"Man's relationship with his dog has changed," remarks Stuart Rrodsky, DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine). "it has shifted to where the dog is considered a family member.
Because of this special bond between you and your pet, you should as fussy [picking a veterinarian] as you would be about choosing a pediatrician for your child.
Whether you already have a veterinarian or are looking for a new one, if you follow these guidelines, your pet's doctor will be a good choice. You, the doctor, and the doctor's support staff comprise a team to promote your dogs good health.
Timing Is of the Essence
Ideally you should find a vet before you get the dog. And even though many people don't do things in this order, "it is important to get a good vet before an emergency arises,' insists Megan Dully, DVM, of Katonah Bedford Veterinary Group in Bedford Hills, New York. When a pet is ill, you don't want to take him to the vet for the first time and wonder if you've chosen the right doctor. Duffy, who manages emergency and critical cases, has patients who take a dry run'' in their car to her office so they wont get lost when the dog does have emergency, and know exactly how long the ride with a sick dog takes. You don't want a vet too far from your hone. In fact, if you have a dog who doesn't travel well, have multiple animals, or live a good distance from the vet's office, you might consider mobile veterinarian who makes house calls.
A Good Vet Earns a good Reputation
Beverly Hatton, a nursery school teacher, moved to Beaverton, Oregon, without knowing a soul. Shortly after her move, she passed a veterinary clinic. Anxious to find a new doctor for her 5-year-old Dalmatian, Shadow, Beverly went into the facility. She was nearly knocked over by the noxious odor. "I didn't even inquire about a doctor, I turned right around and walked out." The clinic didn't pass the sniff test.
Eventually, Hatton found a veterinarian through her dentist, of all people. If you do find a vet by word-of-mouth, make sure the vet knows your breed of dog well. A vet who specializes in "pocket pets'' (hamsters, etc.) is somewhat unlikely to be helpful to a dog owner.
Your local or state veterinary g associations will give you names of prospective doctors in your area. Other sources for) veterinarians include your breeder, animal trainers, grooming salons, dog walkers, and, of course, breed clubs. When asking for referrals, check with your state board of veterinary medical examiners to find out if any complaints have been lodged against that veterinarian.
Do Your Homework
Brodsky, director of the Westside Veterinary Center in Manhattan, suggests that you "ask yourself: Is this a place I'd like to get well in?"
Before Hatton was satisfied to take her dentist's referral carte blanche, she judged the facility for herself. It passe the sniff test. She spent at least 30 minutes touring Murray Hill Veterinary Hospital, where she now takes Shadow, her two birds, and cat. "You don't want to go to an office that won't show you the facility!" exclaims Duffy. Also a horse owner, Hatton checked to see if the common areas, exam room, operating room, and even the staff's uniforms were clean. "Always look for a sterile Operating room with gas anesthesia," says Carey Fleming DVM, Shadow's doctor.
Are the doctor's and clinic's licenses and certifications visibly displayed in clear sight? If a hospital is approved by the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association, an organization that sets standards for facilities, equipment, and quality care), it means that it has met 200 of the industry standards. All vets should have a minimum of exam apparatus, X-ray machines, emergency operating facilities, basic lab equipment, and an after-anesthesia recovery room.
The Next Step: Observe the Staff
Is the staff courteous and friendly? Do they seem organized? Are the technicians in the office licensed veterinary technicians? What kind of services does the facility provide in-house--dental and medical exams, surgery, X-rays, lab tests, nutrition advice, behavior counseling, endoscopy, sonograms, boarding, and grooming? What are the hours of operation? If you work during the day, you may prefer the clinic to be open on weeknights as well as Saturdays or Sundays.
What are the doctor's fees? How much will you pay for standard procedures? You can also get estimates for certain Operations and emergency or night rates. When asking about the price of a service, ask exactly what extra charges there might be that are not included in the quote. (Pet insurance may not cover routine procedures -- it depends on the policy. Insurance may be advisable for an older dog who requires extensive lab work.)
Do you get appointments and test results in a timely manner? Even though bloodwork can take a week or more to come back from a lab, other results should be available more quickly, and they should always be able to squeeze you in for an office visit in case of an emergency.
If this facility is a group practice, find out if you have the option of having your pet see the same veterinarian for most visits, so you have the continuity of service. Who covers for the veterinarian when she's not there, and can you meet her? Will the vet take calls or answer phone messages in an emergency?
Are there board-certified specialists in the office or nearby? (A specialist has studied an additional two to four years in his area and passed exams.) Will the office give you your dog's medical records without argument? And will they send you reminders for your pet's exams and vaccinations?
"The Vet Is In!"
Your next step after the referral, touring the facility, and observing the staff, is to meet with the doctor-wi shouldn't charge you for this consultation. Have the following list of questions with you for the doctor:
What are your medical interests and those of the other vets in the practice? For example, if they are mostly interested in testing, researching, and writing journal article then taking care of your pet may not be their first priority on the other hand, if they are intrigued with a condition that might concern your dog, they could be a perfect choice.
What is the affiliation of the clinic? The AAHA is the largest association that accredits animal hospitals in the United States and Canada, but there are many local organizations that also have strict standards. Are you a member of any professional veterinary associations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association? There are also associations for specialists, that only accredit a person if they have the requisite training and education.
How do you and your staff keep abreast of current trends and medicine? Are on-going educational seminars, conferences, or courses required to maintain certification? The answers can tell you whether the vet is interested in the latest techniques and emerging breakthroughs-if that is something that concerns you-or whether she relies on older, proven treatments which some people prefer.
What vaccinations do you consider essential and what vaccination schedule do you recommend? (For more about vaccines, see the Dr. Dodds' article.)
To what conditions is my dog's breed genetically predisposed? Confirm what your vet says by [checking what is written on this web site]. But realize that your vet may have more up-to-date information.
What do you recommend that I keep in my home firs aid kit for the dog?
May I have patient references so I can ask other clients about their experiences with you and your facility? Most reputable vets will readily give patient references.
If the facility is not open 24 hours, 7 days a week, where can you refer me? Is that facility staffed so my pet will not be left alone? How often will my dog be checked? This last item is critical. Steve Hynian of Half Moon Bay, California, took his 8-year-old Collie, Teddy, for a routine dental cleaning that included anesthesia. When he went to pick up Teddy after the procedure, he noticed that the dog was acting funny." He complained to the attendants who were closing the facility for the evening about his dog's condition, but they wouldn't let Steve back in the building. Due to Teddy's unstable demeanor, Steve had to carry the dog to the car, and drive him home, where the dog died later that evening. Had the clinic been open all-night, Teddy could have been observed and stabilized.
Are you open to some nontraditional veterinary treatments (such as chiropractic, acupuncture, and herbal supplements)? As these three practices are not governed by any authority, you have to make sure the specialist has had extensive training in this area. Says Dr. Allen Schoen, MS. DVM, DVA (diploma in veterinary anesthesia), and a pioneer of holistic veterinary medicine: "If your dog is referred to an acupuncturist for a disorder, find out how many cases the practitioner has done and how long he has been practicing. Look for someone who is certified in acupuncture, has had a minimum of six months of training and uses sterile disposable needles." Schoen established acupuncture at the world-famous Animal Medical Center, in Manhattan, in 1982 and practices in Sherman, Connecticut.
What You Can Expect From the Exam
If the doctor and the facility have met your criteria, it's now time to bring in the patient-your dog. "An initial well-care exam should take at least 30 minutes,'' in the opinion of Fleming. The dog should be weighed and measured every time lie visits the doctor. His skin and coat should be observed, as well as his face (nose, mouth, ears), limbs, abdomen, genitals. The doctor will listen to your dog's heart and lungs, and discuss 11i5 observations with you. If you feel you need a specialist, the doctor shouldn't be offended at your request. The vet will update your pet's vaccinations, check for internal and external parasites, discuss a parasite-prevention plan, and recommend any dental care.
At the very least, a healthy dog requires a yearly vet visit for exam, inoculations, and, as mandated by law, a rabies shot.
What Do Satisfied Customers Look For?
"I look for a good, thorough exam," explains Barbara H. Karpf, a New York City interior designer. "I also want a clean facility; I make sure they disinfect the exam room table after each client," says the owner of Maddy, an 11 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
"I look for a doctor who has common sense," says Dr. James Moore, a surgeon from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. Moore, who has bred German Shorthaired Pointers for 1 3 years, also looks to see how the vet handles the dog. Is he gentle and compassionate? Does lie seem to like dogs?
I look for a doctor who can communicate," says Hatton, 'and has a rapport with the animal. The vet has to be able to communicate with me in layman terms and be able to answer my questions."
It takes a few visits to really build a relationship with your doctor. And it's important that both you and your dog trust his doctor. "As there is no report card," exclaims Brodsky, "you have to trust your gut. This should be someone you would want to be in a foxhole with. If not, it's time to move on."