How to Find and Choose a Vet for Your Dog

Finding a veterinarian for your pet is one of the most important decisions to make as a pet parent. How do ensure the person you pick to care for your dog and other pets is the right one?

Who better to answer that question than a veterinarian? Dr. Sara Ochoa and BarxBuddy answer, “How to choose a vet for my dog (and other pets).”

What Type of Veterinarian Should I Look For?

In general, a veterinarian cares for animals, but there are several types of veterinary practitioners, just like there are for your family’s doctors.

For your dog, select a primary care veterinarian that practices canine care. A primary veterinarian will be your go-to for all things health-related. If you are lucky, that would also include dental care; if not, you will need a vet who specializes in animal  dentistry. Or, your primary care will have a network of dental veterinarians that he or she can refer you to.

Dr. Sara Ochoa, a veterinarian based in Whitehouse, Texas, and consultant to BarxBuddy, says to ask these questions when searching for a veterinarian:

  1. What animals do they care for? If you have a dog or cat, make sure you do not take them to a vet that only sees horses and cows, for example. “You will need to find one that treats small animals,” Dr. Ochoa said. “If you also have exotic animals or large animals, you may want to find a vet that treats all the different species that you have. This way, all your pets are seen by the same vet.”
  2. Do they have any specialties? Dr. Ochoa said some vets may not be specialists, but they may have a specialty. This means that they did not spend the extra time in training in that area but have a very strong interest and may have spent extra time in continuing education learning about this area of veterinary medicine. For example, some veterinarians might have a specialty in dentistry, emergency care or reproduction.
  3. What services does the vet clinic offer (and what don’t they offer)? Many vet clinics offer other services like boarding, grooming, and daycare. “If your pet needs to get groomed frequently, or you frequently travel, having these added services is very convenient,” Dr. Ochoa said. She said that the lack of such services shouldn’t stop you from using a vet office, but it’s something to look for as an added benefit, if you are torn between two very good clinics.
  4. What are their fees, and do they take or offer pet insurance? Everyone wants the best for the cheapest possible. It is not always possible at a vet clinic to get the best service for the cheapest. The old saying “you get what you pay for” is true in vet care, Dr. Ochoa said. For you to get the cheapest vet care, it may not be the best. Some vet clinics have payment options such as Care Credit or in-house payment plans. If you have financial concerns, talk with your vet. They can help devise a treatment plan that fits within your budget. Some vet clinics require upfront payment for surgeries or deposits for major hospitalization. It is always best to have a financial plan in place for your pet in case an emergency comes up.

When Should I Find a Veterinarian?

The best time to find a veterinarian is before you welcome a new dog into your home. Sometimes, though, you become a pet parent with no warning! As soon as you welcome a new dog or cat into your home, it’s time to find veterinary care.

If you move to a new area, you might ask your current vet for a recommendation, or check with your real estate agent, who is usually dialed in to local service providers. Your new neighbors are also good sources, plus asking for vet recommendations is a great way to meet new neighbors.

How Do I Find a Veterinarian?

Searching for the best practitioner for your pet can be overwhelming. After all, this person will have some responsibility for keeping your dog healthy and perhaps saving your dog’s life someday.

Dr. Ochoa suggests asking for recommendations. “A veterinary office’s reputation can help you pick the best vet for you,” she said, which means asking friends, family and neighbors for referrals. She said that when you visit the local pet store, ask other pet owners who they use for a veterinarian. “This is a good place to get feedback from pet owners on different veterinarians in the area,” she said. Dr. Ochoa said that social media can be a great place for information and reviews of different veterinary clinics.

Keep in mind that when reading reviews, people are more likely to leave negative reviews when they’ve had a bad experience than they are a good review when they’ve had a positive experience. Be sure to see how and if the vet clinic responds to the negative review.

In summary, to find a good vet,

  • Ask family and friends who live nearby and are pet parents for recommendations.
  • If you’re moving out of the area, ask your current vet to recommend someone in your new city or state.
  • Check social media; join neighborhood groups and ask for recommendations.
  • Read online reviews, and look for how the vet clinic responds to negative ones (if they have any).
  • Search online:
    • Breed clubs (for purebreds)
    • Shelters or rescues
    • Veterinary medical associations

Questions You Should Ask When Choosing a Veterinarian

You should ask specific questions regarding your dog’s breed, age, and medical history. For example, if your pet is older, inquire whether the vet has experience with senior canines. You may also want to ask more general questions, such as:

  • How many veterinarians work in the practice?
  • What are the office hours? Can they be reached “after hours”? Are you appointment only, or do you take walk-ins?
  • Does the practice accept insurance?
  • Does the practice provide dental services?
  • What is their emergency policy? If you have a pet emergency, where do they recommend you take the animal if they are open? If they are closed?
  • What tests and procedures (like X-rays or blood work) can they perform on-site? What are the vaccine protocols?
  • Does the office have a pharmacy?
  • What are the accepted payment methods?
  • What are the office visit fees? Or, fees for common services like spaying, neutering, and microchipping?
  • Do they offer boarding and grooming?

Steps to Choosing The Right Veterinarian

Check their website and their accreditation

Most vet clinics have a website with information about what they offer, what type of animals that they see, and information about their doctors and staff. This is a great place for you to find information about the vet clinics, their staffs, their specialties, services and prices.

Make an appointment to visit the facility

“All vets would love to meet you,” Dr. Ochoa said. She suggests that you drop by the vet clinic and ask to meet the veterinarian and talk with the staff; however, you might want to call ahead in case it’s a busy day. A visit helps you get a feel for the vet, their staff, and the clinic.  Many people will easily be able to tell if they are going to like a person after meeting them for the first time.

  • Check for cleanliness.
  • Look at the spaciousness of the lobby. Is it large enough for more than several pets (and their owners) for the safety of all parties?
  • Interact with the staff. Are they friendly and easy-going?
  • Watch your pet and the other animals. While it’s normal for a pet to have some apprehension going to the vet’s office if all the animals in the clinic are cowering under the nearest piece of furniture or shivering in fear, think twice about the clinic.

Dogs are very intuitive, and some pets just do not like certain people. Your pet should have a say in who their vet is, too. Take your pet to the new vet and see if they like the vet and their staff.

Licensing and accreditation

Licensing and accreditation ensures your veterinarian and/or veterinary hospital follow a set of standards in veterinary care. Make sure the vet you pick is licensed to practice in your state. The American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) provides links to the licensing board for each state and allows you to look up a license. Check if your veterinary hospital is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). The AAHA also has a vet finder and vet locator, which can help you find veterinarian clinics near you.

Think about the distance to the vet’s office

How far would your new veterinarian’s office be from your home? Can you get to it quickly in case of emergency or for a last-minute appointment? The closer to your home, the better you may feel about getting care for your pet when needed. You shouldn’t be any further away than an hour at most (geography permitting). If you don’t have a vet clinic near you, look for a nearby emergency vet hospital that you can go to if necessary.

Visit multiple clinics

Even with referrals and research; you may want to visit more than one veterinary clinic before you make your final decision. Even if you don’t take your pet to each one, you can get a vibe for the office and staff on your own.

Address special needs

If your dog has a condition, discuss this condition with the new vet to see if they can continue treatment for this disease.  Dr. Ochoa said that some diseases require specialized care at a referral center, so the veterinarian may recommend that you see one of these specialists.

Finding the perfect vet for your pets is very important.  Make sure that you are very comfortable and that you trust your vet.  It is always best to establish a relationship with your vet before your pet gets sick.