How to Choose a Veterinarian

How to Choose a Veterinarian

This is a question that has gone through all pet owners at one time or another; how to choose a veterinarian?

Though they may differ based upon their chosen area of focus (ex. small animal vs. large animal veterinarian, exotic animal veterinarian, etc.) all veterinarians must be highly educated, having endured aprox. 10 long years of intense study, to become licensed as Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). In the strictest sense, any veterinarian would be highly capable and prepared to offer quality care.

Small Animal Veterinarians

Small animal veterinarians usually work with companion animals people own and care for as pets (dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, etc.). They often do routine checkups, spay/neuters, vaccinations, and ‘euthanasia’.

The majority of veterinarians are considered small animal veterinarians who tend to work in either small practices or veterinary hospitals.

  • Euthanasia depicts the ‘assisted death’ of an animal or human in pain and suffering. The vast majority of animals put down are completely healthy and never harmed anyone or anything, thus are not euthanized; we simply lack the resources to care for them.

  • That number isn’t small; it reaches in the millions annually for the US alone.

Large Animal Veterinarians

Large animal veterinarians most often specialize in treating soo, equine (horse), or cattle/livestock animals. Due to the market and demand (the vast majority of pet owners care for a dog or cat, for example), there tends to be fewer large animal vets than small animal vets.

For example, horses who need to be treated for sports related injuries will see a large animal veterinarian. Livestock veterinarians will work with farmers and their animals, and of course zoo veterinarians work with zoo animals.

Choosing a Veterinarian Right For You

Most of us like to choose one particular professional that is willing to build a personal relationship with our pets, someone that not only is prepared to offer the medical care our pets need, but seems to truly care for their well being. We want to build a repertoire.

When deciding upon a veterinarian, you might want to consider things like:

  • Cost

  • Location/Distance

  • Reputation

  • Experience

You could also consider asking for recommendations from experienced shelter workers, friends, trainers (careful here; a ‘PetSmart’ trainer will probably recommend a ‘PetSmart’ Vet; make sure they aren’t biased), or kennel employees. Try to get a reference!

A simple internet search will provide the hours, location, and often reviews of your chosen vet. Unlike past generations who had to rely on the yellow pages, we have access to vastly more information via the internet! Make use of it!

  • Nearly all small animal veterinarians have websites for their practices; this is very common among businesses today.

Veterinary Technician

Veterinary Technicians, licensed with a certification/certifications, assist the veterinarian with a great many tasks. However, they can’t legally pass a diagnoses, write a treatment, or prescribe pharmaceuticals (drugs). These guys are comparable to the nurses of the human world, operate under the license of the doctor, and have similar educations to RN’s. The salary has a rather low cap (far lower than most human Nurses) for the requirements demanded of a veterinary technician, so most choose to further specialize their focus.

In fact, many vet techs would say they never use half of the skills they are required to become proficient in during college. Even so, so many people want to ‘work with animals’ that the education requirements continue to increase, many programs becoming extremely competitive. Some techs would say the two year associate degree required for the technician is as demanding as some Master's level programs.

Veterinarian Specialties

Just like human doctors, a veterinarian may choose to specialize in one area or another, as opposed to the standard general practice veterinarian. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, specialties can include:

  • Anesthesia

  • Animal Welfare

  • Behavior

  • Dentistry

  • Dermatology

  • Emergency and Critical Care (‘ER vets’)

  • Internal Medicine

  • Laboratory Animal Medicine

  • Microbiology

  • Nutrition

  • Ophthalmology

  • Pathology

  • Pharmacology

  • Poultry

  • Preventative Medicine

  • Radiology

  • Sports Medicine

  • Surgery

  • Theriogenology (Animal Reproduction)

  • Toxicology

  • Veterinary Practitioners

  • Zoological Medicine

If you can’t settle on a veterinarian, or your little fur-kid requires extra care, you can always look into the specialty vet!

Locating a Vet Near You

If a simple Google search doesn’t bring up what you want, sites like ‘Vetstreet’ offer useful ‘vet locator’ tools. Simply plug in the information, and you are good to go!

My ‘Technique’

I once conducted a ‘research survey’ if you will, to help narrow down my veterinarian of choice. I contacted several small animal clinics, posing the question: “Where do a dog’s Dew Claws come from, and what is their purpose?” The vet who took the time to actually consider my question and offer an intelligent response was to be my vet of choice.

I was very surprised at the answers! Some doctors wouldn’t bother even attempting, either because they couldn’t answer the question or didn’t have the time to spare. One doctor’s response was ‘Because that is how they are made!”

Finally, one veterinarian answered: “Though probably rendered useless through evolution, the extra tendinous attachments still help to prevent extra torque when the animal is running.” Because that doctor took the time to talk with me, whether or not his answer was truly the right one (it does make sense), he became my vet of choice.

You may defend these doctors, saying they are extremely busy, but I am sure anyone would gladly take the time to answer one small question if it meant hundreds of dollars and a loyal client.

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