderie cannot be emphasized enough.  This person is going to be your life raft when your pet is sick.  These people will hold your hand as you make life changing choices. They will be with you in good times and bad. The staff will help you wade through all the misinformation about what your pet needs. 

LOVE ‘EM or LEAVE ‘EM.  Your pet’s health may depend on your choice.


Dr. Kathryn Primm is a veterinarian and author. Her first book is Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People, and you can visit her author site at http://www.drprimm.com/