Few decisions can affect your assistance dog’s health, happiness, and longevity—and your overall experience of caring for the dog—like your veterinarian selection. Of course, most vets are devoted, hardworking, caring, diligent professionals. But, as in any field, some are invariably more proactive, personable, attentive, and up-to-date on current research than others.
Choosing a vet also isn’t just a black-and-white matter of figuring out who’s “better” than the others; your personal preferences come into play. It’s a matter of finding a vet you feel comfortable with, like, and trust. Obviously, not everybody “clicks” the same way with different people.
Also, you have the added consideration of your dog not being a pet, but a working dog. If you can find a veterinarian with experience caring for hearing, guide, or service dogs—or even other types of working dogs like police or military canines—that’s definitely a plus. It’s helpful if the vet has firsthand knowledge of the special expectations and responsibilities of working dogs.
Here are some important tips for finding the right vet for you and your assistance dog:
Ask your assistance dog trainer or provider for a vet recommendation if you acquired from a local source. If so, the people there probably work with one or more vets in your region or at least know of ones that see other working dogs.
Ask your local family and friends for a vet recommendation. There’s no substitute for firsthand experience with a professional, so inquire among your circle of trusted loved ones who have pets. They can be counted on to be honest.
Do some online research to find client ratings and reviews of veterinarians in your area. Remember to keep your skepticism, though. Sometimes, online reviews are fake. They may be fake paid-for positive reviews, or fake negative reviews from a disgruntled former client or employee.
Find a veterinarian with reputable professional affiliations. Look for American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) membership, as well as other affiliations with national, state, and local organizations.
Evaluate the staffer on the phone during initial contact. When you call to ask questions or set up your first appointment, pay attention to the disposition of the person on the phone. Since you’ll be visiting this office regularly, you’ll want it to be a positive environment.
Consider how long it takes to get an appointment, since this tends to be fairly consistent. If you can’t be seen for several weeks, it’s reasonable to expect that will be the case going forward, too. That might be OK for regular well checks, but if you have something of concern that isn’t necessarily an emergency—especially something interfering with completion of tasks—this can be a problem.
Pay close attention to everyone working in the office at your first appointment. The vet isn’t the only one who matters. Don’t overlook the desk staff and the veterinary technicians. They should all be professional, well-informed, friendly, helpful, and good with your assistance dog. Not only will you have to deal with them all on an ongoing basis, this is also a way to evaluate the general office culture.
Inspect the office environment closely to make sure it’s well kept. Everything should be clean, including the waiting room, behind the front desk, the public restroom, and the exam rooms. Cleanliness is something all medical facilities and professionals need to take very seriously.
Ask the vet about his or her care philosophies. You want someone who agrees with you on aspects of care like complementary and alternative treatments and disease prevention. Also, it’s good to know how cautious (or overly cautious) a vet is about screenings and testing.
Find out how well equipped the office is. How much testing and treatment can they do on site? Do they have imaging technology? It’s always useful—and usually cheaper—if your vet can handle things in the office, rather than having to go to a veterinary hospital or emergency clinic.
How accessible is the veterinarian? Are there very limited office hours? Are they closed one or two days per week? Can you contact your vet outside office hours? Are there other veterinarians in the office who see patients if your vet is off or away? What’s the procedure in an emergency?
Inquire about payment issues like how much standard checkups are, whether they offer sliding-scale fees, when payments are due, whether they accept any insurance or medical-specific credit cards you have, if they set up payment plans, and so on.
Do they offer conveniences such as making appointments and accessing paperwork online? Can you go as a walk-in, or do you always need an appointment?
Ask about continuing education practices. A great veterinary office team understands how important it is to keep abreast of new developments and to continue studying. They will attend continuing education programs regularly.
Picking the right sources for any professional service calls for due diligence on your part. If you’re still just considering acquiring a hearing, guide, or service dog, check out our article about choosing the right assistance dog provider. Or, if applicable, read our piece about choosing a professional dog groomer.