by Garry White
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.
Please note: 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 is.
If you’re like me, you’ll remember about half of what they tell you. . .maybe even all the way to the parking lot.
PROXIMITY TO HOME
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 me.
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.
VET CARE – 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!
COST OF TESTS
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.
SPEAK 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.
Garry’s 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 overnight.
9. Be sure they can do (or have done) the various testing that might be needed.
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 shoulder.
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!
And remember: 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.
Next week’s 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.
Disclaimer: Kathy Fatheree is not at all a medical expert. Contents of this web site are a collection of Kathy’s assist feeding experiences as well as the experiences of other cat owners who have assist fed their cats. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, Kathy Fatheree or anyone associated with this web site cannot be held responsible for anything that may happen as a result of using the information on this site.