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How to Choose the Best Veterinarian for Your Cat

@catsstories  #CatStories

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Updated August 3, 2016.

Selecting the right veterinarian for your cat is never an easy.  Like any journey into the unknown, uncertainty and lack of information can make going forward a challenge.

Here at CatsStories.com, I’ve done the legwork for you and have put together a comprehensive article on how to choose a good cat doctor, pet clinic or hospital, plus the tools you need to find one located near you. 

Bookmark this page to return to when you need help finding a reputable and caring Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) for your cat.  

Share this page with your cat loving family and friends.  It will help make their pet owning lives easier.



Word of Mouth is Most Valuable

Start by collecting suggestions from people you know.  

Family, friends, neighbors and co-workers can be the best resources to help you locate a competent and compassionate cat care professional.  

It is important to choose a veterinarian for your cat BEFORE a furry crisis happens!

Check with your local humane society, local animal shelters, reputable kennels or cat organizations, such as breed clubs.   Their businesses depend on associating with the best of the best, so their recommendations can be reliable.

Ask your resources why they think their DVM of choice is the best. What you’re looking for is to develop a sense for “reputation”.   

Does their DVM specialize in cats?  What do they like about their cat care professional?  What would they change about their animal doctor, if they could?  Do they know of any other veterinarians they might like better?


Locating Veterinary Prospects

Knowledge and expertise are important.  So are high standards and good credentials.

For the best medical care, choose a state licensed, board certified feline expert.

These professionals are proactive and have gone above and beyond the basics, studying an extra two to four years to pass a thorough exam. They stay current in their areas of expertise using the latest and greatest medical information, diagnostics, treatments and techniques to give the best care they can.

Check their credentials.  If you cannot find them prominently displayed, ask to see them.  Are they from a highly regarded institution or organization?  Are the dates current?  Does the practitioner plan to pursue more credentials or certifications?  Which one does your practitioner most value or is proud of?

Use the following highly regarded websites and their search tools to locate a reputable animal practitioner near you (listed in alphabetical order to show impartiality).

Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy

The AVH’s standards of practice and purpose are to “establish standards for the practice of veterinary homeopathy, to advance veterinary homeopathy through education and research, and to help [their] clients make informed therapeutic decisions.” 

Use their Search for a Veterinary Homeopath tool to locate a practitioner near you.

American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture

AAVA’s mission is to, “improve animal health care by the advancement of veterinary acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine and Asian Veterinary Medicine through education, research and leadership.”

Use their tool to Search for Veterinary Acupuncturists in Your Area.

American Animal Hospital Association

The American Animal Hospital Association accredits veterinary hospitals that voluntarily meet the AAHA’s standards in the areas of quality care, equipment and facility.  

Use the AAHA-Accredited Veterinary Hospital Locator tool to find a facility near you.

American Association of Feline Practitioners

Members of the AAFP have voluntarily adopted cat friendly practice guidelines.

Use the Find Veterinarians and Practices tool to locate a cat friendly practice near you.

American Board of Veterinary Practitioners 

The abbreviation, “ABVP”, after a name means, “American Board of Veterinary Practitioners”; a veterinarian must voluntarily complete the extra studies and pass a rigorous exam to become a board certified specialist and awarded this distinction from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Use the Search Diplomates tool to find an ABVP credentialed veterinarian near you.

American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association

The AHVMA, “explores and supports alternative and complementary approaches to veterinary health-care, and is dedicated to integrating all aspects of animal wellness in an ethical and environmentally responsible manner.”

Use the Find a Holistic Veterinarian directory to locate a holistic practitioner in your state.

American Veterinary Chiropractic Association

Members of the AVCA receive their credential after passing a rigorous exam testing their knowledge and competency in this specialty.

Use the Find an AVCA Certified Doctor member directory to find an animal chiropractor near you.

American Veterinary Medical Association

The American Board of Veterinary Specialties branch of the AVMA has a wonderful video about how to choose a veterinarian.


Veterinary School

Consider a local veterinary school.  Academic veterinarians are skilled and proficient in their field.  The oversight from experienced instructors lends a second layer of expertise.  Care is often discounted making this option for cat care more affordable.

Webvet.com

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Use Webvet's "VetFinder" tool to find a practitioner near you. Enter your information to access one of the largest databases of veterinary professionals, pet hospitals, animal shelters and other services in the pet health industry.


Find the Best Veterinarian Checklist

Click here to access the free  “Find the Best Veterinarian Checklist”.  

Print the checklist tool to aid in your search.  

It is useful during pre-screening and to take along when you tour a prospective pet clinic or hospital. In the midst of an interview it’s easy to forget what you should be observing.

Space is provided to write down your questions and concerns, and to note answers and information for later review.    

Continue reading this article to round out your knowledge about criteria and high standards before taking action.

The checklist and the veterinarian search links are tools to aid your search. Use them to collect all the information you need to make the best decision regarding your cat’s medical welfare.


Cat Care Philosophy

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There are different approaches to veterinary medicine, often referred to as “practice philosophy”.  

Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVMs) trained in traditional practices are also known as allopathic or conventional western medicine.  Their general approach is to focus on the treatment of symptoms of disorders, diseases and illnesses using pharmaceutical drugs and/or surgery. 

Some DVMs with the same certification and licensing, who complete more education and training in alternative medicine, are termed “holistic” veterinarians.  They focus on supporting the “healing” abilities of the body to prevent health issues and to promote wellness.  

Various holistic philosophies include, homeopathy, chiropractic (both traditional and non-force), acupuncture or acupressure, herbs, natural nutrition and supplementation, and other modalities.

Practitioners who combine allopathic and holistic approaches are termed “integrative veterinarians”, drawing on the best of both philosophies to serve the healthcare needs of their animal clients.


Choosing Your Cat Care Philosophy

It is important to choose a feline doctor whose cat care philosophy aligns with your own. 

Consider going the extra mile and choosing the medical approach that best serves your cat’s healthcare needs, even if this means learning about a new philosophy or seeking an animal doctor who practices integrative medicine.

Think about your stance on vaccinations, diet, pharmaceuticals and elective surgery.


Pre-screen & Prepare

After you've refined your search for an animal health-care provider, call them to conduct a pre-screening telephone interview.  

Much time and energy can be saved for yourself and the veterinarian by taking care of important preliminary questions before visiting the facility and meeting the staff.

This is the opportune time to learn about their credentials and understand their cat care philosophy.

Find out about availability, services and costs.  See more details about these below.

When you are satisfied with the information you received during the pre-screen, make an appointment with the prospective DVM, pet clinic or hospital to consult with the primary provider, meet the support staff and tour the facility.

If a facility has a no-tour policy or will not grant your request for a tour, consider this a red flag warning, there is a problem.  Don’t waste any more time there.  Scratch this prospect off your list and move on to review another facility.

Before visiting, make a list of your concerns and questions to take with you.  

Great veterinarians will be happy to take the time to address these issues. They are just as concerned as you are about your cat’s medical care.

Be ready to pay for the initial consultation interview; it is a professional courtesy to respect their valuable time and expertise.


Availability 

Evaluate your availability needs.

Remember to include the unforeseen situations, such as sudden or acute illness, and injuries requiring emergency medical care.

Ask if the veterinary practitioner is receiving new patients.  

What is the emergency policy?  Does the DVM take walk-in emergencies during regular office hours? Where do you turn for help with off-hours emergencies?  Does the animal doctor recommend a specific emergency hospital?

Do the regular office hours coincide with your off-work hours?  This is an especially important consideration for those who work swing-shift and graveyard, weekends or on holidays.

What about coverage for off-times, for example, weekends and holidays or when the cat doctor is ill, on vacation or away at professional seminars or training?

When you do make an appointment are you scheduled in a timely manner or must you wait too long to get care for your cat?


Services

Most veterinarians have a variety of services they offer onsite.  For those they don’t offer, they often give referrals to good organizations that do.

Ask if the DVM refers to a network of specialists for services needed, but not offered at their clinic. 

Such services might include surgery, dentistry, laboratory testing, orthopedics, counseling for behavior or nutrition, and diagnostics for example, ultrasounds, radiology, or colonoscopy.

Veterinarians are very dedicated professionals, and their skills are in great demand.  Sometimes they get so busy taking care of patients, their primary focus, they forget.  

So, if there is a service you wish to have, but is not available at your clinic, ask the veterinarian for a referral.  They will be happy to connect you with the best they know.

Find out what emergency services are available.  If a situation cannot be handled at the office, consider using the emergency care facility recommended by your well-loved cat doctor, instead of striking out on your own.  You might have to travel quite a distance, but the care could save your pet’s life.

Boarding is a common service offered by most clinics.  Make sure ill pets are housed away from well pets.  

Ask about the boarding accommodations.  

Will your pet be allowed out of the main enclosure each day?  Are the accommodations indoors, outdoors or in a common room with cross species?  Cats and dogs housed together make for extra stress on animals recovering from traumatic events, such as surgery or injury.  Remember it is very bewildering and frightening for your pet to be away from home and away from the ones they love and depend upon.

Are the accommodations adequate for recovery?  Are they environmentally controlled, vented in the summer and heated in the winter.  If the accommodations are outdoors, is there shelter from the weather and a comfortable place to rest?

Are staff onsite around the clock to tend to ill and injured pets?  You’d be surprised how many clinics have no certified or trained staff onsite through the nighttime hours or on weekends, leaving boarded pets to fend for themselves.  What if your pet has a relapse following an acute illness or a complication from surgery and no one is onsite to care for them?

Does the clinic offer boarding for cats while their families are gone on vacation?  How about pet daycare?  What about if you are single and you have a hospital stay; can you board your cat with your DVM until you are well enough to resume your pet responsibilities?

Some veterinarians offer other services helpful to their clients, such as behavior training, classes and grooming.


Costs

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Inquire about payment policies.  

What means of payment does the facility accept, cash only or credit and debit cards?  Do they expect full payment at time of service or do they bill for services rendered?  Are they willing to work with the pet owner in times of emergency, or do they refuse treatment when you can’t pay in full?

Do they accept pet insurance?  If so, which policies do they honor?  

Ask about their fee structure and request a copy of it.

Veterinary costs accumulate rapidly, especially when emergency care is required.  Knowing what the fees are ahead of time can help household’s budget contingency funds to handle the unknown.


Leave Your Cat At Home

Leave your cat at home for this initial review visit.  Your well-loved kitty will suffer enough stress upon meeting a new veterinarian for the first time.

While reviewing a facility pay attention to your instincts!

If something doesn’t seem right, even though you don’t know what it is, it probably isn’t right.  

Don’t risk the life of your pet by ignoring your body’s warning signals.  

Leave immediately and without apology.  Scratch this prospect off your list and arrange to review another facility.

Likewise, when your cat does meet a new veterinarian for the first time, follow your cat’s instincts.  

Your cat must like and trust your vet.  If it doesn’t, find one your cat does accept.


Interview & Facility Tour

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Upon arrival notice if the location is in a safe area of the city or town.  Is parking is convenient?  Is it safe for your pet to be removed from the automobile?  Is the parking area well lit at night?  In the northern states, the sun sets before the close of office hours in the winter months and dark nights arrive early. 

What is the condition of the outside of the building?  Is it well maintained and are the grounds clean? Is the entrance well marked and well lit at night?

When you enter the office, sniff deeply; is it free of offensive odors?  Are the reception and waiting areas in good condition and clean?  Is the décor friendly and calming?  What is the atmosphere really like; warm and comfortable, or cold and austere?

Are the doctor’s credentials prominently displayed for you to examine and verify?

How long is the wait time before seeing the doctor?  

While waiting notice pet owners and patients.  They tend to reflect the practice’s “culture”.  Are they friendly with each other, sharing pet stories, showing interest in each other and their pets?

Chat with pet owners.  

Ask them about the veterinarian, how long their pets have been patients and what they think about the care they are receiving.  

Go another step further and ask them if they and their cat feel secure and safe in the doctor’s hands. Do they and their cat trust the veterinarian and staff?  Do they receive quality care and concern?

Such conversations can be more revealing than any other investigation you’ve done thus far.

As you tour the rest of the facility, the places and rooms behind the reception area and waiting room, note the organization of the floor plan, room layout, and storage.  

Are areas and rooms appropriately and well equipped?  Is the equipment well maintained and up-to-date?  

What about cleanliness and sanitation?  

If you have questions or doubts about these, ask the professional who is conducting the tour. Should they avoid the question or do not give a satisfactory answer, reconsider using this clinic.  

Cleanliness and sanitation are issues too important to dismiss.  

Don’t risk the safety and health of your pet.


Staffing

When you first walk into the clinic or hospital are you greeted by warm and helpful staff members who express genuine concern for you, and for their pet patients and human owners?  How is the customer service, really?

If you are present during an adverse situation, how does the staff conduct themselves?  Do they react or do they respond appropriately as professionals should?  Do they remain competent under duress?

Ask to meet the licensed veterinary technicians.  Ask them who really cares for the pet patients, they or the veterinarian?  Are they courteous? Are they competent professionals with good animal skills?


The Veterinarian

After greeting the veterinarian, ask about their expertise.  If credentials were not prominently displayed in the reception area, ask to see them. Are they up-to-date?  

Are all publications current, including medical references?  This shows the veterinarian pursues continuing education and practices the latest in veterinary medicine. 

While interviewing, note the doctor’s attitude, and their connection with you and pet patients.  Is the communication good?  Do you feel they are competent?

Don’t confuse inter-personal skills with professional skills or competence. Specialists tend to have weaker inter-personal skills with humans, but connect great with your pets.

Ask how they feel about second opinions and specialists.

Does the veterinary professional address your questions and concerns to your satisfaction?


The Bottom Line

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After your investigation is complete, compare the information you have collected about veterinarians, their staff and facilities.

Do they meet the criteria and standards you've established?  Whom did you best connect with and feel the most comfortable with?

Whom will your cat best feel safe, secure and cared for with?

The big question is which veterinarian, staff and facility will make your cat’s care their first priority?



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