Many of us are intimidated by vets, and we shouldn't be. A vet is our
partner in establishing and maintaining Fluffy's wellness and health.
The ideal vet is one who will listen to us, who talks in terms we can
understand, and one who encourages our active participation. Most vets
are conscientious, thoughtful, caring, and highly competent. But as with
any profession, some are not, and this is where the ball sits heavily
in our lap. Since Fluffy cannot do the choosing, it's up to us to weed
out clinics that are nothing more than revenue-bearing profit centers,
and to choose qualified, cooperative doctors. The guidelines in this message
are not exclusive and there are no guarantees, but they should give you
an edge in choosing the right vet the first time.
Be cautious not to "develop an attitude" with this. The last
thing in the world you want to do is alienate a potentially good vet.
Conversely, you are in the driver's seat, you have a right to ask for
information and to make choices. What I'm saying is: Do it nicely but
firmly, and if you don't like what you hear or see. . .simply walk away
without making enemies.
Unless it's an emergency, leave Fluffy at home when you go searching for
a vet. There are advantages to this: You'll not have a squirming, frightened
Fluffy to deal with while you talk with people, you can fill the paperwork
out at home later, and you can evaluate the place without distraction.
Also, since there is no pressure, you're less inclined to sign on with
the first one who pats Fluffy on the head and tells you how adorable she
If you're like me, you'll remember about half of what they tell you. .
.maybe even all the way to the parking lot.
This is certainly a consideration, but don't make 'convenience' your highest
priority. Yes, it's a comfort knowing a vet is close by in case of an
emergency, but choosing a vet because of location can prove disastrous.
Attractive facilities, handsome lobbies, busy-busy workers, and ringing
telephones do not assure good diagnosis and treatment. The profit-center
shops I mentioned take this approach, and for good reason. . .it works!
They know that you, not Fluffy, will pay the bill, so the focus is on
you, not Fluffy. Such a place implies success, and logic dictates that
it must be a great place or they wouldn't be so successful, right? While
I am not suggesting you intentionally seek out a run-down place on the
wrong side of town, remember this about the glamour places: Someone is
paying for all that affluence. . .you! I look for places that are clean,
neat, professional, but more concerned with treating my cat than impressing
State your case: You're shopping for a long-term vet for Fluffy. If they
treat you with indifference, or if you are ignored, then walk away. It
won't get better later on. You're paying the bills, and if they treat
you this way now, try to imagine how Fluffy will be treated behind closed
doors. You're there on a mission, you're offering them a lot of business
over a long period of time. If they don't respect that, then you're in
the wrong place.
Ask the question: What animals do you treat here, and what percentage
of your patients are cats? If kitties are a small percentage of the operation,
it's probably not a good place to be, because their knowledge base can
only be fragmented.
It's reasonable to assume that Fluffy will spend a few overnighters here
in the ensuing years, and you have a right to know what her surroundings
will be. Insist on a tour, and especially insist on seeing their ICU unit!
Those with something to hide will balk at this, usually falling behind
the old story about "For insurance reasons, we cannot do this".
My advice: Leave! It's doubtful that a brief, supervised tour of the place
would result in their insurance being cancelled.
Clinics are not full-blown emergency hospitals, and we shouldn't expect
them to be equipped as such. I'm not too concerned if they don't have
some of the high-dollar equipment, as long as they have the abilities
to get things done quickly, which most do. In fact, I've always gotten
more personalized attention in a smaller, less-equipped facility.
- COST vs. QUALITY
How much is Fluffy worth? Such a question! Sell the farm, pawn the husband.
. .whatever it cost, that's what it is, right? Not necessarily, as you'll
see below. Of course you want the best possible attention for Fluffy,
and we all know that quality is not cheap. . .but cost alone does not
assure good service. Mind you, I'm not suggesting you seek the cheapest
vet in town, but neither am I suggesting you call around for the most
expensive one and assume that's the best. Unless you're filthy rich like
me (oh, how I wish!), cost does matter, and there are steps you can take
to find that ideal mix of good care at cost you can afford. The logic
behind this is sound: If every trip to the vet is a financial drain, then
you won't go, or you'll put it off until the next visit. . .which could
prove disastrous. All I'm saying here is for you to be wary: If everyone
else charges $60-80 for bloodwork, and this place wants $135, then make
them tell you why theirs is so much more expensive, and insist on a solid
answer! Would you pay me $250 for steak dinner just because I told you
I'm more conscientious about how I cooked it? A blood test is a blood
test, and any reputable vet will do it to the very best of their abilities;
paying more for it doesn't assure better numbers.
Ask about the cost of a scheduled office visit, and specifically the cost
of walk-ins, which are often considered "emergency". In one
facility, the place was open until 7:00 PM, but even a scheduled appointment
after 5:00 PM was deemed "emergency" and cost me an additional
$95.00, which I wasn't made aware of in advance. Ask! Also ask about call-ins:
I called one evening to confirm the dosage of a medication, got another
vet because my own had left for the day, and was hit with a $45.00 "consult
fee" on my next visit. And whatever you do, be sure to ask about
the cost of overnight hospitalization. . .one place socked me $683 for
a two-night stay in their "ICU" unit, which was unattended at
night, and the total meds were a $3 bottle if IV fluids. Ask!
In future Newsletters, we'll get more involved with the various tests
you'll be exposed to, but for now, use these as a guideline: Blood tests,
CBC panels, renal panels, ultrasounds, blood-pressure testing, thyroid
tests, urinalysis testing, lab culture tests. Ask the cost of these tests!
I've seen them double (and even triple!) from place to place.
WITH A DOCTOR
Insist on this! If they're unwilling to spend a few minutes with a "not-yet-paying"
customer, then I suggest you keep looking. Because they're telling you
it's all about money, not developing a relationship with you and Fluffy.
But most will speak with you, and you should be concise and to the point.
Explain Fluffy briefly and inform him/her that you'll be taking an active
and interactive role in Fluffy's well-being programs. In short, state
your case: You want a vet you can talk to and one who will listen to what
you have to say.
Most people are afraid to ask a doctor about his/her qualifications, and
this fear can prove disastrous. A board-certified doctor at a well-known
pet emergency hospital made it all clear to me one day, when I was grumbling
about maltreatment by a previous vet. He pointed to his own license on
the wall and informed me that a vet who finished 123rd in his class gets
the exact same license as one who finished in the top-ten. Ask the question!
Those who did well are excited for the opportunity to brag about it, and
those who did poorly are usually indignant, offended that you should have
the nerve to ask such a question. The reality is that vets are not Gods
with mystical powers, they are trained human beings. You'll be placing
Fluffy's life in their hands and you have a right to know whether they
are a knowledgeable professional, or whether they squeaked by enough to
get a license.
Okay, we're almost done: Let's turn all of this into a checklist.
Top 12 Tips for Selecting a Vet
1. Go alone in your search for a vet/clinic.
2. Take good NOTES on what you are told, what you observed.
3. Don't select a vet just because it's closer to home.
4. Don't let the glamour-shops be a determining factor.
5. Your first impressions are probably right. . . let them guide you!
6. Evaluate the people and how they treated you.
7. Don't choose a place where cats are a minor percentage of the patients.
8. Be sure the facilities are such that you'd be okay leaving Fluffy there
9. Be sure they can do (or have done) the various testing that might be
10. Establish costs for visits, testing, and other procedures.
11. Speak with a doctor, and don't settle for one with a chip on his/her
12. Confirm the vet's qualifications.
Unless you're completely satisfied with all that you've seen and heard,
and there are no other vets in the area, then do not draw a firm conclusion
just yet. Go shopping!
You are paying the bills so you are in charge! Don't be intimidated by
a license hanging on a wall and a white lab coat.
topic will be: THE FIRST VISIT. Now that you've done the preliminaries
and found what seems to be a great facility and a fantastic vet, the real
proof is in that first visit with Fluffy. Next week we'll cover what you
should expect, what you should tolerate, ground rules that should be established
early on, and a variety of related topics.
to Newsletter Vol. 1, No. 2