Just what do you look for when you are choosing a vet practice for your pet? For some people it is an easy decision as there is only one local vet practice in easy travelling distance, for others it can be a bewildering choice. A good feeling about a vet practice counts for a lot but there are differences between clinics, understanding what these are can help you to make an informed decision. The choice will not be black and white, local vet practices will be strong and weak in different areas, it is finding the vet practice that is right for you and right for your pet that matters.
Word of mouth recommendation is a good place to start, pet owners in real life or on social networks are usually delighted to help. There is a fairly comprehensive list of vet practices on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website, you can also look at the usual local directories and, of course there is the Vet Help Direct Vet Practice Directory. We are biased, obviously, but believe our directory is extra useful as we provide information, images and, in some cases, video of the vet clinics. You can also try googling the name of the vet practice as most have websites.
Next you need to go and visit, don’t be embarrassed to explain you are choosing a vet practice, the staff should be happy to arrange a convenient time for you to look around. Its vitally important that you and your pet feel comfortable at your vets so make sure the staff seem friendly and approachable.
Ask about the staff, do they have any special interests? Have they attended any courses recently? Are there any vets or nurses with extra qualifications? There are no right or wrong answers but it can help you to get a general feel for the vet practice. If you are the owner of an exotic animal you should check that there is a vet at the practice with experience of treating your species.
Good facilities are certainly not the be all or end all of a vet practice but they should have the basics and it should, of course all be clean and in good working order. If I was choosing a vet practice for my dog I would want one with an opreating theatre, x-ray, ultrasound, anaesthetic and dental machines, a microscope and in house bloods (or a same day arrangement with a local laboratory), separate kenneling for dogs and cats and an isolation area. Beyond that extra facilities are nice but they can always refer you somewhere else in the unlikely event that more complex treatments are required.
The set up of the clinic is also important, are all the facilities there or do you have to travel further away if treatments are necessary? All veterinary surgeons are legally obliged to provide 24 hour cover for emergencies but it is worth asking how this is provided, is it the vets from the surgery or is the out of hours cover provided by a different practice? Whilst it may seem inconvenient to go further afield in the middle of the night don’t forget there will be benefits in seeing vets and nurses that have not been working the day before, they will also be on site all night providing round the clock care for your pet.
To save you having to look into the facilities and staff in too much detail the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons run a practice standards scheme . Inspectors regularly check they meet the standards for their level to give you peace of mind using the practice. If a practice is certified under the RCVS practice standards scheme you can feel confident using them, but a word of caution, some practices opt out so if they are not registered it doesn’t mean that they have not passed, they may have chosen not to take part.
Prices do vary from practice to practice, staff should be able to refer you to a list of the prices of the top selling products and provide you with the prices of consultations and vaccinations. Appointment times might also be important to you if you work long hours , many vet clinics now offer late night surgeries at least once a week.
Once you have made your decision it is a good idea to register in advance to speed up care if your pet becomes ill. There should be no problem at all changing vets although its important to let both practices know what is happening so that notes can be transferred. Its perfectly acceptable and often sensible to change vets but its not usually a good idea to keep swapping around; its less stressful for the pet if they get to know the vet and premises and you can expect a better standard of care as the vet will get to know you and your pet personally.