It used to be common to choose a veterinarian based on location, price, and perhaps a friend’s recommendation. But a new way to select a veterinarian is emerging.

This new method starts with pet owners asking questions of themselves. Dr. Kate Knutson, president of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), advises, “As pet owners, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What are my pet’s needs? What are my needs? What are my health care goals?’” Dr. Knutson goes on to note, “There are many kinds of veterinary health care options, ranging from basic vaccination to specialized treatment with a highly skilled, high-touch team.”

It’s critical to select your veterinarian by balancing your values, budget, and health care goals so that your pet will receive the type of care you want for him.

When people become disillusioned with their veterinary care, the upset is often a result of misunderstood expectations. Let’s flip that around: When your expectations are understood and met, everyone wins, and (if you think of your pet as a family member) you can bring a “wow factor” to your life and theirs by choosing a health care team with the expertise necessary to care for them at the level you expect.

Do you want to keep costs low by going to a veterinarian who provides vaccinations and basic care but may use non-certified veterinary technicians who get their training on the job? Or are you able to pay more for a certified health care team and facility that are on par with those of the Mayo Clinic? Both approaches are valid, and you’ll be empowered to make the right decision for you and your pet by knowing the right questions to ask of yourself.

Do you value a “high-touch” veterinary team of credentialed veterinary technicians (CVTs, LVTs, or RVTs) and veterinarians who actively continue their professional education? Do you want to accompany your pet in the operating room and treatment area, as many high-touch facilities allow? Dr. Knutson advises, “If you want to get the best care possible, then it might not be the nearest vet down the street.”

Another question to ask yourself when searching for the right veterinarian: How important to you is good communication? A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association titled “Analysis of solicitation of client concerns in companion animal practice” found that most clients are more satisfied and provide more information when they can give an “opening statement” while the doctor listens. When veterinarians ask open-ended questions—rather than questions that have simple yes or no answers—clients tend to give important clues to the diagnosis. Veterinary hospitals that provide excellent client communication will follow-up with test results, learn a patient’s progress, and discuss options clearly and compassionately.  Are those things you’re looking for in a veterinarian?

Do you prefer a high-touch veterinarian who teaches you how to perform dental care and how to give medication and treatment? How much effort and expense do you want to take on to extend the life of your pet? What does “quality of life” mean to you? Do you prefer a health care team that can lead you through the process of balancing quality of life and length of life with your four-legged family members?

Most high-touch veterinary facilities encourage clients to bring their pets by just to say hello, which reduces stress during medical appointments and improves socialization. Dr. Knutson says that your dogs should be dragging you into their veterinarian’s office and cats should be looking forward to some catnip and a massage.

Not everyone wants a high-touch veterinary relationship. Would you prefer to get in and out of an appointment in the least amount of time? Would you like to just drop your pet off for his or her appointment? Are cost considerations more important than paying for high-touch care? Even if you go to the veterinarian only for vaccinations and consider the rest unnecessary, you can still provide your pet with baseline care to protect her against serious diseases. If this is your approach, focus your priorities on location and cost competitiveness.

Whatever your approach to veterinary care, you’ll find quality care by going to one of more than 3,400 AAHA-accredited veterinary facilities. AAHA-accredited hospitals provide “excellence in veterinary medicine.”

Choosing the perfect veterinarian is one of the most important things we can do for our pets, and finding the right one requires that we ask the right questions of ourselves.


Larry Kay is an award-winning pet writer based in Los Angeles. His popular Facebook page and website celebrate the human-animal bond. Fetch his free eBook of dog care and training checklists at: positivelywoof.com.

Photo credit: iStock images


Comments (1) -

CharUnited States
1/31/2014 5:53:04 PM #

I just wish a list of those providers was given here.  I have a pet who suffers from kidney stones/crystals [now] and pancreatitis.  I am greatful to the vet  for helping her when I moved across country and had to change vet's from where I had lived, but now I feel they do not take her or me seriously.  I wish I could find a vet.  I have called numerous vets and visited several, it's like going to a people doctor.  They worry about payment and getting you in and out. I feel the caring is out.  

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