Friday, January 20, 2017

ISO New Vet. How To Find A Vet To Fit You, AND, Your Pets Needs.

At the advice of my friend who has been a member of my little community for decades I joined an online social network designed to act as the community message board for almost everything imaginable. It has been a lifesaver for the wayward lost pet, traveling salesman warnings,  and garage sale announcements. It is a neighborly way to share information relevant to our zip code. It also builds a sense of community as we all look out for each other.

 The other day an "ISO Vet" post appeared. I have furtively been watching the responses fly in. Most are the predictable; "I love my vet at XXX. Been going there for years!" As a practice owner for about a dozen years the recommendations overwhelmingly reflect the long standing small practices, and well established vets, in my county.

Titan and his best friend

What I am finding somewhat perplexing is the lack of important details that I think picking a new vet should include.

I sat down with the some of the clinic staff to hear their thoughts on what makes a good vet or vet clinic? I also wondered if their selling pitch points for our little practice aligned with my own? It was a discussion that reflected previous practice experiences, and the poor understanding most clients have when it comes to making consumer choices within the veterinary sphere. Certainly most of us prefer to stay within a drive-able convenient distance from our vet.

Are you simply about location? Perhaps there is only one vet in town? If so, the decision is easy and the post on community message board irrelevant.

But what else matters?

There must be more to picking a vet, and vet practice than "likability" and "proximity"?

Chubby gets a radiograph
What I found lacking in the post was any indication of what picking "your ideal vet/vet practice" should include? Like every piece of advice I give a client this is a long term relationship best built on understanding who you, and your pet are, and what is important to you both.

Think about what part of your pets care is most important to you?

Spend a few moments jotting these down and thinking about;
1. What were some of the things you loved about your previous vets?
2. What were some of the things you thought needed improvement?

These are a good place to start as you head off to find a replacement.

Jax and his family
Here are the tips I would give you when looking for a new vet practice;

  • How many days of the week are they open? 
  • Can you get a same day appointment for something you are worried about/aren't sure is an emergency? 
  • Can you see a particular veterinarian at your request? 
  • Do all same day requests/emergencies get sent to the ER? Ex. my pet is vomiting or having diarrhea now!.
  • Do they publish prices for their goods or services? 
  • Do they provide generic drug requests? Are generics only provided by request? Many clinics do not allow you any prescription options and this will almost always cost you more money.
  • Do they provide written vaccine or preventative guarantees? Do you know these exist?
  • Do they provide day care?
  • Do they provide boarding? 
  • Do they provide grooming?
  • What if you have a sick or elderly pet and you need help boarding? Ex. a diabetic dog? 
  • How much do the "routine" surgeries cost? Ex. spay/neuter/mass removal, dental.
  • What if your pet needs an emergency surgery? Ex GDV, pyometra, blocked cat, foreign body blockage? Which surgeries do they provide in the hospital and which do they refer? 
  • How much do the emergencies, or emergency surgeries cost? If you have a dog ask about exploratory surgeries or a cranial cruciate injury. If you have a cat ask about urinary obstruction?
  • What happens if you cannot afford to pay for an emergency up front? Do they have any third party billing options? You need to know this before your dog has an obstruction or needs emergency surgery (you really, really, do if you don't have access to $1,000 to $5,000 immediately).
  • Ask your veterinarian about which surgeon in the clinic does the emergency surgeries. In many clinics there may only be one vet, or even in some cases, no one, who can provide in clinic surgery care.
  • What happens if you need your vets help after hours?
  • What community based activities do they participate in?
  • Do they have any assistance for any behavioral issues? Most people need some help at some point with this and I believe that every vet clinic should provide help and direction before a little behavioral issue becomes a source for surrender or euthanasia.
  • Do they work with any local rescues or shelters? 

Mumford, One of the rescues we helped find a happily ever after

Here are some specific patient care points to ask about;
  • What vaccines are recommended for your pet? Your pets care should be tailored to their breed, age, lifestyle, environment.
  • How much do these cost? A written estimate and schedule for the vaccines should be provided upon request.
  • What parasite preventatives are recommended? Cost? Are there other options available outside the clinic? Ex. Where I live dogs should be on flea/tick prevention and heartworm preventatives year around. Prices for these can range from $4 a month to $18 a month.
  • Price to spay/neuter? There should not be a single cost for every size, age and breed. If so, ask how this is possible? Who does this surgery and how is it done? Ask for a written protocol, or interview the vet as to how they perform these surgeries. Find the AAHA Surgery Standards here.
  • Price for microchip? Every pet should be microchipped! 
  • What is the price for an average dental cleaning (only)  dog or cat?
  • What is the cost for euthanasia? I know it is a terrible thing to talk about, BUT, some clinics will not provide a protocol, price, or even see you if it is needed as an emergency.
  • What are the protocols for euthanasia? Do I need to be a client? (If they say "NO" ask why? and then run!).
  • Do they provide cosmetic surgeries? If so which ones and why? Ask about how they are done and then do your own research on what is considered best practice?
  • What are the recommended healthy pet diagnostics? Ie. heartworm test? fecal? How often,? costs? Information on everything heartworm can be found at the American Heartworm Society page here.
  • Be very careful price shopping. It is common practice for the exam fees, vaccines, and routine spay and neuter prices to be marketed and provided as "inexpensive" but hidden fees, or exorbitant extras are commonly used to supplement the advertised "bargain". 

Is it possible to find a good vet at a bad veterinary practice? Does anyone even think about the practice behind the person? I know of lots of wonderful vets working at practices that dictate what they can, and cannot do, based on liability and revenues (overwhelmingly revenues). They cannot offer options that might be more affordable, more convenient, or more personalized. Would you even know the difference? How can you tell what the often absent clinic motto, corporate conglomerate behemoth, or fine tuned patient care schematic is behind that white coat?

There is more to choosing a family care provider than location and likability. There has to be a deep level of trust, a provision of transparency, and these days a consistent level of care for how YOU SEE YOUR PETS VALUE IN YOUR HOME.


The idea that one size fits all, and, all vets are the same is not the reality. 

P.S. Just in case anyone is curious; here is what my clinic does for our patients;

1. Jarrettsville Veterinary Center is open 7 days a week. 

2. Walk-in appointments for clients are available everyday.

3. Most surgeries are done in house by our own vets. Beware clinics that offer specialty surgeries by surgeons who visit. There may not be adequate after care available if there is a problem. Also, referral surgeries (in my opinion) should be done at a referral practice.

4. All of our prices are published online. This is updated every year. 2016 Price Guide List here.

5. We do not provide cosmetic surgeries as a matter of placing patient care above client preference.

6. We do not provide declaw surgeries. See blog on declawing here.

7. We offer third party billing to our clients if credit is not available. Why? Because patient care should not be a matter of ability to pay up front. More on this here.

8. We do not provide euthanasia to anyone except our clients and patients we know, or pets with terminal untreatable disease. See The Success of Drive-Thru Euthanasia Clinics.

9. We are available on Facebook messenger at all times. We answer quickly, usually within minutes. 

10. Practice and personal emails are available to all clients for anything they need. Wouldn't everyone like to be able to reach their vet without being put on hold, taking a message, and waiting for a phone call back?

11. We provide our community with a pet food pantry, Good Sam Fund, free boarding if it is too hot or too cold for outside pets, and we do not euthanize based on lack of client finances.

12. We stand behind our motto to "always be kind" and we never deny care to a client in need. So much so that we have provided homes and second chances to any Jarrettsville Vet patient surrendered at any shelter or rescue. Once you are a part of the JVC family we are there to help you forever.

As a person who used to be a client I understand the difficulty in all of these open ended questions. As a practice owner and veterinarian it is why I built Jarrettsville Veterinary Center into the place that I would want to bring my pets to.. For those of you who aren't so happy with your vet or vet practice I would say, "keep looking. Your perfect vet, and vet practice, are out there!"

A much appreciated Thank You note from a client.

I am a small animal veterinarian in Harford County Maryland. You can find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Veterinary Center, on YouTube, on Twitter @FreePetAdvice, and if you have a pet question, or, are a pet person please join us at

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