The immediate goal is to get a general health check for your new dog. If you already found a veterinarian for your rescue dog, you are on the right track. If not, maybe this will give you a few ideas. Unfortunately, you don’t have a lot of time to interview vets, so just keep in mind that you always have the option to switch if you don’t feel comfortable with the first one you pick. You can get the ball rolling by picking a vet who seems reputable and then if you don’t like him or her simply continue your search. This way your new pal gets that basic check-up that is desperately needed, and you do not feel like you are obligated to find the perfect vet out the gate.
The obvious place to start asking for recommendations is from family, friends, or coworkers. If you strike out there the ASPCA has some information on what to look for and questions you can ask. They also have a list of questions that a vet may ask you during the first visit. This will help you to put together some notes before the first check-up. Personally, I think the page with the list of things a vet may ask you is far more useful than the page that contains the questions you should ask. It is kind of hard to use them to determine a vet’s qualifications if you don’t know what the question means. Here is the entire list from the ASPCA site along with my comments:
- Is the practice AAHA-accredited?
It is hard to say if that is important until you understand what AAHA stands for (American Animal Hospital Association), what the accreditation means and how one goes about becoming accredited. I did not delve into it too much. I stopped researching once I saw that AAHA sponsors consist of a bunch of pet product companies. They also have corporate members, which is just a fancy name for more pet product companies. Their Web site for pet owners, HealthyPet.com, is also sponsored by pet product companies (two preventative medicine companies, a dog food company and a pet insurance company). I do not know what roles these companies play, if any. I just found it hard to remain objective about the value of finding an AAHA accredited vet knowing they are supported by pet product companies.
- How are overnight patients monitored?
- What sort of equipment does the practice use?
Hmm. I know nothing about medical equipment, so the answer would not help me make a decision. I would be more inclined to ask about the methods they use to keep their exam rooms and exam equipment sterile, and how they prevent passage of contagious disease from one pet to another.
- Does the vet refer patients to specialists?
- How are patients evaluated before anesthesia and surgery?
This assumes that one knows about the options and what the evaluation is supposed to accomplish. For me, this would not be a deal breaker for a first visit to a vet. Nonetheless, I found an informational article for pet owners that is provided by the Washington State University of Veterinary Medicine and an instructional paper from the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Science that gets down in the weeds on all facets of dog anesthetization.
- Does the practice have licensed veterinary technicians on staff?
Licensing varies by state and country. In the United States and Canada, vet technicians must pass an exam before they are licensed. The American Association of Veterinary State Boards gives the required exam and maintains a site that identifies the states that require a vet technician to be certified along with a database where you can look up a licenses.
- What is the protocol for pain management?
This is another one that requires an understanding of the options and then forming an opinion based on your own philosophy. I don’t know where to begin on this one.
I found the tips on MyVeterinarian.com far more useful. There is a lot of good information about veterinary practice in general. I could spend all day scrounging around! They also have a page where you can search for a vet in your area.
Once you have a few names in hand, it seems natural to check online reviews, especially when you are picking a vet out of the blue. The only advice I have about this is to do more than just look at the overall rating and read the reviews carefully (you almost need to analyze them). A lot of people these days see Yelp as the be-all of online reviews. However, it has its flaws. With that said, there are a few things to keep in mind as you check out reviews. While I reference Yelp in particular, most of the caveats can apply to any online review site.
- Reviews can be outdated: To test out my Yelp theory, I checked out the reviews about my vet. I have been taking my turtles to her since 2001 and I already know she is great. However, if I were to go solely on the Yelp reviews, I would be running for the hills. Taking a closer look, I noticed that the bad reviews were written between 2006 and 2009 when she brought a second vet on-board. The bad reviews were about that other vet and her reputation continues to taint the name of the vet hospital even though she is long gone.
- Yelp does not distinguish one staff member from another: This goes along with what I mentioned above. When reading the reviews try to find out if the vet with stellar reviews still works at the clinic or hospital, and then make sure that you will be seen by that vet. Likewise, if there is a bad apple be sure that they stay far away.
- Yelp reviews are filtered: In its attempt to define reliability, Yelp uses a little concept called the “Yelp Review Filter” There is a good possibility that there are reviews that have not been taken into account when calculating an overall rating. This became glaringly apparent to me when I took Phoebe to an obedience school with a coveted “all 5-star rating”. I was dissatisfied with my experience and wrote a negative review that never made it to the main Yelp review page. Instead, it was hidden alongside other reviews that had been filtered. Yelp calculated the school’s rating based on 74 unfiltered five-star ratings. There were 35 other reviews (mostly negative) that were filtered out and not used to calculate the overall rating.
The bottom line is that if you want to take a Yelp review into account, make sure you check out the filtered reviews too (scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on the very faint filtered link.
With all the preliminary searching out of the way, it is time for the big day – that first vet visit! The next step is to decide if the vet you chose is one that you want to take care of you pal for the long run.