How to find a veterinarian that's right for you and your pet

Do your homework when it comes to choosing a veterinarian. Make sure you and your pet are comfortable with the doctor and facility. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Debrah A. of York, Pa.)

Do your homework when it comes to choosing a veterinarian. Make sure you and your pet are comfortable with the doctor and facility. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Debrah A. of York, Pa.)

Diana Roth has always been an animal lover. Opening her home and her heart to abandoned cats and dogs for most of her 69 years, the Tallahassee, Fla., retiree is also an advocate for her pets’ health. So Roth knew she had to find a new veterinarian when her current provider said nothing could be done for the hip problems of her 11-year-old beagle-basset mix, Roscoe, or for her 11-year-old dachshund Shadow’s failing sight. “I decided my dogs weren’t getting the care they needed,” Roth says. “I found a new vet and the difference in the energy [at the office] was night and day.”

In Dr. Melanie Donofro, who practices at highly rated Los Robles Animal Hospital, Roth found a doctor who’s philosophy regarding holistic care mirrored her own. “Dr. Donofro really listens and never pooh-poohs anything I say, no matter how crazy it sounds,” she says.

Donofro was able to help Roscoe through acupuncture and chiropractic treatments, and recommended an eye specialist for Shadow. “I know Dr. Donofro saved Shadow’s sight by finding her the right doctor,” Roth says.

Finding the veterinarian that’s best suited for your furry family is key to their well-being. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends potential pet owners do the legwork to find a veterinarian they’re comfortable with before bringing home a Fido or Felix.

“It’s the first thing we tell people,” AVMA spokeswoman Sharon Curtis Granskog says. “Pick a vet before you pick a pet.” It’s important to put the animal’s health first, she adds, but finding a veterinarian who meshes with your personality and expectations is just as vital.

Angie’s List member Jacki Speaks of Blacklick, Ohio, has visited Dr. Donna Violet at highly rated Animal Hospital of New Albany for years and says she didn’t realize how good she had it until she accompanied her mother on a visit to her vet.

“My mom was putting her cat to sleep and the vet appeared very cold and unsympathetic,” Speaks says. “When in a similar situation myself, Dr. Violet called me afterward and even sent flowers. They’re just the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.”

Finding a nice veterinarian should be getting easier, at least in theory, as the profession grows in popularity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the field of veterinary medicine is expected to increase 35 percent by 2016. Veterinarians specializing in one species are becoming more prevalent along with an increase in advanced care options.

But those options come at a high cost. While some are willing to pay whatever it takes to keep their pet healthy, others are left with sticker shock.

Twenty-one percent of Angie’s List members responding to a recent online poll said they thought their veterinarian’s services and/or products were overpriced.

Member Jennifer Priddy took her three cats to highly rated Broad Ripple Animal Clinic in Indianapolis for an annual checkup and says the veterinarian and staff were very prompt, efficient and kind, but she thought the final bill was a bit much.

“I was suspicious that some of the testing was unnecessary and the costs were overkill,” Priddy says. “But I’m not a veterinarian, so I’m not going ?to make that final judgment call.”

Broad Ripple Animal Clinic’s certified veterinary practice manager Brenda Tassava says they make a concerted effort to provide the highest level of service possible, which includes giving any pet receiving anesthesia IV therapy and blood work.

“When we give an estimate for any kind of work, we provide a line-item statement,” Tassava says. “There are a lot of things involved with teeth cleaning.”

Dr. Allen Codding, owner of Anderson Mill Animal Clinic in Austin, Texas, says there are a few things to consider before concluding your vet is just trying to make a quick buck.

“Veterinarians want the very best for every animal,” Codding says. “When a vet recommends tests, medications or procedures, they’re honestly trying to offer the best care possible. If I don’t offer all the options, then the client isn’t getting what they paid for.”

Balancing economics against the lives of the patients is the hardest part of the job, says Dr. Dennis Wackerbarth, owner of highly rated Cats Exclusive Veterinary Center in Shoreline, Wash. “We all go into this business so we can take care of animals,” he says. “It may sound harsh, but if you can’t afford your pet, you shouldn’t have one. It’s not fair.”

Veterinarians take an oath to protect animal health, but even the most dedicated vet has experienced situations in which the outcome was unexpected. The AVMA and American Animal Hospital Association recommend you speak with your veterinarian to resolve any issues. If a situation can’t be resolved, you can file a grievance with your state’s veterinary board.

Barb Daniel of Huntingdon Valley, Pa., was devastated after her 9-year-old German shepherd, Elle, died from apparent complications after surgery. She took Elle to Dr. Esteban Baeza at Street Road Animal Hospital to be spayed and for a teeth cleaning. Daniel says Baeza assured her all was well after surgery, only to have Elle die at home two hours later.

“I felt something was wrong when I picked her up,” says Daniel, who’d had Elle put under a few times before for routine procedures. “I expressed my concerns, but was told she was just having some trouble with the anesthesia. I think [Baeza’s] lack of attention was negligent.”

Baeza says he told Daniel his concerns about operating on a 9-year-old dog. “There’s always a risk with surgery,” Baeza says. “It’s understandable she’s so upset. It’s very painful to lose a pet. Unfortunately, this would’ve happened with any veterinarian.”

Daniel, however, says she never insisted on the procedure and was told that spaying a dog — regardless of age — was the safest option.

Losing a pet is a hard thing to face, especially if the death is untimely, which makes the relationship with your veterinarian all the more important. “You need to go to someone you can trust and communicate openly with,” AVMA president Dr. Jim Cook says. “Nothing else matters if you don’t have that first.”

More Like This

Indiana mobile veterinarian takes pet care on the road


Curbside Care vet Dr. Erin Zaring makes six to eight appointments per day, such as this one to clean the teeth of Kelly Arvin's Yorkie, Heidi, at her Fishers home. (Photo by Brandon Smith)
Curbside Care vet Dr. Erin Zaring makes six to eight appointments per day, such as this one to clean the teeth of Kelly Arvin's Yorkie, Heidi, at her Fishers home. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

A growing breed of mobile Indianapolis veterinarians go beyond house calls to treat sick pets and travel around the northside of Indy to pets' homes from their RV-style mobile vet offices.


All do respect, but if you couldn't afford to adopt children, you wouldn't be allowed to. There are government programs that provide aid to families in financial turmoil such as WIC. Still, despite a number of fail safes in our society, some people remain unwilling or unable to care for their children. When people fail to care for their children, they are often removed by CPS and placed in foster homes. This is a very sad reality but it is done for the protection of the children – not to persecute the parents. Good intentions are not enough for these agencies to stand by and allow children to starve to death or be deprived of medical care. The remark in the 1st part of the preceding article is not intended to be cruel or unfeeling. It refers to the fact that if you can't make ends meet for yourself, you should not use money that you don't have to acquire a pet. I have seen good hearted owners drown in deep financial waters for animals they could not afford. No soul is saved in this situation. If you find a stray animal but can't afford to provide them with basic care (food, vaccination, neuter/spay, heartworm preventative) then the responsible thing to do is seek the help of a rescue or shelter. At the end of the day, if the animal that you "saved" dies due to a preventable condition such a pyometra (caused by failure to spay an adult female who could not come out of heat on her own) then have you really saved them? They could have been adopted by a person in a better financial position who could have had them spayed and prevented that animal’s suffering as well as helping to control the homeless pet population. I applaud anyone who wants to help but good intentions are simply not enough. Further remarks in the article are not only obtuse but inaccurate. Veterinarians are feeling the pinch as well as everyone else. Many clinics have had to dismiss staff and limit hours of operation in order to keep the practice afloat. I’m sorry that the person who wrote the entry before mine appears to have had some negative experiences with her veterinarians but perhaps she is bringing some of the negativity to the interaction. If you are determined to be disappointed by someone, you will never fail at your aim. If you are looking for signs of charity from we wicked veterinarians, consider the fact that your veterinarian works twice as hard to be paid about 1/3 as much as your General Practitioner. The majority of veterinarians want to help and often tailor treatment plans to the best medicine that the owner can reasonably afford. However, as medical practitioners, it is our responsibility to make the client fully aware of what the best medical treatment is in the spirit of full disclosure. Medical care costs money. Ask anyone who has ever been uninsured or under-insured what a basic “Treat and Street” visit to urgent care cost them out of pocket. It is truly enough to put a person in serious financial trouble. My mother’s cancer surgery was over $100,000 for surgeon time alone. This did not cover outpatient care, histopathology, medication etc. Thank God she had insurance or she would have died without the surgery. The same surgery (a canine spay is essentially the same as a total hysterectomy – some minor anatomical differences aside) for the average dog weighing less than 50 lbs cost less than $500 +/- and that DOES include all inpatient and outpatient care. If you are fortunate enough to be insured you never see the true cost of medical care. Love and companionship are not a luxury for the wealthy. They are the privilege of the responsible and the accountable. Pets can be a real joy and a blessing. They are not a product, they should not be mass produced to be purchased on a whim nor should they be disposed of when they are no longer fun or convenient. Every one of them should know peace, security, medical care and basic creature comforts. Even the most bloodthirsty killer on death row gets “3 Hots and a Cot” as they say. If you insist on comparing the plight of homeless pets to homeless children then by all means, let’s do that. Let’s require a basic level of care and truly reduce suffering. Pets cannot be healed with your good intentions.

.."if you can't afford your pet, you shouldn't have one". It's this type of prevailing attitude by veterinarians that make your average person cringe at the thought of taking their pet in for care. (I hope that guy never loses his job or has a spouse with astronomical medical bills) Veterinarians may be doing well, but the recent unemployment statistics would indicate that not everyone else is so lucky. Many people that had a reasonable expectation of being able to afford their pets are now in a position where it is tough to do so. It might also be considered that not everyone seeks out their pet. People often end up with pets because of the irresponsibility of others. People that take in strays and care for the abandoned are often hedging their bets that some care and love is better than none. Which brings me to another matter....since when is love and companionship a luxury for the wealthy? Study after study shows how good companion animals are for our health. I admire the work of any animal rescue organization or shelter, but it's not the only way to service animals. As a community, if we're going to subsidize shelters, why don't we put some resources into keeping pets in their homes? The bond between people and their pets is often underestimated. I hope one day that non profits like mine are successful enough that "if you can't afford your pet, don't have one" isn't something you'd say in public any more than you'd say "if you can't afford your children, you should put them up for adoption".

I have recently looked into having my cat's teeth cleaned. My vet charges $600 for the procedure, with payment upfront, with no financing available. I checked with other vets in my city - all charged the same high amount. I checked outside my city, and the cost goes down to $250. This still seems high to me, as teeth cleaning is an often recommended procedure. Over the years, I have lost confidence in veterinarians, as collecting fees seems to be the primary objective.

I wish you well. I hope someday you use the energy that you put into anger and negativity towards the pet overpopulation problem and not veterinarians. I will not be posting or reading this string any further as you are clearly not interested in open dialogue but rather a sermon.

As the person in the entry above pointed out, there are many fail safes in our society, in the form of assistance, for people who are unable to care for their loved ones. I am merely suggesting that people who own pets have similar options. As far as being "obtuse and inaccurate", I would refer you to the Bureau of Labor Statistic website. While I would be the first to agree that often times our government agencies do appear to be obtuse and inaccurate, I based my statements on actual information and certainly didn't pull them out of a hat. Many veterinarians, including my own, are caring, empathetic and amazing people who frequently volunteer their time and efforts for shelters, rescues, spay and neuter clinics and vaccination clinics. Unfortunately, it only takes one dismissive and arrogant veterinarian to effect the hearts and opinions of people in which they come in contact. What I find completely "obtuse" is the idea that, were people to give up their pets or the strays they've taken in, that there would be thousands of "person(s) in a better financial position" to adopt them. If one is paying attention to euthanasia rates at the local humane society, one would have to admit that no one is lining up to take in elderly cats/dogs, pregnant strays or feral cats. The implication that giving a pet up means a better home for that animal is just simply ridiculous. "Pets cannot be healed with your good intentions" any more than they can be taken in by imaginary adopters. To clarify, I am not relying on my good intentions to heal a pet. I am working very hard to offer people tangible solutions, not best wishes. If the above author can offer any additional useful and workable solutions in the prevention of euthanasia, I would encourage her to share them. Particularly with the poor folks that have to clean up society's mess by putting those animals down every day. While I did not at any time use the word "save" or "saved" in my first comment, the above post uses it liberally. There are plenty of stray animals that will die of "preventable conditions" either behind a dumpster or in the home of some poor soul that was kind enough to bring them home and offer them comfort. I would suggest that we try to build a society that encourages one poor soul to help another. One good point that's been raised is that medical bills can really hurt a families finances if they are uninsured or under-insured. I did find the comparison between a human hysterectomy complicated by the presence of cancer to the spaying of a dog interesting, if not puzzling. I would certainly hope that one patient was in the hospital longer than the other. When my dog was spayed, she came home the next day a little groggy and without an abundance of medication. When my mother had a total hysterectomy with fibroid tumors removed, she spent several days in the hospital on a morphine drip and had much more extensive treatment than what was provided my dog. All that fuss without a single malignancy. The second interesting part of that portion of the above statement is that the writer, presumably a sufficiently insured citizen, puts forth that the rest of us will never see the true cost of health care the way that she does. Perhaps the assumption is that the rest of us are incapable of thoroughly reading a medical bill. Or that we're incapable of comprehending any of the current issues over healthcare reform. It's good, though, to hear success stories of the insured, particularly if they are pet owners. Evidently, having the proper insurance can make all the difference between whether or not one is a "responsible and accountable" pet owner. Of course, some people are naturally unable to qualify for this type of insurance due to preexisting conditions and disabilities, which I guess would make them automatically irresponsible and unaccountable if they dare seek the comfort and companionship of a pet. As a side note, most people in the medical field recognize that pets are known to be helpful to those with many different kinds of disabilities and to the elderly. These are two groups that often find themselves on a fixed and limited income. At the heart of it all, I seem to agree with the above author by the end of her statement, aside from her assertion that I insisted on comparing the plight of homeless children with that of homeless pets. My statement was meant to convey a that implies that we respect and foster people's relationship with their pets. Just as it would be absurd to suggest that someone simply give up their child due to financial difficulty, so it should be absurd to suggest that one's relationship with a pet is disposable. I DO agree that we require a basic level of care and to truly reduce suffering. I just don't happen to believe that the only way to accomplish that is by turning an animal over to a shelter. It is unfortunate that the only veterinarian responding to this post missed the point entirely. Thankfully, this is not a unilateral problem.

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