By Teresa K. Traverse
Your veterinarian plays an important role in your pet’s life, from improving his overall health to ensuring his well-being. Whether it’s a routine checkup or a medical emergency, you always want your cat or dog in qualified, caring hands.
If you or your pet no longer feel comfortable with your veterinarian, it may be time for a change. Switching doctors can seem daunting, but with these useful and trusted tips, you’ll find the right vet for your pet in no time.
Making the Decision to Leave Your Veterinarian
According to Dr. Heather Loenser of Bridgewater Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey, common reasons why pet parents leave their vets include lack of communication, inadequate care, poor customer service, high costs, and disagreements over medical treatment plans or vaccination schedules.
In some cases, you may be able to mend the veterinarian-client relationship. “I would try, as best you can, to rectify the situation and have a heart to heart with them,” Loenser says. “There are circumstances where that's not always possible, but that's a great place to start.”
Pet parents may also decide it’s time to find a new vet when their pet is diagnosed with a serious health condition. Kenny Lamberti, vice president of companion animals for The Humane Society of the United States, says that if you’re not seeing improvement in your pet’s health or care, it may be time to seek out a second opinion.
Many clients also choose to leave if they don’t have a strong personal connection to their vet, Lamberti adds. “It's really all about comfort,” he says. “You and your pet's comfort with your veterinarian.”
Looking for a New Veterinarian
Now that you’ve decided to part ways with your current vet, it’s time to assess what you want and need out of your next vet.
“Really think about what it is you're looking for in a veterinarian and why was it that you didn't click with [your last one],” says Loenser, who is also veterinary advisor of professional and public affairs for the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).
Lamberti says that research is key in prioritizing requirements you have for your pet’s care.
“Know what you're looking for first, and scope things out before you bring your pet,” Lamberti says. “That will minimize the likelihood of you having a bad experience.”
After you’ve outlined your priorities, Loenser recommends finding a hospital or clinic that is accredited by AAHA to ensure the practice meets the highest level of standards when it comes to important factors like quality care and cleanliness of facilities.
Other pet parents in your community can also be a valuable resource in your search for a new veterinarian. By asking your neighbors, friends, coworkers, or family members about the veterinarian they use, you can gain insight and trusted personal recommendations.
While online reviews can also help guide the decision-making process, keep in mind that your wants and needs may differ from other pet parents.
Keeping a Checklist
Throughout your search, both Lamberti and Loenser recommend keeping a checklist on hand to help prioritize what’s important to you and your pet. Here are some questions to consider:
- Is the practice located nearby?
- Does it have emergency hours or an emergency number to call?
- Does it offer evening and weekend hours?
- Does it accept veterinary insurance or offer payment plan options?
- Is there a behaviorist on staff?
- Are there separate waiting rooms for dogs and cats?
- Do they give written discharge instructions after a procedure?
- Is it AAHA accredited?
- Are its vet technicians credentialed?
- How many vets are on staff?
- What’s the best way to communicate with the veterinarian: phone, email, or text?
- Is anyone on staff fear-free certified? (The fear-free certification program trains vets to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in pets.)
- If my pet has to be hospitalized overnight, who will stay with him?
Taking a Tour
Before making an appointment, try to arrange an in-person site visit to get a feel for the staff and the overall environment.
You should be as observant as possible in your initial visit. Loenser suggests leading with your nose when you walk in the door. The clinic should smell clean, she says.
Red flags to watch out for include outdated or broken medical equipment, as well as an unclean facility, Loenser says. Other factors you should pay attention to include how the staff interacts with the animals, especially pets who seem anxious. If there’s a kennel, the crates should look comfortable and be lined with clean towels and blankets.
It’s also worth noting whether the reception staff is smiling when greeting you or paying attention to you and your pet when they’re available. “A veterinary hospital should be really excited about meeting you, and should want to give you a tour,” Loenser says. “That should be something that they're totally on board with.”
You’ll also want to take the size of the practice into consideration during your visit. For instance, a larger practice might not be able to provide you with the same type of customer service as a smaller practice would.
After you’ve taken these tours, take stock of everything you’ve seen and experienced. Choose the practice you feel most comfortable with that also checks the most boxes on your list.
Choosing Your New Vet
After you’ve done your research, ticked off all the boxes on your checklist, and taken tours of different practices, it’s time to choose your new vet. Before scheduling your pet’s first appointment, have his records transferred from your previous practice. This includes your pet’s vaccine history, doctor’s notes, and lab work.
Pet parents should be upfront with their new vet about expectations for their pet’s care, Loenser advises. “It really shifts the way that I manage your pet,” she says.
While this is a major decision for any pet parent to make, feel confident in knowing you’ve taken all the right steps to find the proper care for your cat or dog. Above all, try not to let your past dictate your future.
“Don't let your previous experience with a veterinarian keep you from seeking the preventative care your pet needs,” Loenser says. “Your pet can get the care that you want them to get.”