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Choosing a Good Vet for Your Pet

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A good veterinarian will help you with many different concerns you may have about your pet from the appropriate diet, to the appropriate vaccinations, their general health and any behavioral problems you may experience with your pet. Therefore, it's important to find a vet you feel comfortable with in caring for your pet. This article gives you some pointers on choosing the right vet for your pet.

A good veterinarian will help you with many different concerns you may have about your pet from the appropriate diet, to the appropriate vaccinations, their general health and any behavioral problems you may experience with your pet. Therefore, it's important to find a vet you feel comfortable with in caring for your pet. This article gives you some pointers on choosing the right vet for your pet.

Ideally, you should start searching for a veterinarian before you adopt a pet so you can take your time and find a veterinarian you trust. Friends and neighbors make great sources for vet recommendations, especially those that have multiple pets or pets with a chronic illness (which often requires frequent vet visits and the vet's experience in care options). If you've just moved to a new area and don't know a lot of people, you may have to resort to a telephone directory or the Internet. If you are moving to a new area and already have a vet where you currently live, you may elect to ask them for a referral, as many vets will know others in various locations.

Once you obtain a selection of vets, plan to make a visit to the vet's office before you make an appointment for your pet--most veterinarians will be happy to talk to you and let you see their facilities. A preliminary office visit can be very revealing. Ask yourself the following questions during your visit.
 

  • Is the veterinarian someone I feel comfortable communicating with?
     
  • Is the staff warm, friendly, courteous?
     
  • Is the veterinary facility clean and pretty much odor-free?
     
  • Do the animals at the facility seem well cared for?
     
  • Are the veterinarian's hours convenient? (Keep in mind many good, well established veterinary clinics may not have extended hours. All clinics should refer emergencies to an emergency clinic after normal office hours.)
     
  • Do the fees seem reasonable?
     
  • Will the veterinarian offer advice over the phone and let me know if my pet needs to be seen or not?
     
  • What types of pets does this clinic service? This is especially important if you have an exotic pet, as many vets do not treat specialty animals.

    If you do not like the answers to the above questions, look for another vet. Following are some other things to look for in a good vet.

    A good vet takes a detailed history and conducts a thorough nose-to-tail exam.
     

  • A veterinary appointment should allow at least 30 minutes (including doctor and technician time) for the initial ""well care"" appointment or sick visit. Less than that and your pet may be getting shortchanged.
     
  • The history should include questions such as: Where did your pet come from? How is the animal cared for at home? How does it fit into the family? Are there other pets at home? What other animals is this pet exposed to? Has the pet had any health problems? What is the purpose of the visit today? The history will vary from vet to vet but should include basic questions about the pet and its environment.
     
  • If the purpose of the visit is to address a health concern, then the vet needs to ask a lot of focused questions. The physical exam may focus around the primary issue but the doctor should continue to examine the entire pet. Be wary of a facility that acts like an acute care clinic for human medicine--just get the patient in and out.
     
  • Every single part of the pet's body, from nose to tail, should be examined. The vet needs to listen to the heart, listen to the lungs, and feel the belly.

    A good vet addresses your pet's bad behavior as aggressively as a belly ache.

    Behavior problems are among the most common reasons a person gives up on a pet and gives it away. A good vet will ask not only how the pet's feeling but how he or she is behaving. A good vet will offer helpful solutions, provide how-to videos, or ask a technician to go over the basics of housebreaking, for example. This is all part of preventive health care. The vet may offer suggestions such as enrolling the pet in a training class or providing handouts on behavioral issues.

    A good vet should conduct appropriate lab tests before prescribing treatment.

    The days of taking a cursory look down your pet's throat and prescribing a course of antibiotics is long gone. Veterinarians are providing many diagnostics tests to pets that historically have not been available however, it remains possible that a vet will evaluate a pet and see signs associated with a bacterial infection for example and prescribe a course of antibiotics without doing extensive tests.

    A good vet delivers a clear explanation along with his or her prescription.

    Your doctor breaks the news: "Your pet has diabetes, and here are the injections you'll need to give her." Your head fills with questions: Why? How? When? What does this mean? A good vet should anticipate those questions and explain as much as he or she can about the disease process. Your vet should explain:
     

    • What the disease is.
       
    • How the animal may have gotten it.
       
    • How the owner can treat the animal.
       
    • Why you have to give the medication regularly.
       
    • Where the nearest emergency clinic is.
       
    • How the disease process will change the owner's life.
       
    • Deliver the treatment regime in writing.

      A good vet telephones to see how your pet is doing.

      Granted not every office visit requires a follow-up phone call. But follow-up is extremely important to a pet getting well. So if your pet is sick or lab tests have been run, someone from the office should call the very next day.

      If your pet is taking medication, this is a good time to ask how you and your pet are doing with the pills. Have you been able to get them into him or her? Do they make your pet sick? If yes, it's time to make adjustments.

      In addition, a good vet returns all non-emergency calls within 24 hours.

      A word about credentials.

      Having a Doctorate of Veterinarian Medicine (D.V.M.) degree from an accredited veterinary school is a prerequisite for practicing veterinary medicine. (Incidentally, veterinarians who've graduated from the University of Pennsylvania are awarded a V.M.D. degree; all other veterinary schools confer a D.V.M. degree. Essentially, these initials represent the same doctorate degree in veterinary medicine, but one is a Greek abbreviation and the other Latin.)

      In addition to the D.V.M., there are a several national accreditation boards that can help tell you if your vet's got what it takes.
       

    • The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) certifies vets with a broad knowledge base who are graduates of accredited veterinary schools, have completed a one-year approved internship program and a two-year approved residency program (or five years of ""excellent experience in practice""), are committed to attending continuing-education programs, and pass a rigorous three-part exam to test their knowledge and ability to recognize, analyze, and solve clinical problems. Re-certification is required every 10 years.
       
    • In addition, there are 19 other boards and colleges approved by The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) that certify veterinarians in various specialties like cardiology, surgery, and dentistry. To become board-certified as a specialist, a veterinarian must have extensive postgraduate training and sufficient experience as well as pass an exam set by the AVMA-approved specialty group. Today, there are over 5,600 board-certified diplomats in practice.
       
    • The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) certifies veterinary hospitals that meet more than 300 individual standards in areas including emergency service, surgery, and nursing care. (For a referral to an AAHA hospital, visit the AAHA Web site at healthypet.com or call (800) 883-6301.)

      Of course, a vet doesn't have to be board-certified to be good, and many excellent veterinary hospitals do not boast AAHA certification. So you may have to use your own judgment and intuition in deciding whether your vet makes the grade. One note: Being a member of the AVMA doesn't confer any special honor on your vet. It just means he's paid his dues -- literally.

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