Choosing the right vet for you and your pet

By Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved

When it comes to choosing a veterinarian for your pet you are also deciding on a professional and a practice that you can feel good about working with. Here's how to make sure the vet you select is the right one for you and your pet:

Ask other like minded pet owners which vets they prefer and which they do not and why. The Animal Humane Society and suggest asking around for recommendations and opinions on local vets. Every vet has a different approach as well as different strengths and weaknesses. Identify what you need in a veterinarian: do they need to treat a variety of companion animals or be a dog or cat specialist? Is being open to and able to practice complimentary medicine important? What size facility do you need small and personable or up to the minute with the latest technology?

Are the offices clean? Is the front office staff helpful or off-putting and intimidating? Establishing a caring relationship for your pet starts with each individual you or your pet interacts with being both respectful and compassionate towards the both of you. offers additional questions on the office and staff: "Do they acknowledge you when you walk in or are you ignored? What is the overall appearance of the clinic? Is it clean? Odor free? What is the attitude of the staff toward the other clients who may be present? How about to those on the other end of the phone line? You can learn a lot by just observing"

Ask for a tour of the entire facility, including the back. has additional tips: "It is also legitimate to request a tour at a time that is mutually convenient. There may be times of the day when a tour is not advisable but your request should be granted at some point". On your tour do pay extra attention to the condition of the areas not normally in public view they should stand up to the same scrutiny the front office does.

Is appropriate time dedicated to each visit? Do technicians and doctors take the time to begin a relationship with you as the authority on your pet before commencing an exam? An initial conversation should be with you, your concerns for your pet and inquiry made into your pets temperament and prior vet experiences. For instance, you should be asked about your pets health concerns, reason for your visit and how your pet should best be handled. Remember, you are the advocate for your animal. Your pet cannot speak-you are their voice.

Is the veterinarian (and the technicians) good listeners and willing to take the time to answer questions? urges vets to utilize the ask-tell-ask technique: "This approach is based on the notion that client education requires identifying what the client already knows and building on that knowledge, it shows that you are willing to listen to and negotiate the clients agenda".

Any professional approaching your animal should first address the pet by name and offer a soft touch before anything else. And if your pet is shy or fearful, handling should always be done with you present in order to offer additional assurance to your animal. Your presence is comforting in a stressful situation. Animals associate most vet visits with intrusive pokes, prods and painful injections from strangers (all in the name of health but still uncomfortable). Keeping surroundings as familiar as possible will also mitigate anxiety for your pet, a worn article of your clothing placed in your pet carrier will help to ease fretfulness. The American Association of Feline Practitioners suggests: "With respectful handling, even fearful cats are often calmer and easier to work with if at least part of the examination is done within the bottom half of the carrier" (the one the cat came to the practice in).

Avoids taking your pet to "the back" -Are you present for routine procedures: vaccines, blood draws, etc., or are these done in the back room? Be extremely wary of the practice keen to whisk your pet away for routine procedures. While this may be easier for personnel working with your pet remember that pets at a veterinary practice are often fearful of procedures and past experiences. Your presence and oversight is necessary for the welfare of your animal. (I have heard from some vets that when an owner is present technicians are often gentler in their handling or "under restrain" the pet they are working with.) A 2017 study found that signs of stress dogs exhibited at the vet office included increased heart rate and lip licking, these signs were reduced significantly when their owners were present, petting and talking to them. In addition to lowering heart rates, owner presence lessened the number of attempts to jump off the exam table. According to the study: "owner—dog interactions improve the well-being of dogs during a veterinary examination."

The American Association of Feline Practitioners further advises vets that performing these procedures in the exam room "can comfort the client and remove the fear of the mysterious “back room.” When you remove the cat from the examination room, your client wonders, “What is being done to poor Fluffy that couldn’t be done here?” This anxiety worsens if they can hear “yowls” from their cat or even sounds from dogs and other cats that are also in the “back.” Always offer to have the client leave the room if they seem uneasy or uncomfortable, as many are happy to do so. It is better for the client to leave the room than to increase the cat’s stress moving them to the “back,” as it can take 10 minutes for a cat to acclimate to a new environment."

You would not send another family member in your care off for a vaccination without your hand to hold or your presence in the room. You have the right to ask these procedures be done in front of you competent, caring professionals will be willing to work with you and your pet. Of course, if you cannot stand the sight of blood or faint at the sight of a needle, please look away and do not act as if the sky is falling because it isn't.

Does the vet explain procedures, medications, vaccinations, etc. and get your permission before commencing treatment? Make sure you are clear on and have agreed to what the plan of care is before it is underway. Vaccinations are always less taxing on your pet when spread over a course of visits and vet costs add up, find out what is a priority and what can wait if your budget is too tight.

If your pet need be hospitalized, does the practice permit visits? The College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University advocates visiting as often as the clinic allows. Make sure the clinic does. Being hospitalized is extremely stressful for your animal visiting will offer the comfort so necessary in supporting your pet during recovery time and healing.

Make sure the vet provides a thorough physical exam: Some vets will skip steps to get to the next patient or because they are fearful of handling an animal. There are nine basic steps for the exam. Know them so you can make sure they are provided:

1)The technician or vet if there is no tech will first take blood pressure, temperature and respiratory rate. The next part of this step is to evaluate the animal's movement in the room or off the table before touching them.

2) Examine eyes, ears, nose and throat. Along with a visual exam of all, this includes opening the pet's mouth to look inside the mouth and along teeth and gums,depressing gums and using an instrument to examine the inside of the ears.

3) Examine the heart and lungs by listening through a stethoscope.

4) Palpate or touch the abdomen. Palpate kidneys, liver, spleen, internal lymph nodes, and intestines.

5) Perform an exam of the muscles and skeleton to check for abnormal walking patterns and deformities. Palpate all joints, and perform an orthopedic examination to check knees and other joints for cracking or swelling.

6) Palpate all lymph nodes.

7) Check the covering of the body- the fur and skin by looking for abnormalities and dehydration (done by tenting or lightly holding the skin together for a second on the upper back).

8) For intact male dogs and older males dogs only: a rectal exam and palpation of animal glands should be performed. Cats should not receive a rectal examination unless they have been x rayed or have ultra sounds showing prostate enlargement.

9) Perform a basic neurologic examination to test how aware the pet is at judging objects in space. Dr. Douglas Mader after discussing how a thorough vet exam is the cornerstone of vet medicine, suggests: "Dropping a cotton ball and watching the patient follow its movement is an excellent way to evaluate vision and tracking."

Not every practice will be a match. Do vote with your feet and make sure a complete set of your pets records go with you. If things are not right, do try and communicate this to your vet. Sometimes differences cannot be resolved but often simple clear communication is key the Humane Society writes: "If you feel that your veterinarian isn't meeting your needs as a client or the needs of your pet as a patient, it may be time to find a new one. But some- times simple misunderstandings cause conflicts, which you and your vet can resolve by talking things out and looking for solutions".

Make sure the vet you choose is able to establish rapport and respect with you. advises vets: A great deal of communication in small animal practice involves providing information, although this does not mean that communication should be largely one-way. As your pets guardian you are the expert on your pet, your careful observation, knowledge and experience of your companion animal should be relied on as valued information from your vet. According to the Humane Society: You're doing more than searching for a medical expert. You're looking for someone to meet your needs and those of your pet, a doctor who has people as well as animal skills"

With time, some groundwork and a bit of luck you are can find the best partner in caring for your pets health.


Csoltova. E., Martineau, M., Boissy, A., Gilbert, C. (2017). Behavioral and physiological reactions in dogs to a veterinary examination: Owner-dog interactions improve canine well-being. Physiology & Behavior, 1(177) 270-281.

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Photo: Christopher Furlong