In most of America, veterinary practices have a lot of competition. They’re everywhere, and unless you’re dealing with exotics or living somewhere without roads, you have a lot of options. Yet when you ask most people why they go to their vet, it has more to do with convenience or habit than love for the outstanding care their pets receive.
This is silly. Even basic veterinary care is expensive, and when you really need them, you want your vet to be supportive, affordable, knowledgeable and all around awesome. You’re a valuable customer and you and your pets deserve excellent care. That is why it’s so important to find and establish a good relationship with the right veterinary practice before you need them.
High price does not guarantee superior knowledge or care, so shopping around for a practice in your budget is perfectly reasonable. If you’re too afraid of the vet bill to take your pet in, the expensive veterinary office isn’t doing you much good. All sorts of factors, such as location, the addition of boarding or grooming services, the number of vets sharing a practice, and the equipment used go into how a practice sets their prices. All of that stuff matters different amounts to different people.
Going to a practice with just a single vet can be nice because you’ll always see the doctor and staff you expected, but it’s limiting in emergencies or when they’re on vacation. Even your regular appointments may be harder to schedule around a single provider. Multiple vets at a practice tends to lower costs and increase the number of services they offer, as well as allowing them to handle emergency care without clearing the day’s schedule of routine appointments. Unfortunately, more staff means that even if you see the same doctor, you may be dealing with different support staff every time. If you end up with a different doctor, you can get a very different level of care than you expected. A bigger practice will also tend to make the waiting room more crowded, which can be a major concern for shy animals. Some vets rotate practices on different days, and it can make it a pain to get in with the doctor you like. Sometimes specialists rotate practices and that’s kinda awesome if you happen to need that specialty, because all your pet’s needs can be handled in one clinic.
All of the best vets I’ve dealt with were very willing to look things up and admitted freely when they didn’t know something. Even a vet who “only” sees dogs and cats has to understand the medical needs of two species, and deal with many of the issues a human GP would refer to a specialist. Add that they’re often hearing about symptoms secondhand from owners, and their patients don’t understand why it’s important to hold still for their exam. I’ve heard plenty of people complain when their vet doesn’t have a façade of omniscience, or makes an incorrect first diagnosis, but those are perfectly fine with me.
In general, I’m looking for a vet who makes my pet’s comfort a priority, makes routine preventative care simple, and is still actively learning. Noting makes me happier than hearing that my vet is at a conference learning something new. Just like human medicine, veterinary medicine is always improving and the more my vet can learn the better.
Other people and animals may have different priorities, and that’s fine. What’s important is that you’ve got the vet you want instead of the one that’s closest to your house. Even if you don’t want to change vets now remember that you’ve always got the option of getting a second opinion if your pet is having a major medical or behavioral issue.