Choosing a veterinarian

Many of us are guilty of putting doctors on a pedestal, sometimes regarding them as all-knowing, godlike figures. We often do this with our veterinarian as well.

Since animals can’t speak for themselves, veterinarians have an even more difficult job diagnosing illness than physicians do. This is not to imply that you don’t know this, but to emphasize how important it is to thoroughly discuss your animal’s condition with your vet. Minute details and observations that seem insignificant or even silly can often be the crux of a proper diagnosis.

When looking for a good veterinarian, there are a variety of things you’ll want to pay attention to:

  • Ask about their education and if they went through any kind of special training, internships or residencies.
  •  Get recommendations from people in your community. Beware of those based solely on the vet’s bedside manner or on inexpensive fees. While bedside manner is very important, it’s not adequate evidence that he or she practices good medicine.
  • Your veterinarian should be able to admit he or she doesn’t know something and be comfortable with you getting a second opinion or referring you to a specialist.
  •  Owners know their animal best—and yet it can be rare to find a veterinarian who really listens to their clients. You, the owner, are keenly aware of any changes in behavior, weight, eating habits and all the little nuances of your pet. No matter why you are bringing your dog in, the vet should always conduct a thorough physical examination, listen to everything you have to say and record your comments in the pet’s history for future reference or diagnosis. If you sense that your veterinarian is ignoring you or inferring that you might be an over-anxious owner, this is a red flag. Listen to your intuition: If you have the slightest feeling that you are not being heard, by all means go to another vet. Veterinarians always need to listen to you, the owner.
  • Animal hospitals or clinics with only one veterinarian can be problematic if the vet is not closely allied with and able to consult other colleagues. This is especially true with doctors fresh out of veterinary school or new to the area. It may be best to seek out a practice with several veterinarians who can consult with each other.
  •  With the wealth of information available online, it is increasingly common that pet owners discover the root of their pet’s problem online and bring their findings to their veterinarian. If your vet is not OK with your help, discounts it or takes it personally this could be a sign that you’re in the wrong hands. Your veterinarian should be willing to discuss information and learn with you.

Keeping your dog happy and healthy works best when you, your pet, and your veterinarian join together as a open, willing and competent team. My colleague, Dr. Nancy Kay, has written an invaluable resource and guide to being your pet’s best advocate. You’ll find a trove of in-depth information in her best-selling book Speaking For Spot.