You’ve found a veterinarian who jives with your personality but wonder – Is she competent at providing the best care possible for your pet? There’s more than one way to practice veterinary medicine and provide good care. Then there are some practices that fail at the basics. I’ve assembled a non-exclusive list of what to look for to assure your practice meets the standard of care and a few red flags that tell you to take your business elsewhere.
Standard of Care
Cleanliness. All veterinary practices can have that odor from time to time, but it should not look dirty. If they can’t keep the waiting room clean, what do you think the surgery suite looks like?
Vaccinations. The widely accepted core vaccinations for dogs include Rabies and Distemper/Adenovirus/Parainfluenza/Parvovirus. Leptospirosis vaccines are part of the core dependent on where you live. Lyme and Bordetella vaccines are dependent on the individual’s risk factor and should not be administered to every patient. Core cat vaccinations include Rabies, Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis/Calicivirus/Panleukopenia, and for kittens, Feline Leukemia vaccine. The leukemia vaccine is only given to adult cats who go outdoors. Vaccination schedules are variable based on the individual states law regarding Rabies vaccination. Is your vet offering a Giardia vaccine? Coronavirus vaccine? FIV vaccine? Think again as these vaccines are recommended against by the AVMA and AAHA.
Stool samples, Heartworm, and Flea/Tick prevention. Your veterinary hospital’s job is to ensure you and your pet stay healthy. Proper parasite prevention is crucial, as a number of intestinal parasites are communicable to humans and disease carrying ticks can hitch a ride indoors on your pet. All pets should have routine screenings and preventatives they protect the pet and public health.
Pain management. If your new practice does not offer pain management with surgical procedures you need to find a new practice. The absence of pain management is barbaric and antiquated and shows the veterinary office is not following current guidelines and recommendations from governing bodies such as the AVMA and AAHA.
In-house diagnostics. Well functioning veterinary hospitals can perform radiographs and basic blood work and can easily acquire needle samples of lumps and bumps. I heard of one veterinary practice that does not perform fine needle aspirates of lumps and instead refers all of them. It takes very little skill to collect a sample, therefore even if your vet doesn’t read them herself, submitting the sample to the pathologist is the only other reasonable approach. In addition, ear cytologies, skin cytologies, and urinalysis round out the list of diagnostics I expect all veterinary practices to perform.
Referral. Will your vet refer you to a specialist when it’s warranted? Referring complex cases for a more comprehensive work-up after you have exhausted their diagnostics is always in the patient’s best interest. Lack of referral reveals either an ego or financial issue.
Mean or disgruntled front-desk staff. My experience has shown that the receptionist staff is the canary in the coalmine for the temperature of the practice. If the front desk is unwelcoming and unaccommodating when you come in, it spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E with the rest of the staff.
Mean or disgruntled veterinarian. Sometimes we have a bad day but part of our job is to turn on our happy face with every appointment. If a vet can’t fake it for a 15 minute appointment block, we don’t deserve your business.
Hospitalization of patients overnight without supervision. This is tricky if you’re live in a rural area with no other options. However, I can attest animals hospitalized overnight for “medical care” with no staff frequently experience the following complications: laying in urine/feces overnight, occlusion of intravenous fluids, and chewing out incisions and IV catheters with subsequent bleeding. Rarely animals with IV fluid lines can strangle themselves. If there is a referral or emergency hospital nearby, your pet will have more comfort and safety with a transfer to a 24 hour care facility. If your pet will stay at a hospital that is unsupervised overnight, it is a veterinary hospital’s duty to alert you to the risks associated with doing so.
None of the exam is performed in an exam room. This goes two ways for me: 1. I know of a practice where all exams and conversations are performed in the waiting room while you are surrounded by other clients with their animals. 2. I know of multiple practices that take the pet to “the back” and return the pet when finished. Both of these scenarios are wrong. A thorough examination should be performed in front of the owner in a private exam room. This allows for conversation, follow-up questions, and peace of mind. The rare exception are dogs and cats who are so scared and aggressive that separation from their owner helps calm them. All of this said, it is important to note that it is very normal for pets to be taken to “the back” for blood draws and, sometimes, nail trims. Frankly, our extra supplies and staff are there if needed.
Frequent misdiagnosis. We all miss a diagnosis from time to time. We have surgeries that don’t heal properly, swellings that shouldn’t be there, and treatments that don’t work. But if your veterinarian has repeatedly incorrectly diagnosed a common disease process you can rest assured the quality of medicine she is practicing is poor. Reference material, continuing education, and other veterinarians are great resources for any veterinarian. There are plenty of ways to reach an appropriate diagnosis even including the aforementioned referral to the specialist.
If your veterinarian meets the basics and no red flags have alerted, feel confident that you can have a good relationship with your veterinary hospital.