Exercise as much care as you would with your family doctor…
By Stacy E. Smith
Life is full of choices. Some are simple, some not so much. Some choices are inconsequential – merely a matter of personal preference. But some, like the choice of a dentist, a physician, or a veterinarian, can be crucial to your family’s health and well-being.
Veterinarians are medical doctors for animals and should be chosen with as much care as a family practitioner or specialist. Fortunately, there are many good veterinarians to choose from, so there is no reason not to provide a pet with top-notch care.
Some veterinarians are equivalent to general practitioners in human medicine: they may limit their practices to dogs and cats but cover a broad range of services, including annual physicals, vaccinations, diagnosis and treatment of many illnesses and disorders, and do x-rays, some surgeries, and in-house diagnostic tests. Some small animal clinicians continue their education in areas of special interest to sharpen their knowledge and skills in orthopedics, reproductive work, skin diseases, behavior, etc. These vets may or may not seek certification as specialists but nonetheless use their expanded knowledge to help clients and their pets.
The number of certified specialists with practices is relatively small, and pet owners may even have to travel out of town to find a specialist if one is needed. Luckily, our area (the Kansas City Metro) is home to more specialists than some larger cities. In some cases, veterinary practices that don’t have full time specialists will provide office space to traveling vets who spend a day or two a week seeing appointments in two or three different areas in an effort to bring the specialists to the patients. Thus the clinic may have appointments for orthopedic patients on Thursdays, dental patients on Mondays and Wednesdays, behavior consultations on Tuesdays, and allergy patients on Fridays, for example.
Veterinarians are as individual as the rest of us. There are those who have an easy bedside manner and those who are brusque; those who explain every detail about your pet’s illness or condition and those who don’t; those who calm your fears or grieve with you and those who brush off your concerns or seem indifferent to the loss of a pet. There are some who won’t work with certain breeds, and some who refuse to do certain procedures such as ear cropping, tail docking or de-clawing. Some veterinarians are higher-priced than others. Some have limited office hours and others provide 24-hour service. Some are part of multi-doctor practices and some run one-man clinics. Some are excellent all-round diagnosticians; others are especially well-versed in parasitic diseases or orthopedic problems; and still others are well-versed in puppy problems or autoimmune diseases.
If you are new in town, have acquired your first pet, or are simply looking for a vet closer to home, contact a few clinics and ask questions. Don’t hesitate to ask about prices: if money is a problem, price may be a major consideration – find out what you’ll get for the money. For example, a less expensive spay surgery may not have the same preparation, anesthesia, monitoring equipment and aftercare, as a more expensive one.
You should also be aware that in many cases it may be a veterinary technician that does many procedures from preparing your pet for surgery to drawing blood for heartworm tests, so it is important that they are adept at handling dogs and putting them at ease and that they work well with you. Some clinics will keep good veterinary technicians for years, while others have a high turnover rate.
Don’t forget to ask about emergency care for those times when Fluffy begins to vomit blood a half-hour after the clinic closes for the day. Some veterinarians handle emergencies themselves; essentially placing themselves “on call” just like human physicians. Others will refer you to a nearby emergency clinic and some even have a strong preference when it comes to emergency facilities. Once you find out how your veterinarian handles patients for emergency care, it’s a good idea to have the appropriate telephone numbers handy or even make a dry run to the emergency facility so you’ll know where it is when you need it.
Make sure to set up a regular program of preventive care for your pet(s) so the veterinarian will be familiar with your pet when he/she is well and have a history of records refer back to and make comparisons if necessary. If you hop from one clinic to another, skip vaccinations, or forget to tell the doctor about the medication prescribed by another doctor, a new veterinarian treating your pet for an injury or illness will be at a disadvantage and the animal may suffer. Additionally, if there are several veterinarians within a single practice try and make sure every vet in the practice has met your pet at least once so that both your pet and the veterinarian will know what to expect. Be prepared, though; some animals may take a dislike to a particular vet for no discernible reason. In that case, make sure your appointments are with a vet who can put your pet at ease.
There are a lot of veterinarians out there and that means you are in the enviable position of having choices when it comes to veterinary care. In the end it is up to you to find a veterinarian who meets both your pet’s health needs as well as your needs as a pet owner.
If you are looking for a vet, please be sure to visit the Vet Offices/ Hospitals section of the Yellow Lab Pages on our website. There you can find veterinary offices listed by state and by city.