For most people, choosing the right vet for their pets is much harder than choosing the right physician for themselves.   When choosing a vet, you’re not just looking for  someone with exceptional medical skills, but also for someone with excellent people skills who understands you and your pet.  And since most veterinarians work with a team of professional support staff, you’ll want to evaluate them, too, as you look for the best fit for you and your furry family members. 

The worst time to find a vet is when your pet has a medical emergency, so plan ahead and do your research before you need one.   The following suggestions can help you in your search.

Yellow Pages/internet search

While this is a good start, I think this should only be a first step.  Proximity to your home will certainly be a factor in your decision, but it shouldn’t be the only one.  A good vet is well worth driving a few extra miles.  If you’re using the internet to look for a vet, use common sense if you’re visiting review sites such as Yelp.  The opinions posted there are only that – opinions.   Do your own research and make up your own mind after visiting potential vets. 

Word of mouth/referral from friends, neighbors or family members

With most service businesses, word of mouth is usually the best way to find a provider.  But a word of caution:  make sure that the person referring you shares your philosophy when it comes to how to care for a pet.  Not all pet owners consider pets members of the family, and even among the ones who do, there are varying degrees.   Don’t necessarily trust a referral from someone you just met.  When I got Feebee, who was my first cat, I was not only clueless when it came to how to select a vet, I was also new to the area, so I did what most people would do – I asked a neighbor who had a dog and a cat and didn’t pursue any other recommendations, nor did I research the clinic myself.  I later found out that the vet I took Feebee to had a reputation for cutting corners during anesthetic procedures, especially in the area of pain control.  Sadly, I didn’t find this out until after Feebee had already been neutered and had had a dental cleaning.

Membership in the American Animal Hospital Association

Member hospitals voluntarily pursue and meet AAHA‘s standards in areas of quality medical care, facility and equipment. 

For cats – look for a feline vet

If at all possible, look for a vet specializing in cats.  Cats are not small dogs, and feline vets can address your cat’s special needs better.  Your cat’s vet visit may also be less stressful in a feline-only hospital.  (Read Is Your Vet Cat-Friendly for more on this topic).  For a listing of feline veterinarians, use the Find a Feline Practitioner search on the American Association of Feline Practioners’ website.

Facility

Does the hospital have separate cat and dog waiting areas?  Is the hospital clean and odor-free? Is the staff dressed in clean uniforms and lab coats?  Don’t rule out an older looking hospital – a fancy new facility doesn’t always guarantee that your pet will also get top-of-the line medical care. 

Make an appointment without your pet

I think this is the best way to evaluate a veterinary practice.  Make an appointment and ask for a tour of the facility.  By going to see potential vets without your pet, you will be more relaxed and it will give you a chance to evaluate not only facility, but also the practice philosophy of the clinic.  If you want to speak to a veterinarian during this trial visit, offer to pay for an office visit.  Most vets will not charge you for an introductory visit, but it sets the right tone for a future relationship of mutual respect.  Come prepared with a list of questions that are important to you.  For example, if you’re holistically oriented, make sure that your vet is, too, or at the very least, is open to holistic modalities even if he or she doesn’t practice them.

Other questions to ask:

  • How many veterinarians are at the practice?
  • Will my pet always see the same veterinarian?
  • Are appointments required?
  • What happens if I have an emergency after clinic hours?
  • Are dogs and cats housed in separate areas?
  • Are diagnostic services such as x-rays, blood work, ultrasound, EKG, endoscopy done in-house, or will they be referred to a specialist?

Cost

While the cost of veterinary care is most certainly a factor in the decision pocess, I don’t believe that it should be the determining one.   When we bring pets into our lives, we know that they will need veterinary care – that’s part of being a responsible pet parent.  Even if we’re fortunate that they never get sick, they’ll still need preventive care.  Depending on what part of the country you’re in, routine veterinary care can run anywhere from $500-1500 a year.  These numbers can include annual wellness exams, parasite control, labwork, dental care, and more. 

If you do use price as a determining factor in your search for a vet, be aware that simply asking for prices for certain services does not necessarily tell the whole story.  For example, prices for spay/neuter surgeries can vary widely between practices – sometimes, the disaparities are due the difference in the level of care your pet will receive.

Finding the right vet for your pet is one of the most important decisions you’ll make – there is nothing more reassuring than having a vet you know you can trust and rely on throughout your pet’s life.

29 Comments on How to Choose the Right Vet for Your Pet

  1. My cat has been acting somewhat sickly and not eating well lately, and I’m considering finding her a vet. You’re definitely right that it’s better to find one before things escalate into an emergency, for sure, and I appreciate your tips for finding a great vet for her. Using my own research and checking out potential vets after an internet search is important, I agree, to ensure that you get a clear evaluation of a service.

  2. I consider to get a pet insurance. Does anybody has an experience with that. If yes, which one would be the best? Thank you

  3. I agree that you want to ask how many vets are employed at a clinic before you choose it. I would imagine that you would want to choose a place that as a few different veterinarians in case you need to see one in an emergency. I recently adopted a cat so I’ll have to find a clinic with a few doctors in case she gets sick.

  4. I like your comment on finding a veterinarian that is close to your home. I would imagine that you would want to find someone who is close by because it would ensure that they will be accessible. I’m looking for a vet so I’ll have to choose someone who is close by.

  5. I agree that you would want to check if a veterinarian has separate waiting areas for dogs and cats. I would imagine that it would be much less stressful for your cat if they don’t have to wait in the same room as a bunch of dogs before they see the vet. I’m looking for an animal hospital for my cat so I’ll have to find one with separate waiting rooms.

  6. We recently got a new puppy and are looking to find an animal hospital to take him to. We want him to get looked at because he has been acting a little strange recently. I did not know that there was such thing as the American Animal Hospital Association. I will make sure that the hospital I go to is a member of that has reaches those standards. Thank you for letting me know!

  7. Thanks for pointing out that finding a Vet through the yellow pages should only be your first step. You also mention looking for a Vet by word of mouth referrals from friends. I think it’s a good idea to choose a Vet that has also specialized in pet nutrition.

  8. It can be a great idea to set up a consultation without your pet. Pets can get nervous in the vets office and this can distract from the importance of this first meeting. It would also be good to find out in this meeting what regular appointments you should keep with your pet.

  9. What a good article! All the tips are very useful. I really like the suggestion you make to make an appointment without my pet so I can get a tour of the facility and meet the vet. Taking my dog to a new vet always stressful because I don’t how they are going to treat him. I can see why being proactive and visiting beforehand would help relieve some of that stress and anxiety. My cousin just got a cat. I will definitely have to refer her to this article so that she can read it too.

  10. One of the most important things to me when looking for vet is to find an animal hospital that has a good clean facility. I like it when they don’t have a lot of odor and are well taken care of. It also is impressive to me if they are wearing the lab coats. I have been to quite a few places and they don’t wear them any more and it just doesn’t seem quite as professional to me.

  11. I would like for my cat to always be able to see the same veterinarian. That way my cat can get used to the vet. Also, the vet will already know about her and I won’t have to go over all the same questions and answers with someone new every time.

  12. I’m looking for a new veterinary clinic to go to and so I really like the questions that you suggest asking. I especially like your question about whether or not diagnostic services would be done in-house. My dog has had to have x-rays done before and so I personally prefer for that type of stuff to be done at the clinic. Yet, I have always assumed that it would be done there and so I think that I will be asking more questions about those services as I continue my search for the right clinic.

  13. The point that you made about seeking out referrals from friends and other trusted contacts made a lot of sense to me. I imagine that this can help me find a quality veterinarian because I trust the opinion of my closest friends. I will be sure to keep searching for a great vet to take care of the health of my pet.

  14. What about a vet clinic associated with a veterinary school? Are they usually more affordable and how is the quality?

    • Rita, vet clinics at veterinary schools are very much like human teaching hospitals: you get cutting edge care for your pet from veterinary interns and students under the supervision of an attending veterinarian. I don’t think there’s much of a difference in cost compared to regular clinics, and frequently, veterinary school hospitals are considered referral practices and as such, can be more expensive.

  15. Esme, I’m glad your happy with your new vet.

    Leslie, I drive fifteen miles to the cat vet I use even though there are at least twenty clinics within a five mile radius of my home, so I can understand that you’d travel further to a vet you love even though it’s more inconvenient logistically.

  16. Thanks, Ingrid. Choosing the right vet for your babies is so important. Although I live in one area of NYC, I choose to go to a vet in another area and most people think I am nuts but my choice is that important to me. And being that I own a pet sitting business servicing cat people only, I agree to make sure that your vet is cat friendly as felines have such special needs and really dread going to the vet. Another point that you made is also important – my vet’s staff are wonderful and it makes a world of difference!

  17. This is a great article-Given that my second kitty has asthma I took her to a feline only vet as we have talked about and I am so happy with their communication and follow up.

    As always -very helpful information.

  18. Marg, it sounds like you have a great vet. I like that they’re sensitive to your financial situation, too. Most multi-doctor practices will let you request a particular vet.

    Mason, that’s great that you have two vets in your town that you trust.

    Daniela, it sounds like your vet definitely goes above and beyond – that’s always a good sign.

    Bernadette, that’s a good point about not just using your vet for emergencies. Annual (or bi-annual, depending on the age of the pet) check ups are important for the pet, and in addition to allowing you to build a relationship with your vet, they also help provide continuity of care for your pet.

    Layla, I’m a huge proponent of housecall vets, especially for cats. To me, making every interaction at a vet’s office as peaceful as possible for pet and owner is key.

  19. I’d like add how wonderful mobile vets are who provide home visits. I definitely agree with feline specialists. The vet we used before finding our mobile vet while highly reputable and expensive was run like a factory with several vets and a large waiting room full of dogs. They wouldn’t even allow the pet parents inside the consulting room for some procedures! The importance of peaceful one-on-one interaction is not to be underestimated.

  20. Excellent article! You really hit all the points people need to consider. The most important issue for me is for the veterinarian to recognize me as the primary caregiver of my cats and respect my experience without getting their hackles up, and also recognize that I want and need to learn new things, so treatment is a cooperative effort.

    It’s also important to stress that people need to visit their vet for annual checkups and not just keep them in the book for emergencies. You need to develop a relationship.

  21. Thank you for this wonderful post, Ingrid. I’m quite happy with my vet because they have been very good at listening to us, understanding our needs. Also, they have taken us in for an emergency with my Berner Frieda, even though they don’t have an emergency ward. The best – they didn’t even charge us. Here’s the story: http://www.thedailytail.com/nonfiction/ice/

  22. As usual that is great advice. It is very hard to find a good vet. I finally found the vet that I go to now and they are terrific. The only thing I don’t like is that I don’t see the same vet every time but I think if I wanted to, I could. There are five vets in the practice where I go, and they are all good. My deal is that I have a lot of cats and live on Medicare so can’t afford a lot of stuff so they are very good to me financial wise. The other thing I like is that they are very upbeat and that is important to me because I did go to a vet that all the help was really unhappy and the vet herself was not a people person. She thought she was.
    Anyway, those are all good things to look for. Definitely go for a visit without and animal the first time.

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