According to research, there are about 110,000 veterinarians in the U.S. https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-veterinarians.aspx and another 15,000 vets in Canada https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/about/statistics. Mexico has 44 veterinary school and colleges https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/110415a.aspx and has thousands of veterinarians. Almost half of veterinarians today work exclusively with companion animals such as dogs and cats. These numbers mean that just about anywhere you live in North America, you should be able to find a good vet in your area.
However, just because there are lots of veterinarians available doesn’t always mean that it’s easy to find one that you like. Ask anyone that’s had a pet for some length of time and they will probably have a story about having to change vets for some reason.
What should you consider when selecting a veterinarian? Whether you have a new puppy or you are seeking to change veterinarians for your current dog or cat, here are some things to consider when selecting a veterinarian.
Where do you live?
Where you live can make a big difference in how many and what kind of veterinarians are available to you. For example, if you live in the middle of cattle country, you might have more large animal veterinarians in your area than if you live in New York City. Large animal vets are great and if you have cows or horses, your vet will probably be willing to give your dog his rabies vaccination when he comes out to vaccinate your large animals. However, s/he may or may not be comfortable giving your dog other vaccinations. And, if your dog has any health problems, you might be better off seeing a veterinarian that specializes in small or companion animals.
In some farming areas, there are lots of companion animal vets. People who have farms also have dogs and other pets so they need to see small animal vets, too. But if you live in an area that doesn’t have many small animal vets, you should check around. You might have to drive to a larger town to find a good small animal vet for your dog. This is something you want to do when you have time to talk to vets and get to know them – not when your dog is having an emergency.
Even if you live in a large city, it’s a good idea to choose a veterinarian before you need one and not when you and your dog are desperate. You probably have a lot of vets from which to choose so it can take time to select the one you like best.
Talk to friends and family
One good way to select a veterinarian is by talking to your friends and family, especially if they live near you. Do they have pets? Do any of them have a veterinarian they really like? Start asking them questions. Why do they like the vet? What’s good about him or her? What’s bad about them? Does their pet like them? What is the staff like? What are the prices like? What kind of hours is the office open? Do they offer evening or weekend hours? If there’s anything that particularly important to you about a veterinarian, ask about it.
Don’t forget to talk to your neighbors if they have pets. They might be able to recommend a vet that they use.
These are the same questions you will need to ask the vet and the staff when you start checking them out.
Talk to other contacts
If you got your dog from a shelter, rescue, or breeder, talk to them and ask them if there is a veterinarian in the area that they recommend. Many of these people have a wide network of contacts so they might be able to suggest a good veterinarian.
You can also check online reviews of veterinary clinics and hospitals though you probably need to filter them. There are usually reviews from people who love a vet; and maybe a review from someone who had a bad experience. If you toss out the best and worst reviews, the rest of the reviews will probably give you some useful information.
If you drop by to check out a vet’s office or try to make an appointment over the phone, take note of how the staff behaves and talks to you. Are they friendly? Snippy? Too busy to talk to you? Are they in the back and don’t notice you? Do they start talking to you about spaying and neutering before you open your mouth? (Nothing turns a dog breeder off faster than vet staff preaching about spaying and neutering.) Do you feel like they are judging you or trying to decide if you can afford to pay? Or, are they pleasant and professional? Friendly to you and your dog?
People often decide whether they like a vet’s office based on the first visit and their interaction with the staff, so how the staff makes you feel is important.
If you have a dog, it’s likely that you have some basic beliefs about pet care. Some beliefs are hot button issues today and not everyone agrees about them. Veterinarians can have different beliefs like anyone else. If you and your vet are going to get along, it’s usually a good idea if you share the same beliefs about pet care. Euthanasia, care for chronically ill dogs, how long to care for old dogs, spaying and neutering – these are all topics that you should probably discuss with your veterinarian to make sure you have some agreement about your ideas.
You should also talk to vets about costs. It might not be surprising that the same treatment can cost different amounts in different parts of the country but sometimes it can cost a different amount even in the same city. Some practices include more with their services such as bloodwork but in some cases you are paying for an office’s higher overhead or better location. If all things are equal and the vets are just as good, there is nothing wrong with selecting the practice that has lower costs, especially if you have more than one pet or a pet that has to go to the vet a lot.
You should also inquire about what kind of payments a practice takes. Do they accept pet insurance? Credit lines? Will they allow you to make payments on a large bill? If your dog has cancer or another disease, bills can add up quickly so it’s important to ask about how a practice handles these cases ahead of time.
Once upon a time, years ago, it was normal for vets to work late and even on weekends. If your dog had an emergency, your very own vet might treat him at his clinic. That doesn’t happen much anymore. Today most vets will refer you to an emergency clinic in the evening and on weekends. When you’re talking to vets and their staff, be sure to ask about their hours and days of operation and where they refer patients for emergencies. Emergency clinics cost a LOT more than your regular vet charges and they demand to be paid in advance, so this can be important.
For many people, a vet’s days and hours of operation are important because they might have to take time off from work so they can take their dog to the vet.
It’s always great if you can have a veterinarian that’s close to your house but there are many other things to consider when selecting a vet. We recommend that you talk to friends, family, neighbors, and other contacts to see if they have a veterinarian they like. Read online reviews – with some caution. You should also talk to vet staffs and vets, if possible, to see if they share your ideas about pet care. Finally, be sure to consider practical things like costs and days/hours of operation. If a vet charges too much or s/he’s not open at a convenient time for you, you should find another vet.