Questions to ask when you’re selecting a vet for your pet…

What do you do when you’re stumped about what’s wrong with a patient? Be wary of any vet who claims he or she is never stumped. Diagnosing health problems can be challenging—especially for vets, whose patients can’t tell them what’s wrong. A better answer is, “I consult with a specialist” (there are veterinary internists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, neurologists, allergists and more). Also, if the practice bills itself as a hospital, it should be accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association.

How are you implementing “force-free” handling techniques in your practice? Force-free techniques are intended to make vet visits less stressful for animals. This has been a major trend in veterinary care in recent years, so if a vet does not understand the question, it could suggest that he or she has not kept up with developments in the field. It’s a good sign if the vet lists some specific strategies the practice uses, such as giving animals treats to distract them during exams or shots rather than holding them down…treating large dogs on the floor if putting them up on tables causes anxiety…or encouraging owners to bring pets to the vet’s office for visits and treats when no treatment is needed so that the animals don’t associate the building only with fear and pain.

What species have you treated? If your pet is a dog or cat, virtually any general practice vet is likely to have plenty of relevant experience. But if it’s anything less common, it’s worth seeking out a vet who has plenty of experience with that species.

What’s your philosophy of pain management? The vet’s response should show that he considers diagnosing and treating pain in his patients a priority. There are vets who avoid prescribing pain medications to injured or sick animals—they believe animals heal faster when they are in pain because they move around less. Fortunately, such thinking is becoming less common. It is now generally accepted that not treating an animal’s pain is both inhumane and ineffective—research shows that experiencing stress and discomfort slows healing.

Who stays with animals overnight when they are not healthy enough to go home? What’s most important is that someone stays overnight. If an animal is recovering from an operation or experiencing a health issue so serious that it requires an overnight stay at the vet, then that animal’s health is too precarious for it to be left alone for hours. Ideally the person who stays overnight should be a certified veterinary technician or veterinary nurse.

Can I get a tour of your facilities? Be extremely wary if the answer is no (though “not right now” is an acceptable answer if the office is very busy). During the tour, confirm that the facility looks and smells freshly scrubbed—a lack of cleanliness can suggest a poorly run practice. Sick and scared animals do have accidents, however, so do not write off an otherwise promising vet simply because of a single mess. Ask which room is used for surgery—it’s an especially troubling sign if this room does not look and smell clean.