A white paw rests in a veterinarian's gloved hand.

The Irreverent Vet: 17 Things You Should Know Before Finding a Veterinarian

It’s common for clients to visit my clinic requesting a second opinion. Time and time again I hear the clients say, “I wish I had known….” as they ask for help after an unsatisfactory experience elsewhere. Many of the complaints are about not knowing what to expect from their vet and communication problems.

As you consider choosing a veterinary hospital for your pets, is important to find the right fit. Below are 17 tips to help you choose a vet, questions to consider asking, and things to help you understand what to expect. These tips can help you have the best veterinary experience for your dog.

To create the content for this article, over a dozen vets were interviewed. The Irreverent Veterinarian shares that a lot of these tips are the result of complaints that vets have received with a discussion on how they or the pet owner might have done things differently.

Many of the complaints and pet owner frustrations were focused on communications. Much of having a good relationship with your veterinary clinic is knowing what to expect and being proactive in asking questions. It is important to be able to have open honest communication with your vet.

Things You Should Know Before Choosing a Vet

1) Get Recommendations

Find out which doctors other pet lovers trust with their furry family. Do you know anyone who really pampers their pets and treats their dogs the way you do? Ask them for recommendations for a veterinarian. On the other hand, if you are looking for minimal care on a limited budget, it pays to ask friends who provide similar care to their dogs who they would recommend.

2) Know What to Ask

When you finally choose a veterinarian, be sure to ask the right questions. Here are some things every dog owner should ask their vet.

3) Prepare for the Appointment

If you think your dog will become nervous, considering asking the veterinarian team at the hospital if you can have a happy visit. A “happy” visit is one in which you take your dog into the vet’s office, meet the receptionist, walk around the lobby, your dog gets some attention and gets a treat and you leave. Nothing bad happens; it’s purely a good experience. After that you can book your appointment.

4) Document Your Pet’s History

Gather information about your dog’s history of medications, vaccinations, surgeries, allergies, and medical problems. Get records from your pet’s prior veterinarian or breeder or write down as much information as possible. This can help your veterinarian determine what your dog needs and provide you with the best recommendations to keep your dog healthy. Some vaccines are good for 1 year and others for 3 years. Having up-to-date records can help them provide the best possible care for your dog.

5) Take Your List of Questions

Some clients get frustrated that they don’t get all their questions answered at a vet visit. Bring a list of questions you might have to your vet’s office. It’s easy to lose focus when you are surrounded by the operations of a busy hospital and caring for your potentially frightened pet. During the exam is a great time to ask questions such as if the dog is too fat or too thin, what the best food is for his age and weight, and what you can do to keep your dog healthy.

6) What Happens During an Appointment?

Knowing what will happen during a clinic visit can help minimize your stress and optimize your time. Every clinic is a little different but generally, an appointment begins by checking in with the front desk and waiting. (Hopefully, you won’t have to wait long.) Your dog will then be met by an animal health technician of some sort who will ask you questions about your visit, get a medical and medication history, and may even measure your dog’s weight and temperature. After that, it’s just a matter of waiting for the vet to come in. In some cases, the vet assistant may ask to take your dog to the back to draw blood, trim nails, or weigh him. It is much easier, safer, and quicker for them to do this with another technician to help them properly restrain the pet.

7) Don’t Feel Pressured and Ask Questions

Some clients complain that they felt pressured to make a decision during an appointment. Don’t feel pressured at your vet visit! If your veterinarian is recommending things that you don’t want, offering something that you don’t completely understand…or you want to know the cost before you make a decision …speak up and ask. Don’t let anyone pressure you into something you don’t want or you aren’t sure about. It’s really OK to ask “How much would that be?” while discussing treatment with your vet. It’s also okay to say, “I need a little time to think about this. I can’t make a decision on this right now.”

8) Know What to Expect After the Visit

Depending on the reason for the visit, your dog may leave their appointment subdued or even exhausted. Many dogs expend a lot of nervous energy then become tired. Vaccines can make some dogs sore and even a little sleepy.

9) Think About How to Pay

Please don’t push the matter of the bill out of your mind. There are several things you can do if your finances are limited and your pet needs medical care. Most clinics will take credit cards, some accept special credit accounts such as Care Credit, and a few even accept post-dated checks (although many won’t). Occasionally some clinics can offer payment plans or other arrangements in dire situations. If a treatment plan offered doesn’t work for your budget, be honest and ask what the other options are. A good veterinarian will help you evaluate other options. Ask about rebates on common flea and tick prevention medications.

10) If Your Aren’t Happy, Speak Up

If you aren’t happy about something during a visit to your vet, say so. Any clinic that wants to keep you as a client will work to change whatever is not working for you if possible. If they don’t, maybe you need to find a different veterinary hospital that better meets your needs.

11) Ask About Communication

If your pet has to stay in the hospital for any reason, ask how the clinic will communicate with you during their stay. Will the vet routinely call you, or do you call in? Who do you ask for? During what hours is it OK to call or visit? Make sure you take a business card with the pertinent names and phone numbers on it. Don’t neglect to ask and then become upset when no one from the vet’s office calls. Many clinics will only call you if there is a problem and operate under the adage that “no news is good news.”

12) Get an Estimate

Be sure to get a written estimate of any costs associated with potential treatment plans. Your vet should happily provide this upon request. There is never an exact way to know precisely how much you will pay for every scenario but they can guess what your pet will need. For example, you can get estimates for a vaccine update visit or for hospitalization if your pet is sick.

13) What’s Next?

When you leave the appointment, make sure you understand what your dog had that day (such as testing or vaccinations) and when the next appointment should be. If your dog is sick, be sure to know what medications you should be giving and when your dog should be checked again by the vet.

14) Be Proactive & Take Responsibility

If you have questions, concerns, or a request – speak up. It is easy for the veterinary team to get caught up in providing the best care possible for your pet and not be thinking about things that may be important to you. They don’t read minds.

If your pet is in the hospital and you want to see them, ask. If your pet has been in the hospital for two days and you want to know where your bill is now, ask. If your pet will need to be in the hospital for longer and you want to know what additional costs will be, ask for a revised estimate based on the anticipated medical plan. The veterinary team may not know exactly what your pet will need but they can try to give you some idea based on your pet’s current condition. It is important to consider that a bill can be higher than the original estimate when you leave. Circumstances can’t always be predicted.

15) Understand Pet Insurance

All veterinary clinics in the United States accept pet insurance. Most work like this: the owner receives and pays the bill from the vet, then submits their invoice to the pet insurance provider. After they evaluate and approve the claim they reimburse the owner directly. There are different levels of coverage, reimbursements, and premiums depending on the company and policy. Ask your pet insurance provider for more information on specific plans available to you. Learn more and get a free quote.

16) Ask About Emergencies

Vet clinics have a plan for dealing with emergencies after hours and you should know what they are. Some common scenarios are:

Ask your prospective vet about their emergency care plan outside of normal business hours. Think about what you are comfortable with and know their policy before joining them as a client.

17) Ask for a Referral

It is ok to ask your general vet for a referral to a specialist if you think your dog needs it. There are many specialties in veterinary medicine and it can be worth the extra cost and effort to find a doctor with the expertise to give your dog the best treatment. For example, if your dog has a newly diagnosed heart condition it would be reasonable to ask for a cardiologist referral. They can often optimize your dog’s care better than a general practice vet can. If your dog has been battling a certain medical problem and not getting better, a second opinion can also be very helpful.

I hope these 17 tips from our Irreverent Veterinarian help you choose the best possible veterinarian and have a great experience.