Have you moved to a new area and struggled to find a vet that you like? Or perhaps you’ve just got your first puppy and don’t know what to look for in a good vet? It can always be tricky finding somebody that you trust with your best friend, but there are some general things to look out for when making the decision.
It sounds obvious, but the first thing to do when narrowing down your vet of choice is to rule out those that don’t treat your pet’s species. Although most vets will see dogs and cats, an internet search will probably bring up equine-only vets and farm-only vets in the mix. And feline-only practices are on the rise too, so check that dogs are allowed before booking them in. If your pet is an ‘exotic’- anything smaller than a rabbit or anything reptilian, amphibian, or avian- it might be best to find a practice that specialises in these species, as many will not stock the equipment necessary to treat all of these.
Closest does not always equal better, but it is worth taking into consideration their location all the same. After all, if you can’t get to them there’s no point taking the relationship any further. Although some people might disagree, it’s best not to routinely use a vet that is more than half an hour away by car in case of emergency. It’s worth considering parking arrangements if this is important to you too, as not all practices will have parking spaces available.
Also consider whether they are a branch practice. Some vet practices will have several small ‘satellite’ branches, but these are often fitted with only very basic equipment, and you might find you have to travel for operations or x-rays- so it’s definitely worth checking this in advance.
A lot of companion animal practices will not run their own emergency service. Although it is a requirement for all practices to provide after-hours services, it is perfectly legal and very common for people to farm their service out to a specialist provider. There are both pros and cons to this.
Seeing a vet you recognise, at a location you are familiar with, can be a blessing and a relief if the worst should happen. However, for most practices this vet will have already worked a full day shift, and sometimes several days and nights in the week. Specialist out-of-hours providers use vets who only work night shifts, meaning they’ll be fresh and ready for whatever is necessary. As well as checking which system a potential vet uses, it is worth checking where the emergency clinic is located, as some practices will farm their out-of-hours to a service some distance away. It might not change which practice you use, but it’s much better to find this information out before it is needed rather than getting a shock.
It is worth considering a practice’s fees whilst looking around, but be sure to keep an open mind. Although some practices may seem expensive on the surface (i.e consultation price or booster price is high) try to compare what you get for that price. Some vets will charge ‘per item’, and although a consultation may seem inexpensive any diagnostic tests or treatments will be extra. Others might charge a slightly higher fee but will sneak in ‘extras’ such as free nail clips. Beware companies that have very cheap vaccinations as they may use these as ‘loss leaders’ to suck in clients, then crank up the price of x-rays or fluids to compensate. If fees are very important to you, I would ask about a consultation fee, the fee for an xray, the fee for a night’s hospitalisation and the fee for anal gland emptying in order to get a good overview of potential costs.
Some practices will offer some sort of ‘VIP’ system. This usually entails paying a monthly direct debit and getting vaccinations, flea prevention, worm treatments and various other bonuses free of charge. Some will do free nail clips and anal gland emptying, and others might offer a discount on medications or food bought in store. These can be a great money saver and are worth asking about.
Some practices have undergone various forms of accreditation so that you can have some assurance that they meet certain standards. The RCVS Practice Standards Scheme is one – it is a voluntary scheme undertaken by over 50% of vet practices in the UK and involves rigorous assessment on all forms of practice life. There are also species-specific accreditation forms. The International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) can accredit practices as ‘Cat Friendly Clinics’ with either gold, silver or bronze status. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) also publishes a ‘rabbit friendly vet list’ and awards either silver or gold accreditation to those that meet certain guidelines.
Last but certainly not least, I would advise visiting a couple of practices. If you have a pet who doesn’t mind travelling, take them with you. Instinct is a powerful thing- for both of you- and if your normally nervous dog takes a treat from a receptionist that might be your decision made for you. If they aren’t busy, ask to have a little look around- most practices will be happy to oblige, at least in the client areas. Get a feel for the condition of the place, the cleanliness, the equipment, and the staff- after all, they’re the ones you’ll be dealing with when you need it most. Are they friendly? Rushed? Comforting? Professional? Interested?
Your vet is going to be very important to you and your pet. You need somebody you can trust when you’re worried, somebody who is going to listen to your fears, and somebody who can understand just what it is your pet is trying to tell them. Your relationship with your vet is a very individual thing- some people will rave about a particular vet, but you might find you just don’t get on there. Don’t worry! The most important thing is to find a vet that suits you- and your pet!