How To Choose The Right Vet

Beach Metro News

By Dr. Nigel Skinner • September 20, 2011 • Print This Article
THE RELATIONSHIP a pet owner has with their veterinarian is extremely important and in many cases can last for decades. It was only after recently reading an article on choosing a pediatrician that it occurred to me that I had not really seen a lot of information out there for pet owners on how they might best be able to find the vet that’s right for them.

Of course for different people there will exist different criteria for choosing a vet, or the same factors may be weighted differently for different individuals. Probably the three biggest factors that influence people in choosing to initially visit one clinic over another would be recommendations from friends, convenience and cost. These things will be assigned different weight by different individuals but at some level they play a part in everyone’s decision making process.

The opinion of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO), our professional governing body, is that a person’s choice of veterinarian should not be unduly influenced by cost. The rationale being that the relationship should be established based on a pet owners trust in their vet and belief in the quality of their care.

For this reason vets in Ontario are not allowed to advertise their prices and are restricted in areas such as offering specials and discounts. It is especially forbidden for a vet to engage in a practice known as ‘steering’. Steering is basically any system where it is stated or implied that an individual must for whatever reason seek veterinary care at a specific location. The classic example would be a breeder or pet store telling a new owner that they had to take their new puppy or kitten to a specific clinic to satisfy their warranty or breeders agree- ment.

For the same reason people, who are forced to seek care at an after-hours clinic because their regular vet is closed, must be made aware that, as soon as it is practical for the patient given their condition, care of that patient should be transferred back to their regular veterinarian.

Basically the CVO’s position is that your choice of vet should be based entirely on the quality of your relationship with that vet and their team, your trust in them and your belief that they are providing you with the best care you can get, and should not be influenced by any other factors.

Certainly with that in mind, there are a few things a pet owner can consider when looking for the vet that’s right for them. Likely your best place to start is by asking your friends and neighbours about their experiences. Once you have narrowed your list and considered how you will be trans- porting your pet to the vet and factored in their location and its convenience, give them a call.

You will learn a lot initially just talking to the receptionist. Remember you’re looking for a place where you feel completely comfortable, not just with the veterinarian, but with their entire team. Everyone at your clinic will in some way be involved in the care of you and your pet, so it’s important that you feel that they are all on the same page.

The majority of clinics are not open 24 hours but all will have an association with a clinic that operates when they are closed. Remember that almost all of your vet visits will be planned and scheduled, but undoubtedly there will be times when this is not the case and when those incidents arise, remember you will always be able to see the emergency team your vet recommends.

If possible try to arrange a time to meet with the vet and his or her team and have a tour of the clinic. A veterinary clinic can at times be a little chaotic behind the scenes, but look for order and cleanliness in the chaos; it shouldn’t be hard to see.

Discuss your specific pets’ needs and enquire about any peculiarities or special considerations with your breed. Use your instincts, because ultimately the relation- ship you have with your vet will be based greatly on trust.

I often tell my staff that we can give the best advice in the world, but if the owner walks out the door confused or doubting what we say, it may as well have been the worst advice. While I mentioned that we are not permitted to advertise our prices and that the CVO’s position is that cost should not be the primary factor in choosing your vet, in the real world, particularly in these times, it will be a consideration. Don’t be afraid to ask the vet during your visit or the receptionist during your call about costs. We are allowed to give prices when specifically asked.

Always remember when asking about prices to ask the specifics of what a price includes. If an appointment is X dollars, how long is the appointment? If a surgery is a certain amount, what is included in that fee and what will be extra. This is where many clients phoning around can be misled. Ask for the cost of spaying a dog and the answers you get will range tremendously from one clinic to the next, but once you get the details, you may be surprised. If an over the phone quote doesn’t include pre-surgical blood testing, intravenous fluids and pain medication, then you may be a little shocked when you get the bill at the end that does.

Also keep in mind that we veterinarians know which prices people typically ask about and which they don’t. As well as ask- ing how much a regular appointment is, or how much a neuter is, ask how much a fecal test is, or how much a routine blood screen test is for a healthy senior pet. Then ask for a description of what is included in those tests, what is looked for and where are the tests run. Don’t be surprised if you have to await a call back from the vet to discuss the details, they should be more than willing, and it will be worth it.

Above all, if you find yourself at a vet clin- ic because you thought they would be your best or only choice and you feel any doubt at all about the advice you’re getting, or if you feel that procedures or tests are being forced on you, if you’re not given options when you think options exist or you are made to feel guilty, speak up. If you don’t like what you hear then, it may not be the vet clinic for you.