When we’re in the middle of a veterinary emergency, we can’t afford to be picky. But we also don’t want our pet’s broken leg getting treated by Dr. Jekyll. To ensure our pets get the highest standard of care, we’ve got to put some effort into finding the right veterinarian for our fur-family While the vet-hunting process can seem overwhelming, it’s far from insurmountable. By following this five-step process, even the most selective guardians can their Dr. Dolittle.
STEP ONE: Develop a Basic Rubric
Think back to high school English class. It won’t take long for most of us to think of something that was the bane and boon of every student: the rubric. This simple sheet of paper outlined how our teacher would grade our paper and the basic requirements of the course. Without this document, many of us would have been left floundering in a sea of citation styles, page lengths, and margin spacings. Before we can start hunting down a vet, we’ll need to create a rubric of our own.
We should start by asking ourselves the following questions:
- What are the top three things our new veterinarian needs to have?
For example, do we want someone who won’t beat around the bush and will tell us when our pup needs to lose weight? Do we want a vet who will suggest supplements and at-home remedies alongside prescription medications? Do we want a vet who will communicate well with children because the whole family often accompanies Fido on vet visits?
- What do we want to verify on the clinic’s website before giving them a call?
Is it best to confirm the values of the clinic? Are they just about cheap medical treatments? Or do they hold to a higher philosophy about pet care? What types of services and treatments do they offer in-house versus what they’ll refer out to specialists? And what types of education and medical background do the veterinarians have?
- How far are we willing to drive for a check-up?
For the right vet, many are willing to drive up to an hour out of their way. After all, it’s just for yearly check-ups, right? But we need to keep in mind that an injury or illness will also require the same hour-long drive. Animal hospitals are expensive. We’ll want to have a closer option with a vet we know and trust.
- Are we in need of a generalist or a specialist?
For example, some guardians want a vet who specializes strictly in cat health. While other guardians want someone who can visit with and treat all the fur-babies in their life.
Once we have established some base guidelines, we can move on to Step Two.
STEP TWO: Capitalize On Your Connections (including your Internet connection)
Now that we’ve got a better idea of what we’re looking for, we can start probing our network for recommendations. Ask friends, neighbors, relatives, and dog park regulars who they’d recommend. Be sure to focus on questions related to the things we outlined in Step One. As there will be a lot of names at this stage, be sure to have a pen and paper ready.
Hit the Web. Once we’ve exhausted our physical networks, it’s time to turn to the internet. But don’t just blindly Google “veterinarians” and hope for the best on their Yelp reviews. There are many options to do a smart search, but Veterinarians just asks for a zip code, and it’ll connect you with local vets. It’s not comprehensive but offers search results on several accreditations and a variety of specialties. We can take the top two or three results and add them to our list. With five or six contenders on hand, it’s time to check out reviews on Google, and Yelp. We can’t rely solely on reviews. Be sure to consider the number of reviews and the circumstances that surround them. We don’t want to eliminate the perfect vet based on the words of a disgruntled cheapskate or someone who doesn’t understand medicine.
STEP THREE: Deepen Your Research
Now, it’s time to take a good hard look at the data we collected in Step Two. We should have two to four solid candidates that are worth looking at more closely. These should all be vet offices within a 25-mile radius with an average rating of three or more stars. With that done, it’s time to play detective.
Take a while to poke around each candidate’s websites and jot down the following information:
- Their office and emergency hours
- Any accreditations they might hold
- Their phone number and address
- What animals and procedures they specialize in
- Whether or not they offer short-term financing, payment plans, or online bill pay
- How long it takes to get to their office
- The average wait time for an appointment
- Their general pet care philosophy
- Whether they can be contacted by email or text
- How they stand up to the requirements we laid out for ourselves laid in Step One
STEP FOUR: Pay Any Potential Vets A Visit
By this point, our list should consist of two to three clinics. Give each of them a call using the number listed on their website. Though intended to set up a time to visit the office, this call is vital. It’s our first opportunity to interact directly with the staff. It’s important to take a few minutes and document our feelings about the resulting discussion. Did our conversation leave us feeling like we were dealing with Cruella de Vil? Was it easy to set up that appointment? While we shouldn’t eliminate a potential clinic for their phone etiquette, we still need to take them into account. Just remember not to call on a weekend, Monday or Friday. These are typically the busiest times for the office staff. We wouldn’t want to judge them for hold times when we called during the most common times for animal emergencies.
On the day of the inspection, we’ll have to do our best to channel our inner health inspector. At this stage, it’s best to leave our pets at home. After a brief chat with the staff, it’s time to tour the facilities. As we move from reception to the examination rooms, we should be making a note of the following:
- Are the exam rooms clean and free of hair, feces, and debris?
- Do any staff we run into seem happy to see us?
- Does the office use modern equipment?
- Is everything well-organized?
- Is the area where patients are kept seem pleasant?
- Would we want to be a patient here?
- Do they seem capable of caring for any exotic animals that we might own?
After the tour, it’s time to sit down and talk with the vet. Discuss things like their perspective on holistic medicine, palliative care, and table scraps. This is also an excellent opportunity for us to share any concerns we may still have about bringing our pet to their office.
Step Five: Unleash the Hounds (And Get Those Medical Records)
After completing Step Four, we should be able to narrow our choices down to one or two facilities. Now it’s time to take our animals in for a quick compatibility check. At this stage, it’s important to pay attention to how our dog or cat interacts with the vet and their staff. Do they seem nervous or antsy? Is there a lot of teeth-baring? If our dog is particularly rambunctious, does the staff handle it in an effective manner? In the end, we should pick the vet that our animal seems to enjoy the most and who checks the most important boxes for us. After all, our pups and kitties are the ones who have to deal with the anal thermometers.
These steps are simple and easy to implement. Research may only take a few minutes, so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. If we find ourselves concerned with the level of care our animal receives, we should take the initiative to switch to another doctor right away. We don’t owe veterinarians anything other than hearing them out about treatment options. The health and well-being of our fur baby comes first, always.
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