Choosing A Veterinary Clinic For Your Best Friend
Whether you’re a first-time or long-time pet parent, one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your furry companion is selecting a veterinarian and veterinary clinic. You want a place where both you and your pet can feel comfortable, where you can rest assured that the veterinary team is dedicated to providing quality medical care. After all, your veterinarian will be your pet’s second-best friend.
Choosing a veterinarian takes as much thought as selecting a physician, dentist or real estate agent. Start by thinking about what’s important to you:
- Range of medical services offered
- Friendliness, professionalism and commitment of the veterinary team
- Office hours, including after-hours emergency care
- Payment options
The following list includes several factors to consider when choosing a veterinarian so that your choice is a good fit for you and your four-legged family member.
What medical and non-medical services are offered?
Veterinary practices vary tremendously in terms of the services they offer to clients, depending on where they are located (e.g., city, suburbs, small town or rural area). When evaluating a veterinary clinic, think about or ask these questions:
- What range of medical services does the practice provide: life-stage wellness care, surgery, dentistry, imaging (X-rays and ultrasound), physical therapy? Are bloodwork, electrocardiography (EKG), ultrasonography and other diagnostics performed in-hospital or referred to a specialist?
- How are emergency calls handled during regular office hours and after hours?
- How many veterinarians work in the practice?
- What kinds of pets does the veterinarian see? If you own a bird, pocket pet or other non-traditional pet, will the veterinarian be willing to provide care for that pet? Is the clinic a Cat Friendly Practice®?
- Does the clinic provide educational materials or events for pet owners on a variety of topics?
- Are there non-medical services such as training classes, behavioral consultations, nutrition counseling, boarding or grooming available?
- If necessary, does the veterinarian tap into a network of specialists for referrals?
Does the veterinarian’s schedule work for your schedule?
Hours of operation and the activities that occur during them vary from practice to practice. Some practices may be closed during a weekday but offer weekend appointments. Other practices only schedule surgeries for certain days, while others schedule dental cleanings and surgeries nearly every day. Whether you have an unusual schedule or not, consider asking these questions about the veterinary clinic you’re considering:
- What are the hospital’s regular office hours?
- Can appointments be made through the clinic’s website or are requests for appointments made by email acceptable (assuming that’s your preferred scheduling method)?
- How far in advance does a non-emergency appointment (for a wellness exam and/or vaccinations) need to be scheduled?
- Are appointments required?
- Is after-hours emergency care offered or are emergencies referred to a local emergency clinic?
Do you feel comfortable with members of the veterinary team?
You and your buddy need to feel welcome and comfortable when walking through the front door of a veterinary hospital. Here are several things to consider and/or ask the practice staff:
- How are questions over the phone handled? Are phone calls answered quickly?
- Can you request an appointment with a specific veterinarian?
- Does the veterinary staff — from receptionists to veterinary technicians to veterinary assistants — dress and act professionally?
- Is your pet called by name?
- How comfortable do you feel talking to the doctor and/or the veterinary technician?
- Do veterinary team members, including the veterinarian and technician, take time to listen to your concerns?
- Do team members seem knowledgeable?
- How do the veterinarians and staff members interact with your pet? Do they talk to your pet and try to establish a relationship before starting the exam or other procedures? How comfortable does your pet seem with the veterinarian and other staff members?
Are personal tours offered?
A visit to the veterinary clinic before scheduling an appointment for your pet is a great way to gather information about a particular practice. You’ll want to call ahead so a veterinary team member will be available to answer your questions and provide a tour of the practice. Here are some factors to consider:
- Where is the veterinary practice located in relation to your home or workplace? Is parking convenient?
- Is the hospital clean and orderly?
- Are there any unpleasant odors?
- Can you tour the non-public areas such as the treatment room, kennels, in-hospital laboratory?
- Are dogs and cats housed in separate areas if they need to stay at the clinic?
Do the fees fit within your budget?
Every veterinary hospital has its own fee schedule, unless it’s affiliated with a large practice group such as Banfield Pet Hospital or VCA Animal Hospital, which can make it tough to compare pricing for services. While you shouldn’t base your choice on cost, you do need to select a clinic whose fees fit within your budget. There are a couple of other questions to ask about a clinic’s fees and payment policies:
- If you have or are considering pet insurance, does the practice accept your specific pet insurance plan?
- When is payment expected?
- What payment methods are accepted?
- Are payment plans or financial assistance options available if needed?
- Are there discounts for senior citizens or multiple-pet households?
Choosing the right veterinarian and veterinary hospital for your pet isn’t always simple or easy. But it is important when you consider that you’ll be establishing a partnership — a veterinarian-client-patient relationship — to protect and manage your pet’s health for years to come.
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