Cat Veterinarian: Choosing One for Your Cat
By Elizabeth Racine, DVM March 14, 2019
Perhaps you are a first time pet owner, or maybe you have just moved to a new city. Maybe you’ve been unhappy with your previous veterinarian and you are looking to make a change. Whatever your circumstances may be, choosing a veterinarian does not have to be a complicated process. Doing your research in advance can save you time and trouble later when your cat is sick and needs care.
When you are searching for a new veterinarian, there are a few factors you will want to consider.
Word of mouth is still one of the fastest, most reliable ways to get the scoop on a local business. Chances are you have friends, family, or neighbors who have pets, so ask around for recommendations for a local veterinarian.
You can also look online for reviews of local veterinary hospitals. As with any business, remember to take online reviews with a grain of salt – one disgruntled employee or unhappy customer does not necessarily mean the clinic is a bad place! Instead, try to gain an overall impression of the veterinary hospital’s reputation and involvement within the community.
Location and Hours
Of course, you will want to choose a veterinary hospital that is conveniently located and offers appointments at times that will fit into your schedule. Most of this information will be published on the veterinary hospital’s website. When you call, be sure to also ask about the hospital’s emergency policies. Some veterinary hospitals will see emergencies only during business hours, while others may offer emergency care after hours as well. Some hospitals may not be equipped to see emergencies at all.
Questions you should ask include:
- Do you see emergency cases after hours?
- What is the best way to contact the clinic in the event of an emergency?
- Is there an additional emergency fee?
- Will you see emergency cases if the pet is not already an established patient?
If the hospital you are considering does not handle emergencies, ask where you should go in the event that an emergency does arise. Keep the name and address of your local emergency veterinary hospital handy so you won’t have to go looking for this information during a crisis.
Most veterinary clinics are happy to give you a tour as long as you call in advance. If you arrive unannounced, don’t be shocked if you are turned away – due to safety and client confidentiality concerns, many hospitals will not allow visitors while patients are being treated. You will want to schedule your tour at a time when the staff is not as busy, so that you will have the opportunity to look around and ask questions.
While touring the facility, pay close attention to the details. Is the hospital clean and well-maintained?
Are the patients comfortable and closely monitored? Does the staff have enough time to attend to each patient or are they running around like crazy? Not all veterinary hospitals are alike, and you may find you prefer the culture or “feel” of one clinic over another.
Some veterinary professionals (or even entire hospitals) may pursue additional certifications above and beyond the basic requirements. Some common certifications you may see among general veterinary practices include:
- Board Certification - A board certified veterinarian is someone who has completed additional training in a particular specialty. This process is competitive and typically requires 2-4 years of extra training, plus successful completion of a certification exam.
- Certified Veterinary Technician - In most states, anyone can work as a veterinary technician or veterinary nurse without prior training. A certified veterinary technician is a trained professional who has completed required coursework and passed a certifying exam.
- AAHA Accreditation - The American Animal Hospital Association is an organization which evaluates veterinary hospitals based on several different criteria. Veterinary hospitals are not required to become accredited, but they may voluntarily choose to do so to promote consumer confidence.
- Fear Free Certification - This certification can be given to individual staff members or to an entire facility. A Fear Free Certified professional or hospital is focused on reducing patient stress and making veterinary visits less scary for your pet. Some veterinary clinics use the Fear Free principles without pursuing certification.
- Low Stress Handling Certification - Similar to Fear Free Certification, this is a voluntary certification for veterinary professionals who are focused on reducing patient fear and stress in the veterinary clinic. Many clinics will implement low stress handling techniques without pursuing full certification.
- Cat Friendly Practice Certification - This is a special program offered by the American Association of Feline Practitioners that requires the practice to meet specified standards for feline care and handling.
Remember, all of the above certifications are voluntary and some practices may follow the same guidelines without committing to the extra time and expense of certification. If finding a certified clinic or veterinarian is important to you, check the certifying agency’s website for a list of accredited professionals in your area.
The percentage of pet-owning households in the US is higher than ever before, and with the rise in pet ownership there has also been an increasing demand for veterinarians. Single veterinarian practices are becoming less and less common, giving way to corporate-owned veterinary practices and multi-doctor hospitals. While this means more available appointment hours and additional options for veterinary care, some pet owners miss the more intimate feel of seeing the same doctor at every visit. If you prefer to establish a relationship with one doctor, a smaller privately owned clinic may be a better fit for you. Some large veterinary clinics will allow you to indicate a preference for a particular doctor, so ask about this at your initial visit. However, if your pet needs care at a time when your preferred doctor is not available, you’ll still need to see one of the other doctors in the practice.
The old saying still holds true today: you get what you pay for. While it may be tempting to shop around and find the veterinary clinic with the cheapest prices, cost alone should never be the deciding factor when choosing a veterinarian. In the veterinary world, cheaper prices often mean less diagnostic equipment, fewer trained staff, and less monitoring for your pet. There is no getting around it: high-quality medicine is expensive. If you want your cat to have the best, you are going to have to pay for it.
If you have financial constraints, talk to your veterinarian about it early. Most veterinarians are willing to work with you to find a treatment option that will fit your budget. Ask about the payment methods they offer and whether or not they accept payment plans. Some clinics may require an up-front deposit for surgeries or hospitalization, so be sure to look into this as well. You should also ask whether the hospital accepts pet insurance or CareCredit, and consider these options for your pet. Have a plan in place so that if an emergency arises, you won’t have to worry about how you are going to pay for it.
Choosing a veterinary hospital for your cat can seem daunting at first, but you can narrow down the list by considering which factors are most important to you. Remember to establish a relationship with your veterinarian before problems arise so you’ll know exactly where to turn when your cat needs care.