Finding a Good Veterinarian
By Faith Maloney, Best Friends co-founder
Virginia and Paul found a stray cat outside their apartment building in Los Angeles. Neither of the two were cat people. In fact they had been talking about adding a dog to the household since both had grown up with dogs and felt comfortable with them. This cat was a whole new universe.
She was a poor little thing and needed immediate medical attention. Virginia took her to the closest vet in their neighborhood. She had always held veterinarians in high regard since the vet she had known growing up had been a saint. Without a second thought, she allowed the veterinarian to do whatever he felt was needed for the cat they named Casey.
But all was not well with Casey. She developed a variety of strange symptoms that seemed completely mysterious to the young couple. During that first year, Casey seemed to spend more time at the vet than at home. They were getting very stressed and hated having to take Casey into the clinic to get poked and squeezed and left in stainless steel cages.
Ten thousand dollars later, and feeling like monsters for all of the procedures they had put Casey through, they realized they had not chosen a good veterinarian. As soon as they transferred to another vet, all of Casey’s symptoms cleared up and her only visits to the vet office from then on were for routine checkups.
This story illustrates a dangerous juxtaposition: two poorly informed new cat people and an unscrupulous veterinarian. Vets are people, too. Sure, they have gone to school for many years, received a degree, and have been granted a license to practice, but they can still be prone to the foibles of human nature. It did not surprise Paul and Virginia to learn later that the vet they had trusted with their beloved Casey had been a cocaine addict and was subsequently stripped of his license.
Thank goodness these kinds of stories are the exception, but they stand as a warning for all of us to be as careful in choosing a veterinarian as we would be in choosing a pediatrician for our children. And it speaks volumes about the need to educate ourselves about our pets so that we can take an active part in their care and not always be at a disadvantage when we talk with our veterinarian. There are many resources available to us via books and through the Internet to make us informed partners with our vets.
Experience helps, too. Virginia and Paul know all about vomiting cats and hairballs now, along with a whole load of other things that cats do. They know when a symptom is serious and needs immediate medical attention, or when it can wait until the morning. They have found a vet they adore and trust, and she is working closely with them to keep Casey and their now-quite-large feline family well and happy.
Learn to trust your instincts. Virginia and Paul ignored that niggly feeling that something was wrong with that first veterinarian. He was the doctor, and they were lowly ignorant people. Trust your inner voice and feelings to tell you if someone is the right person for you and your pets.
Here are some guidelines on selecting a veterinarian:
Concern for the animal. A friend of mine in Chicago told me that she chose her vet because he always greeted her dog first when she went to his office. Simple though that is, it meant a lot to her that he did that. But don’t be taken in simply by a good bedside manner if your instincts tell you that something is not right. Will your vet’s advice always center on the well-being of the animal?
Willingness to listen, to answer questions, and to communicate easily. As someone who is new to taking care of a pet, you want to feel able to ask your vet anything and have her give you just the right amount of information to help you do your job.
Kindness and patience. If you are a new mom or dad to an animal, you are going to need to know the basics. Your vet should be able to walk you through these without making you feel like an idiot.
Professional skills. Does your vet keep up with the latest developments in the veterinary field that will help your animal?
Accessibility. Will she be available, especially in a crisis?
Generous nature. Are you just a money machine for your vet’s office? You want to feel as if they are taking into account your costs, especially if you are in rescue work and are bringing in a lot of animals.
Love of animals. Surprisingly, many people choose to become vets not because they love animals, but simply as a way of making a living. Does your vet have animals at home? Is he warm and comfortable around your animals when you bring them to the clinic?
Referral from a friend. This can be a good way to find a good vet, but remember, just because the referral came from a friend does not mean that friend has done his research. Again, if something does not feel right, find a vet on your own.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will help you to pinpoint the right person for you and for your animal. Our animals give us so much that the least we can do for them is to find the best doctor around.