Most veterinarians have earned a four-year undergraduate degree and then attended veterinary school for four more years to earn their doctorates. All veterinarians receive similar basic training in veterinary school,and after graduation pick the type of practice and job they want. Veterinarians are well-educated professionals, and each has their own personality and level of experience. If you have other pets or have had other pets in the recent past,you may have already developed a good relationship with a veterinarian.If you don’t already have a vet,is a good idea to familiarize yourself with a veterinary clinic so that you can get your new cat checked out right away.If you have a positive experience,this clinic will be a resource for questions or problems that may occur later on.
SELECTION BASICS If you live in a metropolitan area and look in the Yellow Pages, you will see listings for numerous veterinarians. How can you choose the
perfect one? There are many factors to consider,and each of them will have a different value to you.
Location We all have busy lives,so we often choose to work with businesses that are conveniently located for us.Each individual is willing to drive a certain distance to buy something or to receive a service,and this distance can vary depending on the situation.The same is true for obtaining veterinary care. Depending on where you live, real estate costs and the availability of good locations will determine where veterinary practices are found. I think location is a valid reason to choose a veterinary clinic,because you are more likely to use services that are easier to obtain.You might want to consider investigating veterinary clinics that are close to your home or work,or are located along the way.
Face Value The way a veterinary facility looks is a reflection on the philosophy of the clinic owner.A neat, clean facility requires more maintenance and care,which shows that the clinic is kept to a certain standard.You may infer that the doctors will want to take extra care and effort to treat your cat,because they care about appearances. Consider visiting a veterinary clinic and touring the facility before bringing your cat there.If a doctor is proud of the clinic and how it is run,this should not be a problem,but it is best to call ahead so that you don’t show up in the middle of an emergency.
A bigger facility is not always a better facility.The size of the facility is not as important as what it contains.A basic veterinary clinic has a reception area,exam rooms,a treatment area,a ward for cages,a surgery room,an isolation area,a pharmacy and the veterinarian’s office. First impressions are always important, but they need to be put in perspective.If you enter a veterinary hospital and there is a strong urine smell,it could be because a tomcat was just in as a patient (which is not a problem), or it could be due to urine-soiled floors and dirty litter boxes (which definitely are problems). Dirty counters and floors don’t look good,and they may make you question the cleanliness of the areas where your cat will be treated.Do remember,though,that it is hard to
control hair and debris in the middle of a hectic day at a veterinary clinic.
Is This a Full-Service Clinic?
Most veterinary clinics offer a variety of services,including:
• Behavior consults
• Flea control
• In-house laboratory
• Medical care
• Nutritional counseling
• X rays
Some clinics also offer ultrasound, endoscopy and laser surgery. During the course of your cat’s lifetime,there is a good chance she will need most of these types of services at one time or another. Having a competent full-service facility makes your life a little easier.If you use multiple services, the staff and doctors will become familiar with you and your cat and will be able to serve you better. Depending on the size of the facility and the staff, services such as boarding and grooming may be available. Before boarding your cat, I recommend checking out the boarding area.Cages vary in composition and size,and you will want to have a good idea of the accommodations offered.If the cages are small in a boarding facility,find out if there is any opportunity for a cat to get out and stretch.The cleanliness and ventilation of the boarding area are more important than the size of the cage.
What About Referrals?
When choosing a veterinary clinic, it is a good idea to ask friends and neighbors who have cats for recommendations.You can consult with
your state or local veterinary association,and you can even search for veterinarians who have a special interest in cats by browsing the web site of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (www.aafponline.org). A veterinary clinic’s reputation is very important,and conscientious doctors want to be respected in the community.If someone tells you to avoid a clinic,find out specifically why and evaluate the validity of the reason.It is always best to make the final judgment yourself.
All of the factors I have just discussed are important when choosing a veterinary facility, but I think the most important factors are the customer service and communication offered to clients by the veterinarian and clinic staff.These less tangible qualities require extra effort and care.
A client must be able to have effective communication with the clinic staff and veterinarian. Clear lines of communication will ensure that your cat receives the care you want,and that best service and treatment options available can be recommended. Many people call around before deciding to use a veterinary clinic, and a decision to use a facility may be based solely on their conversation with a receptionist.If the receptionist is knowledgeable and friendly, you may feel comfortable going there without knowing anything about the veterinarian.This is a good example of how much a first impression can influence you. If you want to know about the doctor and the staff and get more information, just ask. A good veterinary receptionist spends time listening and talking to clients.
Was This a Good Experience?
During your first visit with the veterinarian, you can evaluate your experience by answering the following questions:
• Did the doctor handle your cat kindly and compassionately?
• Did you find the doctor easy to communicate with?
• Did the doctor have a professional appearance?
• Did the doctor listen to you?
• Did you understand your cat’s diagnosis and the recommended solutions? • If medication was prescribed,did the doctor or staff show you how to administer it properly?
• Did the doctor spend enough time with you and answer all your questions?
A good veterinary clinic will have a competent support staff comprised of receptionists, technicians and assistants.These staff members will be able to answer most of your questions or find out the answer if they are not sure. The veterinarian may not always be available to answer your questions outside of a scheduled visit,so it is worth asking a staff member.You might be able to get help right away. The most highly trained staff member at a clinic, aside from the doctor,is the licensed animal health technician.These technicians have been educated in this specialty,have passed a certification exam and are legally able to perform many procedures.Their knowledge and training in animal care are comparable to those of registered nurses.
Does Price Matter?
Each veterinary clinic will have different prices for the services they offer.Veterinarians set their prices based on many factors, including facility,staff,level of expertise and continuing education,location,anesthesia and products used,and competition. Some clinics try to bring you in the door by quoting a low price over the phone but then tack on extra costs for ancillary services that they require.It is important to try to compare costs for the exact same services, using the same drugs and techniques, if you are shopping around by phone and trying to decide which clinic has the best prices.
Do You Get What You Pay For?
I may be biased, but I do believe a good veterinarian is a professional who has to charge a fair price to be able to offer you high-quality services.If you want to have a procedure performed on your cat,you need to decide if price or quality is the most important issue.When low prices are charged,something has to be sacrificed.When fair prices are charged, you should be getting the best care. Note that veterinarians will often try to work out a payment plan for expensive,nonroutine procedures.