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How to choose a good veterinarian and quickly establish rapport

How do you choose the best veterinary clinic for you and your pet? For pet owners, finding the right veterinary clinic for your pet and working well with your chosen veterinarian is so important to your pet’s health. Read on for tips on finding and working with your veterinarian to keep your pet healthy.

We all deal with the service industry. From dry cleaners to mechanics and everything in between, there are times when we need to rely on the expertise of others to get things done right. And once we find that great dentist or plumber, we tend to use them over and over. The hard part is finding them. Pet owners know the importance in finding the right veterinarian. After all, we trust them to take care of our beloved friends, and want to be assured they’re providing the best care possible.

So how do we go about finding the right match for us? Is it just a matter of going to the veterinarian or animal hospital closest to your home or do we need to take a more active role? Good pet owners will try to educate themselves as much as possible, and with the massive amount of information now available online, it’s become easier than ever. Veterinarians and owners must work together as a team. Each has a shared goal of a healthy, happy pet, and a big part of reaching that goal is establishing a good rapport. We want to feel comfortable in communicating with our pet’s doctor, and in return want to make sure they’re listening and responding to our needs and concerns.

From choosing a breed or even an animal that best suits our lifestyle to learning about any potential medical conditions they may encounter, we are now able to take out some of the guess work that comes with being a pet owner. But there are some things that can’t be accessed online, such as the latest technological advancements in the veterinary industry and the kind of hands-on experience that a good veterinary doctor will possess.

Our pets can’t tell us when they’re thirsty, so it is our responsibility to make sure they always have clean, fresh water. It is also our responsibility to be the liaison for our pet when choosing and working with a veterinarian. By doing the proper research, asking the right questions, and building a positive rapport, we are giving our pets the best opportunity for optimum care and alleviating the concerns we have when entrusting their well-being to another.


Do research accredited hospitals and talk to pet owners

Veterinarians are business owners, and like any good business professional they need to attract clients. While some may have flashy websites or strong advertising campaigns that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right choice for you.

One of the best things you can do when searching for the right veterinarian is to ask other pet owners who they use. Word of mouth is the best advertising there is and a glowing report from a trusted friend, family member or neighbor can start you off on the right foot. From there, you will want to do your own research on the doctor or facility. The American Animal Hospital Association ( will help you find accredited hospitals in your area. And as most legitimate pet care providers have websites, you’ll be able to learn more about the staff, their specialties, and other useful background information. Websites such as Yelp ( can be helpful as the reviews are coming directly from pet owners who have personal experience with a doctor or hospital.

Do look before you leap

You wouldn’t buy a new car without first taking it for a test drive, and you shouldn’t choose a veterinarian without first visiting the facility. Set an appointment to visit the facility with your pet. Pay attention to the cleanliness and organization of the facility, inquire into how many doctors and assistants are on staff, if they have any specialties, and how long they have been in operation.

Do ask thoughtful questions

Curiosity didn’t really kill the cat. When meeting with a potential veterinarian for the first time the most important thing you can do is ask questions. Of course, you’ll want to make sure not to put someone on the defensive. This isn’t a trial. But if you start the conversation with the thought that this person could become a potential team member, and you’ve done your research into some of the specific medical conditions that may impact your pet, you’ll not only be able to listen for the answers that you’re looking for but will develop an overall sense of your potential vet’s character.

Are they curt, dismissive, and don’t seem to want to take the time with you, or are they open, warm, and patient in answering your questions? Remember, a good veterinarian will appreciate speaking to a pet owner who shows a real concern and interest in their pet’s well-being.

Do be a good team member

Once you’ve decided on a doctor you’ve added a key member to your team. And how you work together can greatly benefit your pet. Your vet may have access to the latest technology. But, your ability to communicate a change you see in your pet can make all the difference to your pet’s well-being. Just saying, “There’s something not right” doesn’t give a doctor much to go on.

At home, pay attention to the following and let your veterinarian know when the symptoms first began.

· Change in physical activity

· Change in appetite or weight

· Change in attitude or responsiveness

· Change in sleep patterns

· Change in frequency of urination

· Change in water consumption

· Coughing

· Heavy or rapid breathing

· Incontinence

· Lethargy or depression

· Lumps and bumps on or under the skin

· Noticeable decrease in vision (i.e. bumping into furniture)

· Shaking head

· Bad breath

Do remember that you catch more flies with honey

Everyone appreciates being acknowledged. Whether it’s a pat on the back for a job well done or taking the time to ask how a person’s day is going, the result is typically positive. While we’d like to think our pet is the most important in the world, a good veterinarian is dealing with a lot of “most important pets in the world” throughout the day.

Being cognizant of your doctor’s hectic schedule, asking the right questions, and conveying a level of trust in their expertise will go a long way in establishing the kind of rapport that will benefit both you and your pet. Remember, people who enter the veterinary industry do so because they love animals and want to do everything they can to ensure our pets’ health. But they’re human beings and not robots. Treating our doctor and their staff with the kind of professional respect they deserve, and trusting that they are on your side, will result in a stronger relationship.


Do not see your veterinarian as a dry cleaner

So you move to a new town and need to find a new veterinarian. You go online, find the one nearest to you, and that’s it. Now it’s time to move on to finding the closest dry cleaner. The difference is that if a shirt is damaged you can replace the shirt. If your pet is harmed it’s not so easy to replace.

While all accredited Doctors of Veterinary Medicine go through a rigorous education process, not all are created equal. Just like you wouldn’t choose “Quick & Easy Surgery” out of the phone book because it’s located around the corner, you also shouldn’t base your decision solely on proximity to your home.

Do not ignore your instincts

Let’s say you’ve done your research, read some positive reviews, or received recommendations, and have set up a visit to meet a prospective veterinarian. When you arrive you’re met with a cluttered, unprofessional waiting room and a staff member on the phone arguing with what appears to be a client. When you’re told that your 3:00 appointment has to be pushed to 3:45 because “something more important came up,” you might want to think twice. Veterinary offices and hospitals are professional environments, and if you don’t get that sense immediately there is a good chance the attention towards your pet's case might be lacking as well.

Do not underestimate your role

There’s a reason stylists ask you how you’d like your hair cut. The more specifics you give, the easier it makes their job, and the better chance you’ll have of getting the style you want. If you’re visiting a veterinarian because you notice something abnormal in your pet’s behavior or spot something on their body that doesn’t seem quite right, it is your responsibility to convey the problem to the best of your ability. Let them know when you noticed a change, any of the symptoms that are surrounding it, and if there have been any dietary or exercise routine changes.

Do not undermine your veterinarian’s expertise

We shouldn’t live by the saying, “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.” While the Internet can be our best friend when it comes to learning about a potential pet health issue, it doesn’t make us experts. Arguing with an educated, experienced doctor over a diagnosis or treatment undermines the bigger goal which is to get our pets healthy. It’s important to trust our veterinarian and remember that they’re highly educated and experienced professionals. That said, having a basic understanding of certain conditions will also show them you are concerned about your pet’s health and they will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to educate yourself.

Do not forget your surroundings

When there is something wrong with our pet it’s easy to become emotional. For some this leads to impatience with staff members, or being overly demanding or verbally aggressive with a doctor. So before you lose your cool for having to wait five minutes, remember that emergency surgeries might be underway, or your veterinarian may have just come from performing a euthanasia, or telling another pet owner that recovery doesn’t look good. Be sensitive to your surroundings and remember that everyone is doing their best to serve you and their animal patients.

Jumping cartoon

The great Will Rogers once said, “The best doctor in the world is a veterinarian. They can't ask patients what is the matter – they’ve got to just know.” And good veterinarians learn to “know” following many years of rigorous education, internships and, again, more learning. Committed, skilled doctors never stop learning. And with the incredible technologies that are now available to the animal care industry, they are constantly on the cutting edge of sophisticated testing and treatment options.

But veterinarians aren’t cut out of a cookie sheet, and each will bring their own specific personalities, experiences, and skills to their work. As responsible pet owners we take care to make sure our pets are receiving the right kind of nutritious diet, exercise, and attention they need to stay healthy and happy. And it should be no different when we are choosing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

By taking such things into consideration as proximity, professionalism, office organization and cleanliness, staff helpfulness, personal recommendations, and our own judgment of character, we will be better prepared to make the right decision in choosing a veterinarian, and giving our pets the best chance for a long, happy and healthy life.

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Photo Credits: Dog care: The U.S. Army via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Steven May, CVJPet Expert

Pet expert Steven May, CVJ has provided his expertise to both the veterinary industry and the general public for more than 35 years. The former editor of Vetz Magazine, May now heads the pet website The Daily Growl and has over 430,000 followers...

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