During the years I worked in veterinary hospitals, I always had an up close and personal knowledge of the vets who worked on my cats, from their medical skills and proficiency to their dedication and “bedside manner.” I was fortunate that most of the vets I worked with practiced cutting edge medicine, provided compassionate care for their furry patients and their humans, loved their work, and were always learning and growing in their fields. And if that hadn’t been the case, I wouldn’t have continued to work with them.
Unfortunately, not all veterinarians live up to those standards – and for what it’s worth, I consider those minimum standards of care. Next to you, your cat’s vet is probably the most important person in your cat’s life. She is your cat’s surgeon, radiologist, dentist, dermatologist, neurologist, ophthalmologist, psychiatrist, ears/nose/throat doctor, and pharmacist, all rolled into one. And if you ever have doubts about the vet you currently see, then it’s probably time to think about switching.
The following can be signs that it’s time to find a new vet:
The clinic is dirty or smells.
Caring for pets can generate some rather unpleasant smells, but they should never be allowed to linger in a veterinary clinic. There’s simply no excuse for not keeping a hospital spotless.
The staff won’t give you a tour of the practice or allow you to be with your cat “in the back.”
This is a huge red flag for me. While some areas of a clinic may be off limits to clients at certain times, in general, you should be allowed to be with your cat and/or visit her if she needs to stay at the hospital.
The clinic is not cat-friendly.
Going to a veterinary clinic is stressful for cats, and choosing one where the doctors and staff understand cats can go a long way towards making the experience less traumatic for you and your cat. If at all possible, look for a feline-only practice. You will find more and more of these practices in large, metropolitan areas, and even in some smaller, rural areas. If an all-feline practice is not an option where you live, look for a cat-friendly practice.
The vet’s knowledge is out of date.
While no vet can keep up with all advances in veterinary medicine, it is reasonable to expect your vet to keep current and to attend continuing education meetings. It’s actually a good sign if your vet says “I don’t know, but I will find out” rather than brushing off questions or continuing to things “the way I’ve always done them.” Red flags in this area include vets who still give “annual shots” or treat every condition with antibiotics or steroids.
The vet does not take time to address client concerns and questions.
A vet who brushes off your questions and concerns, or who is constantly rushed, does not have the best interests of your cat in mind.
The vet has made a significant mistake with your cat.
Veterinarians are humans, and mistakes happen. If your vet does make a treatment mistake, this may not be a reason to change, depending on how the mistake is handled and communicated to the client. However, if the outcome of treatment is consistently negative, it is most definitely time for a change.
The vet won’t refer to a specialist.
Advances in veterinary medicine have made it impossible for a general vet to be an expert in everything. If your vet can’t diagnose a problem, or if your cat keeps getting worse, a good veterinarian will recommend input from or a referral to a specialist.
You simply don’t feel comfortable with your vet.
Sometimes, you just don’t click with a vet. You don’t have to be friends with your cat’s vet, but you do have to have a relationship of mutual respect and trust.
What to do if you decide to change vets
To ensure a smooth transition to a new vet, request a complete copy of your cat’s medical records from the clinic’s receptionist, including all doctor’s notes, laboratory test results, imaging studies (ultrasound, X-rays), and vaccination history. Even though this may be awkward, you have a legal right to these records. If you are asked why you’re changing vets, I would encourage you to be honest. Most veterinary clinics want to know about it if they have not met a client’s needs.