|Written by Suzanne Brown
The best way to start is from recommendations from friends. I would try to compile a list of about 5-6 vets if possible. Ask friends, neighbors, co-workers, pet sitters, people who show in obedience or agility. You can also ask breeders who are members of a local kennel club, but be aware of No 9 listed below.
At this point, I would get in my car and drive to each office. Go in and just have a quick look around. If offered a tour, take it!
1-Do the facilities smell clean? You'd be amazed at the vet's offices that just plain stink!
2-Is the non-vet staff knowledgeable and friendly? Do you like the people who answer the phone at the vet's office? No matter how great the vet is, if his front desk people see their job as protecting the vet from having any contact with his clients, you'll never get to speak with your vet or get in when you have a real concern. These are the people you will first reach when you have a problem and they should be knowledgeable enough to give you advice and information and to also be able to identify the immediacy of your need for veterinary services. Most of these jobs are not highly paid and there are some really dumb people working in these offices. The best offices have people who may well work there for a discount on their own veterinary services and have chosen their employer very carefully.
3-If he passes these first 2 tests, then ask when you might talk to him at length? Can you make an apt to just talk (he may just tell you that he'll call you when he has some free time). It is preferable to talk in person, and when you do, take one animal with you but not to be seen, just so you can see how the vet interacts with your dog or cat. Make it clear to the receptionist that you expect to pay for an office visit, but that you are interviewing vets in hopes of finding a new one and would like the opportunity to talk with the vet. Tell the vet that you're looking for a "partner" to best provide for your dog's health care Tell him you know he knows more about veterinary medicine than you do, but that you may have breed-specific knowledge that he doesn't and ask him how he feels about this "shared responsibility" for your dog's health. Talk to him about MVD in Cavaliers. Ask what he knows about it. If he knows little, tell him that the CKCSC and the breed clubs in the UK and Sweden are involved in on going research about this problem and have written various reports and protocols. If he appears interested and requests any written info you might be able to provide him with, this is a VERY good sign. If he doesn't seem interested, move on to the next candidate. If you're still talking, then continue with the following questions.
4- Does this office have a large bird practice? Birds are among the most difficult animals to anesthetize. If your vet is good enough to anesthetize birds, he'll do a great job on your dog. They really have to know their stuff to do this. Does the vet use isoflurene as anesthesia exclusively (not at a different price)? Unless a vet is doing a great deal of orthopedic surgery where other anesthesia may be preferred, he should be only using isoflurene as it is the safest.
5- Can you make an appointment with a specific vet or must you take whomever is free? How many days a week does the vet you are considering work? Weekend? Nights? After hours emergencies? Convenience and accessibility may not be a “deal-killer”, but they certainly are nice.
6- Will they allow you to go in the "back room" with them when they do simple procedures such as removing dew claws, heart x-rays, etc? Are they willing to do simple procedures in the examining room, or are all dogs taken to the back? Your dog will usually be happier if you are there to reassure him, and YOU will be happier if you are there to be sure what treatment/shots your dog is being given.
7-What continuing education does the vet participate in? Does he go to local workshops? Does he go back to vet school for short courses? What are his special areas of interest? What did he do his senior thesis on in veterinary school? Ask him - you'll learn a lot.
8-Does he make use of the resources available to vets on the Internet? My vet says that it's like having a vet school library right in your office.
9-Does he have lots of breeders in his practice? If he does, this is NOT necessarily a good sign! My vet has told me that he really prefers not to have breeders as clients as they spend a great deal of time asking him to jeopardize his veterinary license by asking for "blank" signed health certificates, switching x-rays of hips to send to the OFA,
and just about anything else that is unethical and illegal that you could imagine.
10- Does he seem to genuinely LOVE animals? Does he pet, calm, and talk to your animal? How does your animal respond to him? I've always been very impressed how even the most skittish cats have been very relaxed in my vet's presence. Animals live by their instincts - THEY know whom to trust!
11- Who owns this practice? More and more small privately owned veterinary practices are being bought up by large companies. While a vet who owns his own practice certainly expects to make a profit, the large companies really aren’t particularly concerned with HOW they make that profit, and the individual client means nothing to them. Vets in practices owned by large companies come and go - the one you liked last month may no longer be there. A young to middle-aged vet who owns his own practice is not likely to disappear tomorrow. While an older vet may have years of experience and wisdom, he may sell his practice to one of these companies when he is ready to retire.
12-In the end, trust your OWN instincts! If you just don't feel comfortable or if you end up feeling like you're a bother or that you're stupid, find another vet. Remember, good chemistry between you and your vet is an invaluable benefit for your Cavalier. You must have a rapport with your vet and there must be mutual respect. If you say that "Fluffy" just doesn't "look right" he must respect this and try to find out what is wrong and not just blow you off. He must respect the fact that you know your animals better than anyone. I like a vet who is very bright, well-spoken, and with a good (and often irreverent) sense of humor.
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