How do I choose the right veterinarian for my pet?
You may think that since I’m a veterinarian, anything I say about hiring a vet should be taken with a grain of flea powder. However, I wouldn’t call my accountant when my water heater is flooding the garage; it makes sense to ask a veterinarian how to shop for a veterinarian.
The first step is to make a list of what you are looking for in a vet. Start out by deciding if you feel your pet is a family member, a pet or an income source such as a farm animal or breeding animal. Then ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you looking for state of the art medical treatments, CT scans and kidney transplants or do you want the cheapest place to get the legally required rabies vaccination?
- Do you want a vet who shares your opinions on ear cropping, cat declawing or holistic medicine?
- Do you want to see your regular vet during after-hours emergencies?
- Do you need a vet who will treat exotic pets like rabbits, birds or lizards?
- Would you like the comfort of being able to board your pet at the veterinary practice?
- Do you want the convenience of getting pet grooming, food and supplies at the same place?
Additionally, do you want to see the same veterinarian at each visit? If so, at any practice that you interview that has more than one vet, you’ll want to ask about that. Typically, privately owned, smaller practices tend to keep individual veterinarians (especially the owners) longer than corporately owned chain veterinary practices.
When shopping for anything from products to professionals, it is important to remember that old adage, “You get what you pay for.” Because veterinary medicine isn’t currently an insurance dominated industry, veterinary hospitals with board certified specialists, the most recent medical equipment and high-level service must charge more to cover their higher costs. It is up to you to decide if you can and want to pay for that level of care.
Keep in mind that temporary vaccine clinics aren't open later if your pet reacts to the vaccines or you need copies of medical records. Additionally, a yearly physical exam is important to catch early signs of disease.
When calling veterinary clinics to check prices, be careful that you aren’t comparing apples to Afghan Hounds. For example, low-cost spay and neuter clinics are often subsidized by donations, so the surgery is provided at below cost. You aren’t paying for personalized service; so don’t expect any.
You also aren't paying for pre-anesthetic blood work, intravenous fluids or pain medications to take home for your pet after surgery. If you are calling for the price of a spay, know the age and exact weight of your pet before you call. When you get a quote, make sure that it includes everything: the surgery, the anesthetic, pain medication and anything else that the clinic requires to have the surgery done.
Get as much information as you can. Comparing prices for a complicated procedure can be difficult. Before you have a Chow over the price, keep in mind that a human “spay” (hysterectomy or ovariohysterectomy) costs $5,000 to $30,000.
Call the local clinics that you are interested in and ask if the veterinarian will do an interview for no charge (you can’t bring your pet for this). Schedule an appointment for a vet interview and clinic tour. If you don’t schedule an appointment, it is unlikely the vet will have time to talk to you on a walk-in basis.
During the interview, ask the vet questions you’ve written down beforehand. You can leave out the question, “Do you love animals?” Would the vet have gone to eight years of college and have a student loan debt of up to $120,000 if he or she didn’t love animals?
Another important thing to remember when it comes to any doctor, is that although it makes us more comfortable to assume that he or she is always perfect (I certainly would like any surgeon working on me to have God-like skill), the fact is that we are all human and despite our best efforts, we all make mistakes, even in professions where we hope mistakes would never happen.
Medicine isn’t cut and dry. It involves biology, which is wet and squishy and doesn’t have easy answers and guaranteed results. A cat with cancer plus chemotherapy doesn’t always equal a cure. If it did, we’d be called engineers, not doctors.