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Help in Selecting a New Veterinarian

Including questions to ask a prospective vet

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Veterinarian examining cat

Observe the vet's manner of interacting with your cat

Franny Syufy
Selecting a new veterinarian for cats is always a challenge, whether moving into a new area or dissatisfied with the former vet. Referrals from family, friends, and neighbors are always helpful. In the case of a recent move, you can ask for referrals from co-workers or neighbors. Animal shelters, humane societies and cat rescue organizations are always a good source of referrals. If cats are your only pets, you can query the member list of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, by city, state, or zip code. Finally, you may be forced to look in your local phone directory.

Once you have selected one or more veterinary clinics to interview, it is always advisable to be prepared with a list of questions to ask any prospective veterinarian. Your goal is to decide if this vet or veterinary clinic is one you can trust with the health care of your cat. The best way to accomplish your goal is to make an appointment for a routine "well cat" checkup. Since the first line of defense at a veterinary clinic is the receptionist who answers the phones, it is unlikely that you will be able to conduct your interview by phone. Even if you do get through to a veterinarian, he or she will likely be rushed, between appointments. Quick answers to your questions under those circumstances may be unsatisfactory, and not give a true picture of the overall operation of the clinic. Besides, a large factor in choosing a veterinarian is observing how she interacts with your cat on the examination table. Does she talk in soothing tones to your cat as she gently palpates his organs? Does she take her time, or is she hurried and distracted?

When you make your appointment, ask for an additional 15 minutes to be set aside for asking your questions. Be sure to be on time, and bring your cat's records from your previous veterinarian, if you have copies. When you talk to the veterinarian, try to be casual and relaxed. Remember that, in a sense, you are an employer interviewing a prospective employee, so allow for open discussion. You'll learn a lot more than if you issue your questions in a rapid-fire drill. After all, the hoped-for end result is that you and this professional will be entering into a long-term partnership for the care of your cat.

The following are questions I'd ask a prospective veterinarian. You might not want to ask them all, and you may substitute others, but this list will give you the framework to start.

  • How many veterinarian do you have on staff or on call?
    I've enjoyed the services of several one-vet clinics, but they do have certain disadvantages. A veterinarian working alone will seldom have evening or weekend hours, and nights are usually set aside for family. One veterinarian I work with has extended hours one weeknight, and he does provide a backup vet at his clinic to cover vacations. But in a nighttime, weekend, or holiday emergency, I have to look elsewhere.
  • Are you or one of your veterinary staff available for emergencies evenings, weekends, or holidays, by phone?
    Normal office hours will be posted, but you'll need to know where to go for emergency care. It will also be helpful to ask for the location and phone number of the closest emergency clinic.
  • Are you willing to provide me with copies of my cat's lab results, as well as notes from his file?
    Every responsible caregive should keep copies at home, to track his or her cat's health. This information is also invaluable to take along to an emergency clinic, when original office records won't be available.
  • Can you provide referrals from current clients?
    Many veterinary clinics post letters and cards from happy clients in their reception areas, so this question may not be necessary.
  • Do you have overnight staffing to care for sick and recovering cats?
    Many veterinary clinics don't, but it would be a good fact to keep in mind for future. Why keep a cat overnight "for observation," if there is nobody around to observe him?
  • Will you support me if I want to try alternate meds and supplements for my cats?
    My veterinarians are very supportive, and when I mention one or another supplement or alternative for my cats, they will either say, "yes, the ingredients sound safe enough," or tell me why that alternative would not work in that case.

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