Choosing a Vet

The best time to choose a vet is before you actually need one. Even better, meet with a vet before getting a new pet – they can recommend certain animals or even breeds that might best match your lifestyle.

Here are some tips from vets and pet owners on how to find the right veterinarian and get the most out of your next vet visit:

WHN Expert TIP: Know Your Pet

Familiarize yourself fully with the type of dog or cat breed you are interested in. Check to see if your lifestyle fits with the breed’s characteristics. Check to see if the breed you are interested in purchasing is prone to certain types of genetic diseases or chronic medical conditions.
– Barbara R. Gores, DVM, Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson

Getting Started

  1. Start a list to track your research.
  2. Evaluate your pet’s health needs and your options.
    • What hours/days are you free for appointments?
    • Consider your budget. What can you afford to spend on vet services?
    • Have pet insurance? Call your insurance company’s helpline for a vet recommendation.
  3. Have you rescued a dog or cat? Ask the humane society or pet rescue organization if they have vets who volunteer for them. This would mean the vets are familiar with where your animal came from.
  4. Ask family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers for recommendations. Also ask breeders, animal clubs, your current vet (if relocating) or local animal shelter. You can also look in local and online directories.
  5. If you're moving to a new area or home, ask your current veterinarian or pet insurance provider for recommendations in that area. Remember to ask to transfer your pet’s medical records once you have chosen a new vet.

WHN TIP: Don’t Wait

Get your pet started early on vet appointments so they grow up familiar with the vet’s office. Make it a friendly, fun time!

WHN Expert Tip: Look for Certified Practices

One way to narrow down your choices is to look for services that are certified by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) their standards are very high. If they’re certified, you know you’re starting off with a good practice.
– Dr. Louise Murray, Dir. of Medicine at ASPCA and author of Vet Confidential

WHN TIP: Too Much Money?

If you think you might or are having trouble affording veterinarian care, there are some options.
  • The Humane Society states that national clubs for certain breeds may have a veterinary financial assistance fund.
  • You can also submit an assistance request to the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) Helping Pets Fund. Ask your vet about AAHA options.
  • Shelters might know of or offer subsidized veterinary services.

Practice Basics

Call the offices and visit the web sites of the doctors and clinics you are considering. Here is a “starter list” of questions to help you narrow down your choices.
  1. Where is the practice located?
  2. Will it be easy for you to get there?
  3. Are they open at times that are convenient for you?
  4. On what days, dates and/or holidays is the office open or closed?
  5. Who is the contact after-hours or in an emergency?
  6. What are the fees for the various services?
  7. Does the office accept your pet insurance plan? [link to pet insurance article]
  8. What percentage of your clients own cats? Own dogs? Other animals?
  9. What is the range of medical services that the practice provides?
  10. How many people are in the office?
  11. What is the breakdown of vets to vet techs?
  12. Do they offer rabies tags, ID tattoos and/or microchips? How much do those cost?
  13. Are there non-medical services such as boarding, grooming, and training classes?

WHN Expert Tip: After-Hours Care

Choose a practice with 24-hour monitoring service not a practice that leaves animals alone over night. If they don’t have that service, choose a practice that refers when necessary if your pet needs a different type of care such as intensive care, advanced surgery, or a specialist
– Dr. Louise Murray, Dir. of Medicine at ASPCA and author of Vet Confidential

Vet Questions

  1. How many vets specialize and have background with your pet?
  2. Does the vet have experience with your pet’s potential medical problems?
  3. Is the vet accepting new clients?
  4. How soon are appointments available?
  5. How many of the doctors members of a professional veterinary association such as the American Veterinary Medical Association or a state or local veterinary association? Is the vet who would see my pet licensed and which association do they belong to?
  6. What medical school and residency programs did the vet(s) attend?
  7. How many years of experience do they have?
  8. If necessary, does the veterinarian have a network of specialists for referrals?
  9. During what hours and under what circumstances can you speak directly with the doctor?
  10. What kind of animals does the vet own?
  11. Who should you contact in the event of an emergency?
  12. Who should you contact after office hours?
  13. Is there an emergency facility in your area if your services are unavailable?
  14. Once you have narrowed your choices, be sure to check out the vet’s web site (if they have one.) Often vets have extensive listings of credentials, schooling, types of expertise, on-site capabilities and the talk about their own animals.

Visiting Vet Offices

Let’s face it: as pet owners we often need to see the vet’s offices before we bring our pets.
  1. Make an appointment to meet with the vet and check out the facility. You may want to visit several practices before making a final selection.
  2. Once you’re there, can you see a copy of the vet’s license or other certification in the office or exam room?
  3. Remember to look around the facility. Ask if you can take a tour.
    • Is the building environment clean and orderly?
    • Are there any unpleasant odors?
    • Are animal cages in separate areas?

    After you’ve decided on a vet, remember to contact your previous vet’s office and ask for your records to be transferred. You may have to sign paperwork and wait a few weeks before the records arrive at the new practice.

Before the Visit

You’ve chosen your vet! Before your appointment…

  1. Bring along:
    • Adoption papers
    • Medical history
    • Registration papers
    • Vaccination history

    WHN Expert Tip: Your Pet’s Medical History

    Bring a current list of your pet’s medical problems and treatments. If you’re bringing in a pup or kitten for its first visit, your breeder or pet’s foster parent will have this for you. Include past illness, surgeries and allergies. Is your pet neutered/spayed? Has your pet bitten anyone before? Has your pet had its rabies vaccination? When? Bring your most current rabies vaccination history and the dog tag or number associated with the current rabies vaccination.
    – Barbara R. Gores, DVM, Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson
  2. Bring your pet’s leash, collar and any other items the vet requests.

    WHN Expert Tip: Write It All Down

    Vets are limited in time, just like a doctor’s appointment. The more efficient you can be, the more you’ll get for your pet. Make a list of questions ahead of time and write everything down.
    – Dr. Louise Murray, Dir. of Medicine at ASPCA and author of Vet Confidential
  3. Prepare lists of questions, health conditions and symptoms your pet might have including:
    • Allergies, allergic reactions to medications/treatments
    • Basic eating, bathroom and play behaviors
    • Changes in behavioral and other habits (excessive licking, nipping)
    • Limping
    • Lumps
    • Medication needs
    • Skin irritations
    • Sore joints
    • Scratching
    • Special care needs
  4. Be there early.
    If you have a dog and if you have time beforehand, take the dog for a walk so it can be more relaxed during the appointment.

At the Vet’s

Take notes and record any medications or treatment options and details mentioned at the visit.
  1. Share your prepared list of your pet’s health concerns or symptoms.
  2. Mention if your pet is sensitive to touch in any areas (face, paws, belly, tail, etc.) or if they’re likely to snap or growl. This will help the vet to know how to approach your pet.
  3. Be sure to go over your ownership history with the doctor
    • (e.g. I got Fluffy from a shelter in Chicago when she was 4; I bought Fido from a breeder in Georgia when he was 5 months old)
    • Include ages, geographical locations and any other important information about the pet’s medical history and past conditions.

    WHN Expert Tip: Geography Lesson

    Tell your vet where you got your pet. There are all kinds of bacteria and infections in other countries and other parts of the country. Unless your vet realizes that the pet grew up in a different area from where you are now, they might not even consider certain diseases
    - Dr. Louise Murray, Dir. of Medicine at ASPCA and author of Vet Confidential
  4. Mention what you feed your pet.
    “Sometimes people say things that the vet wants to hear,” says Dr. Murray. “Tell exactly what you feed the pet and what he really really eats.” Don’t forget to mention any supplements and medications you feed your pet.
  5. When the vet offers treatment suggestions, take notes and ask how it will help your pet.

    WHN Expert Tip: Don’t Cut Costs

    Some people might think that vets are trying to make a fast buck but really we’re trying to save the pet down the line – a $15 vaccine now can prevent a $2,000 surgery later. We’re just trying to have your pets interest and your wallet’s interest in mind.
    – Dr. Louise Murray, Dir. of Medicine at ASPCA and author of Vet Confidential

After The Visit

After you leave and you have forgotten to ask your vet or staff something, don't be afraid to contact your vet 's office and get your question answered.

Ask yourself these questions after the appointment.

  1. Was the staff helpful, courteous and knowledgeable?
  2. Did the vet take notes and ask about your pet’s symptoms, medical history and current medications?
  3. Did the vet listen to your questions and answer them in a way that you understood?
  4. Was the vet respectful and considerate?
  5. Did the vet seem rushed or was the vet attentive and willing to spend time with you?
  6. Would you prefer this vet to be the primary vet for all your pets or should I select different vets for each pet?
  7. Trust your own reactions when deciding whether this is the vet for your pet.

Give the relationship time to develop – it takes more than one visit for you and your vet to get to know each other.

Your Pet’s Health

  1. Take care of your pet and track your pet’s progress.
  2. Watch out for any worsening symptoms, side effects to medications or any allergic reactions. Call the vet immediately with any questions or concerns about your pet’s health.
  3. Follow with treatment recommendations, so your sick pet can get well. Give all medications completely, as prescribed.
Remember ...

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. These tips are from veterinarians, vet techs and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a vet or appropriate professional you trust before making any health care-related decisions.

Thank you ...

A special thank you to the industry professionals, vets, pet owners and families who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.

Last Updated: 5/2009