The general practitioner you’ve been seeing for 15 years suddenly announces his retirement. You panic. Who are you going to rely on when you’re sick? He’s the only one in the world who knows your medical history and the fact that lollipops can, in fact, calm your nerves!
Logically, however, you know there are steps you can take to find another great doctor. Recommendations from friends, trial visits, and online sources that provide information about a potential practitioner’s qualifications and experience level will certainly help you come to a sound decision.
When seeking a new veterinarian, your pet deserves the same considerations. While the task may seem daunting, taking the time to find the right veterinarian will ensure the safety, health, and happiness of your beloved pet for years to come.
Consider the following before you commit to a new veterinary practice:
AAHA accreditation: The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the accrediting body for companion animal hospitals in the U.S. and Canada, regularly evaluates veterinary practices on approximately 900 standards of veterinary excellence, which means they are recognized among the finest in the industry. Use AAHA’s hospital locator to find an accredited practice near you.
Communication: “Understanding what style of communication you prefer and asking what you can expect will help you decide if a veterinarian (or practice) is a good fit for you,” says Rose Barr, DVM, of AAHA-accredited Tender Touch Animal Hospital in Denver, Colo.
One vs. many: Do you prefer to speak with only one person about your pet’s health, or do you prefer a practice that offers several medical experts?
Proximity and hours: How much time do you have for a veterinary visit? Take travel time into account as well as the visit itself. Do you need to get there quickly and then hurry back home or to the office after your visit? Is it easy for you to get there? Does the practice offer evening and weekend hours? Knowing how much time you have to commit to a visit will help you in choosing which practice is best for you.
Services offered: Services play a large role in choosing a veterinary hospital. Does your new practice provide what you need and want? “You will find with AAHA-accredited hospitals, they are able to take X-rays and run in-house laboratory samples that will lead to getting answers faster,” Barr says.
Emergency care: What do you do when there’s a medical emergency and your veterinary office is closed? “Plan ahead!” Barr says. “Many of the 24-hour care facilities are AAHA-accredited. The beauty of these hospitals is that they often have specialists available should the need arise for advanced care.” Be sure to know where the closest emergency care facility is and know how to get there ahead of time.
Remember that even the best research cannot replace an in-person visit. Stop by prospective practices and ask for a tour before you decide.
“You have options,” Barr says. “If you aren’t getting the service you expect, it’s OK to try something new.”
Katie Meyer is an animal advocate who enjoys fostering dogs for PawsCo, a nonprofit rescue in Denver, Colorado.