Choosing a veterinarian for your dog or cat
When choosing a veterinarian, there are several factors that prospective clients may place more weight on than others. These typically include price, personal referral, and proximity to one’s home. I’ll briefly go over what I consider to be key things to look for when choosing a veterinarian. I feel that the most important characteristic in choosing a veterinarian is someone who not only is experienced in general clinical medicine and surgery with an established and caring support staff, but also a veterinarian who is willing to actually tell a client “I don’t know” when presented with a question they do not know the answer to. Or at the very least, the vet should refer cases to veterinarians who practice in various specialty areas of veterinary medicine. Because our field is becoming as specialized as human medicine, it is nearly impossible for a veterinarian to be proficient and an expert in all areas of veterinary medicine.
Veterinarians can treat all species of animals, even though we do all still currently receive the same basic 4 year core veterinary education school coursework. And while that will likely be changing soon, where small animal veterinarians branch out from those interested in large animal medicine midway through veterinary school training, it is still the common practice that all veterinarians receive basically the same core education during their four years of veterinary school.
If a person developed a specialized skin or digestive condition for example, that individual would be promptly referred on to a human dermatologist or gastroenterologist. The same type of specialization and referral system exists in veterinary medicine and should be utilized by a general veterinary practitioner when appropriate. There are too many clients who spend thousands of dollars on symptomatic treatments for their animals, often without any diagnosis, before sometimes finally being referred to specialists, often having little discretionary income or money left to spend to properly treat their pets. In my opinion, these referrals need to occur much earlier in many cases. Whether it be internal medicine, ophthalmology, dermatology, orthopedics, or oncology (cancer medicine), referrals are critical for optimal care of our animal companions.
Another important aspect of veterinary care is the availability or access/referral to 24 hour emergency care. As with us, illness can strike our pets any time of day or night, as well as on weekends or holidays. It is important that your general practitioner have either access to or provide 24 hour veterinary care.
Finally, I consider how much time a veterinarian devotes to a basic wellness exam important as well. The old standard of practice was for veterinarians to see 4 to 5 patients an hour. However, with increasing information and education of the animal guardian needed in today’s world, I don’t see how a veterinarian can do a truly thorough job without allowing at least 20 minutes for even a wellness exam. I also consider it critical that today’s veterinarian be familiar with current vaccination protocols, and not over vaccinate dogs and cats, given our knowledge of the role over vaccination can play in autoimmune diseases, allergies and even certain cancers.
Most core viral vaccinations do not need to be given more than once every 3 years in most cases, and in many aging and chronically ill pets, vaccinations should be given with caution, if at all. Each pet should be treated as an individual when it comes to which and how many vaccinations should be given, rather than a “one shot fits all” approach. Lastly, word of mouth referrals still provide a very important source of information for referrals from friends or relatives. Distance and price would be the least important criteria I would consider. I know that for the right practitioner for my own animal or human family, distance and price would play the least important role in my choice of a health care practitioner.