- Choose a vet the same way you choose a physician. Ask friends whom they trust and recommend. Look into vets who have a good reputation in the community. Stay away from yelp or google reviews; usually those are filled with people who have some vendetta against a specific practice or person and often it is not warranted.
- Look for AAHA accredited practices. AAHA is the American Animal Hospital Association. This is an association that not only uses research and education to further the practice of veterinary medicine but tries to assure that hospitals are committed to practicing quality medicine. Only about 14% of veterinary hospitals are AAHA accredited. Accreditation requires a rigorous inspection process and certain expectations of quality must be met.
- Don't be fooled by places that advertise low prices or are quick to quote exact prices over the phone. "You get what you pay for" is true for veterinary medicine too. Ask what is included in the cost.
- Be knowledgeable about surgery. All anesthetic procedures (spays, neuters, dental cleanings) should include an IV catheter, IV fluids, and pain medication. There should be someone designated to monitoring your pet under anesthesia at all times. Many practices rely on machines to spit out values and the person performing the procedure to monitor anesthesia. By the time the person notices something is wrong or the machine picks up an abnormal value it is sometimes too late to remedy. People are often nonchalant about spaying and neutering because these surgeries are done everyday, but problems can arise in even the most routine procedures with the most experienced vet.
- Ask questions. A week before your appointment start thinking about questions you would like to ask your veterinarian. Your time with the doctor is important and they should be willing to do more than an exam and vaccines. With lower cost, higher volume practices there is often not enough time scheduled for discussion but this is important to foster your relationship with your veterinarian. If you do not feel your questions were addressed you may want to look elsewhere.
- Look for a focus on preventative medicine. Regular exams and lab work are important, especially in senior and geriatric pets. This saves you money in the long run and can often extend the life of your pet by catching inconsistencies sooner. Ask what you can do to keep your pet healthy at home (ie. feeding, behavior, hygiene, dental care).
- Lastly, be a conscientious consumer. We should all support businesses that we believe in. Is the hospital locally owned or a corporate hospital? Do the employees seem happy and friendly? Does the hospital employ licenced technicians or only assistants with no formal education in the field? Many hospitals do no supply their employees with benefits such as health insurance, continuing education, or retirement plans.
Good luck and happy vet hunting!