How do you pick a vet?

What a deceptively simple-sounding question. I got an e-mail the other day from a friend asking me if I knew any good vets in her area for her new puppy. I responded with the name of a vet I knew in the area, a vet who practices good medicine and knows his stuff.

Had she not had me to ask, how would she choose? I doubt she’d pick up a Yellow Pages. Maybe Google the vets in the area, check out Yelp reviews, go from there? Look for a clinic with a Facebook account or website to check them out?

I’m actually surprised by how few vet clinics in our area have sharp looking websites. An old and dusty site, or no site at all, reflects old and dusty medicine, I would think, even if that weren’t the case. Facebook and Twitter accounts show a staff that is up to date on technology trends, and is open to embracing them as well as to interacting with the clients outside the office.

We know that once people get in the door, other factors come into play- attitudes of the doctor and staff, cost of services, quality of medicine- but none of that matters if you don’t cross the doorstep to begin with.

So how did you pick your veterinarian? Were you driving by and found yourself impressed by the facility? Word of mouth from a neighbor? Saw them on Facebook? Inquiring minds want to know.

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  • Pat in east TN

    I asked around when we moved to this area. We’re very rural, and word of mouth is the best advertisement. I am more then pleased with my choice, as is my pup, plus this vet also kennels, so I feel good when going out of town that my pup is in a good place.

  • I picked our vet hospital originally out of necessity – they were the closest place that treated parrots. Since then, we’ve stayed with them because they are great and well worth the (slightly) higher prices because of the quality of care all of our animals receive. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they have some of the nicest staff I’ve ever met. That can make a huge difference.

    For example: When our favorite vet left the practice a few years ago, we did consider moving to a well-known practice just down the street from us (our vet’s office is a 20 minute drive). I called and asked that since I had a dog with a very complicated medical problem (shar pei fever, amyloidosis, IBD, compromised immune system), could I meet with one of the vets and talk with them about it?

    The reception staff was flabbergasted and insulted. There was a flurry of muffled conversation. I explained that I was more than willing to pay since I would be taking up the vet’s time and that it wasn’t that I didn’t think they were competent vets, but I wanted to discuss their facilities and treatment options. Again, confusion and rudeness that I would want to do such a thing. If that’s how their front-desk staff treated me, you can bet that I will never go there, and they also lost all the referrals that I am frequently asked for.

    • And to clarify, their website claimed that they welcomed new clients to “come and look around and let us show you we’re the vet for you!” or somesuch.

  • Ryl Ashley

    Proximity to my house is a big factor. I lived in NYC for 10 years without a car, and clearly I took my dog and cat to a vet that was close – close enough to carry my cocker spaniel to, when I had to do it. You don’t want to subject your sick pet to a long subway trip, you know? Even now that we live in a more car-based location, proximity is still a major factor. My pets aren’t used to being in the car and car trips are stressful for them. I would imagine this is true of most (though not all) dogs and cats. You don’t want to put them through a stressful car trip on top of the visit to the vet, which is also usually stressful. So, internet sites have zero to do with my choice. I look for places nearby, and then, from the places I find, I look for the doctor that I like the most.

  • I had no idea how to pick a vet and so ended up just going to the same place my parents have brought their dogs for 25+ years. It’s a bit further away than I’d like but the folks there are nice.

    • Tonya

      Like Michelle, I chose the vet that my grandpa took his dog to when I was in high school, which is within walking distance of my house. I love that I can walk my dog to the vet when it’s just a routine visit or walk him up to weigh him every few months if he doesn’t have another reason to visit. And when it’s something more urgent, I can be there in 2 minutes by car. The senior vet who treated my grandpa’s dog is semi-retired but still sees patients one day a week. Great guy, and I love knowing he’s around for consultations with the two other vets we see because he’s seen pretty much everything over the years!

      If I moved to another city and didn’t know anyone to give a personal recommendation, I would search the web. Personal recommendations for something that important always carry more weight with me though.

  • Amanda

    Like many others that have posted, proximity was the first draw, followed my superior clinical care.

    Initially – I pickled the vet that was closest. My brood of 4 cats and 2 dogs in a 2 person working household means two things: we will likely be going to teh vet frequently, and 2) that’s a lot easier when the vet is close.

    Thsi vet is 2.5 miles from my house. Thsi means I can do a first thing in teh mronign visit and still get to work by 10. That’s important, but not necessarily just for my convenience – its better for my pets. When I know it won’t blow as whole or half day to check out something i don’t liek the looks of, hman nature being what it is, I am more likely to take the pets in when unexpected but seemingly minor things happen. This usually prevents small problems from becoming big problems.

    That said, I was blown away by the superior level of care we received. Which made me stay with teh very conveiently located vet. And yes, the cost – 20-50% higher than other local vets. But I am willing to accept that because I believe my pets are healthier – and still with me – despite some very serious scrapes – because of the higher level of care. I realize in these tough economic tims not everyone has that luxury, and my husband and I have definitely sacrificed more than a few vacations to pay for surgeries – the cost of which makes friends and family look at us like we are crazy! But all six pets are still ambulatory and happy – and that counts for a lot.

  • Hi Y’all,

    Having lived in mostly rural areas, our farm vet usually took care of the dogs and cats when he/she made farm calls. If I needed a small animal vet, the farm vet usually recommended. However, when we adopted our female Chessie and she came with heartworm, we selected a vet based on an telephone interview. It was important that he be willing to come to the house when it came time, and when she was almost 16 he had to make that call.

    Once more we are rural. Here at the shore there is only one vet anywhere close. The vet we use the most is in the mountains and it is the one our entire family uses. The older man retired and a “sweet young vet” bought the practice. We hope she is very successful because she doesn’t hesitate to refer you if she sees something she isn’t sure about treating. She has adopted dogs with allergies and is helpful and discusses things like shots, etc. She has all the original staff, office and tech. Obviously, family was responsible for guiding our choice.

    It’s tough if you don’t have someone to ask. The only thing you can do is let your feet do the walking (which we have with farm vets)…or pick up the phone and call someone else.

    Hawk aka BrownDog’s Human

  • We moved here several years ago and we didn’t know anyway. Dan’s office was on the other side of the city and most of his co-workers lived on that side; so, we ended up going with an animal hospital and veterinarian practice near our house for convenience. We liked the vets; so, we stuck with them.

    Fast forward about a year later when we adopted Gracie, a 3 legged rescue cat. She was suffering from ear problems and we kept taking her back over and over again and the vets were clueless and not helping her. They kept saying it was ear mites even after testing negative 3 times and said it was food allergies and we had her on special food for the longest time. In the meantime, Gracie was going downhill.

    After about nine months of struggling and at wits end, we decided to try another animal hospital — one that takes pets after hours. That was a blessing is disguise! Those people also suggested ear mites too and treated her. Both Dan and I were frustrated because we knew it wasn’t ear mites. However, they wanted her back one week later. Our old vet didn’t even ask for followups.

    We took Gracie back and the vet was shocked to see that the ear problems didn’t clear up. She knew by our descriptions and the fact we’ve been feeding her special food that it wasn’t allergies. So, she took her back and did more testing. Much to their surprise, it was discovered that Gracie had a bacterial infection. After two treatments of her ears, she’s been active, happy and problem free since.

    I’ve learned through this experience that you have to fight for your pet. If they do not listen to you or is not helping your pet, seek help elsewhere. I just wish we hadn’t waited so long to find another animal hospital and veterinarian practice. By the time we went to the second one, Gracie was in hiding and very sick. It was amazing to see the transformation in her and I was so relieved. We could have saved hundreds of dollars too if we had sought help elsewhere earlier.

    • ackk! bad typo. It should read “we didn’t know anyone.”

  • Jen

    I look for a vet that is AAHA accredited.

    Glad to hear that you finally made it home safe and sound all with all your belongings! It was so nice to meet you up in Dayton!


  • My vet came with the house. It just so happens an amazing vet clinic and 24hr emergency clinic ( is only a short walk from my house. They have at least 5 or 6 vets on staff and other vets who handle the emergency hours. Thankfully, the vet I see seems to know what she is doing and most all of the staff are very kind and compassionate to the animals and humans. I love being able to walk my cats over with just a harness and leash (no travel trauma!). Having compared prices with other sources, they don’t seem to ridiculously markup the costs of medicines and food.

    One indicator to me of a competent medical professional, is one who knows their limits. One doctor or vet can’t know it all. So, when routine diagnostic work is inconclusive, I really appreciate it when my vet gives me the full array of options, one of which includes referring to a specialist in the area.

    The Diamond Vet website is pretty basic, but the vet care I have received from Diamond is much better than their website! It baffles me why any business doesn’t have a decent website these days, because it is incredibly cheap and effective marketing, but that’s another story…

  • Chile

    My first vet was chosen because it was the one the breeder went to and he was familiar with Rotties. But he was 75 minutes away and wasn’t feasible for emergencies. When Blade was two I changed vets to one that is in a neighboring town but only about 15-20 minutes away. Dr. K was the vet of a friend who also had a Rottie. I’ve been going there since 2003 and know that I can call either Dr. K or his partner Dr. C on their cell phones and they will meet me after hours. I always knew Blade was well taken care of. When he was having tests in 2007, Dr. C was known to get down on the floor with him and cuddle. All of the techs knew me and both dogs by name. Even those that didn’t get to meet Blade still know of him from the vets and the techs. They also have a great network of specialists in the larger cities near us.

    We only butt heads over SEC football. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • We’ve moved twice in the last four years – each time to a new city and state where we did not know anyone. So when finding a vet for my precious babies, off to Google I went. And those with web sites were the ones that made my short list. The others? The ones who showed up in a search and didn’t have web sites? Well, there was simply no way for me to learn anything about them in order to make a decision!

    Any business today needs a good web site, plain and simple!

  • Anne

    initially we were going to the vet where we got a free visit. They weren’t bad, but we didn’t have a really great connection.
    Eventually we got the name of a locat vet hospital on a frenchie forum that specializes in brachycephalic breeds. We tried them out and have been happy clients ever since (we refer everyone there!)
    Last summer i discovered that they also take guinea pigs when my grandma pig needed to be seen by a vet last minute before we left for vacation (i liked their regular vet, but they were a fair distance away, and their ‘exotic’ vet was only available certain days of the week).
    So between the frenchies and my pigs, we LOVE our vet!
    i’m not sure if they’re on facebook or twitter, but they have a nice website with new client forms available to print- saves everyone time!

  • I was throwing a tennis ball for my dog, at 6:20 pm, and managed to hit him in the eye.

    My regular vet was “open” — to sell dog food! No vet on premises!

    The practice one mile from my house was open — vets in the building AND they take walk-ins. I went there, I liked them, I never went back to the other practice.

    We have been through hell (chemo, degenerative myelopathy, kidney failure) and high water (hospitalizations for unknown fever) together. The staff is friendly and love dogs, and the docs, likewise, and everyone knows their stuff.

    Ann Arbor Animal Hospital is more expensive, but they deliver value for the price.

    (I should probably mention that the previous practice had been sold while I was a client. I liked the original vet very much — you may even have heard of him; he’s a famous vet dentist — but not so fond of the newer guy. It was easy to walk away.)

  • Both word of mouth and Yelp. There was another student in my class who had recently rescued a puppy, and I asked him where he was taking his. He gave me the name and said he really liked the guy, but I hardly knew the student, so I wasn’t sold… I went on Yelp! to look up vets, too. He was actually listed, had a TON of reviews. He’s still listed, and right now, out of 95 reviews, 85 5-star reviews. I wish he saw people because I LOVE my dog’s vet. Great bedside manner for people AND pets. Knowledgeable, affordable (and he doesn’t recommend just anything pricey – he is totally willing to take YOUR situation into account), and always happy to refer you if you want even more testing done.

  • I’m in a small city so proximity didn’t matter (nothing is more than 20 minutes away) so it was from word of mouth.

  • We moved (2 years ago now) to a very small town. I knew that there was only one vet office in town, so when Henry got really ill, I called them to get him in. However, they either weren’t willing or able to get him in. I called another vet in a town about 45 minutes away. I’m VERY glad I got him in because I honestly think he wouldn’t have lived had I not. That vet was great, and helped me nurse Henry back. However, the drive was difficult. So, when a new vet opened in town, I tried them out. And I couldn’t be happier. The new vet is a friend of the vet in the further away location, and has worked with me on Henry’s issues! (He’s no longer the vomit machine that he was!)

    While I do many things online, researching vets has not been one of them. I know that many veterinarians have not gone “digital” as of yet (though I do think that is starting to change). I don’t expect my vet to have a great website, but it’s a bonus if or when they do! I’m really happy to have a vet that is within ten minutes of home and is great!

  • I live in a big city and had a lot to choose from. Being new to the city and with pet-less friends I relied heavily on Yelp and online reviews. I ended up choosing a place across town because it had tonnes and tonnes of outstanding reviews. Thank god my town has dog-friendly public transit.
    The reviews were right! I’ve always been able to get appointments when I need them and they call and email to check up on the dog afterwards. The techs are great with my nervous dog, so much so she even enjoys seeing them now. Thye don’y force you into treatment options and willingly explain each vaccine or treatment. Once I had to go in an get replacement pills for my own dog after my foster dog ate them all (what kind of dog actually wants to eat pills?) and they called to check up on my foster even though she wasn’t a patient.

  • Proximity and recommendations. For our kitties, we looked on Yelp, and we found a vet who was not only only a mile from us, but has fantastic recommendations, and we’ve been nothing but thrilled with them (it’s a three-vet practice.)

    For my horse, I asked a few people at the barn, then did some Googling, and picked one, and I really like her.

    That said, maybe I’m not too picky, because I’ve only ever had one vet I didn’t really like (but that’s when we lived out in the boonies and the next nearest vet was a 40-minute drive.) The rest of them have been fantastic. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Word of mouth is always my first resource. I have horses, and in the past my horse vet took care of the barn cats as well. But horse vets only do house calls, and while my current vet does have a clinic, they are breed specific, and only do equids. When I got an Irish Wolfhound, I shopped around for a vet who was close, well regarded by clients and professionals, and had knowledge of the problems of this breed. I found one 15 minutes away from home, and I have been very happy. I did check out the website as well, very professional.

  • We picked our vet based on a friend’s recommendation when we moved to Portland. A personal referral is always best. Second best? Yelp.

    The most important quality in a vet, besides being good at what they do, is their ability to listen to their “power” patients, me being one. My vet and I don’t always see eye to eye on nutrition, vaccinations, natural remedies vs pharmaceuticals etc but she is always willing to listen to what I have to say and have thoughtful discussions with me.

  • Jessica

    For my first vet, I didn’t have much choice. Her clinic was the only one within a half hour drive from my house. Now, however, I have lots of choices. First, I chose the one that had good Yelp reviews and a decent website. They also sent out an advertisement with a picture of everyone in the clinic and mentioned several times that they are very great with college students. That last bit was the clincher. Most vet clinics in this area look down on college students who get pets, even if we are experienced, know what we are doing, and are willing to take the time that a pet entails. Vets tend to lump all of us into the “irresponsible” category before they even meet us. This vet didn’t do that, so he “won” so to speak.

  • When I moved to Kansas City and got my first pet here, I really didn’t know how to pick a vet. I didn’t know anybody here, so I couldn’t ask for a reference. I wanted one that was close to my home in case of an emergency so I ended up going to Banfield in PetSmart for its convenience. Although I’m not unhappy there, they just don’t live up to the family feel I had with our vet in Wichita.

  • LB

    Yelp and whether or not the place is a good fit for me and my animal after I try it out a few times.

  • Natasha

    Websites are incredibly important to me! However, I turn first to the phone book and browse the ads. It doesn’t have to be the biggest and flashiest ad, but I look for some sense of what that clinic might be like. If they have a website, they automatically get my attention. If the ad doesn’t have a website, but has otherwise appealed to me, I google to see if there’s one out there. The website doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as the information looks sincere. Pictures are nice. Most important to me is a staff webpage – I want to know a little bit about the doctors, if they have any specialties or focuses, if they have pets, and what kind. If they don’t have cats, for example, I’m less likely to take my cat there: I feel better knowing that my cat’s doctor has more than a professional interest in them. I also like to see what procedures the hospital offers, and if they have any special equipment. In-house lab work, digital x-rays, and utlrasound are a big plus.

  • Julie

    My current vet I found on a recommendation from either the local dog wash or someone at the dog park. When I first got Gilbert, I went to a chain vet that a friend also went to. They were nice enough, but I always ended up seeing a different vet. Gilbert started having issues peeing in the house, and their only idea was blood tests for kidney problems. Which it wasn’t, so I was looking for a new place and love love love my current vet. As soon as I brought him in, she could tell from his behavior that any problems he was having were psychological, not phyiscal. My poor sensitive, neurotic boy. Luckily, he got over it. She’s always available when I overreact and want to come in immediately (and usually doesn’t charge for those times), has limited Sat. hours and is open til 6 or 7 during the week. She is also open to more alternative therapies before using drugs and gives options. She is very animal savvy and knows how to approach and handle my neurotic boy (biscuits!). He actually likes going to the vet now since he gets so many treats there! I don’t think she has a website – I always just call if I need anything.

  • CurlyGurl

    I’ve moved often and usually with no local vet recommendation to speak of. It’s a combination of location and website that gets me in the door. Then first hand experience that will keep me there.

    Even with a rec, I do prefer someone who has a nice web site. I agree that it shows that the office is current.

  • Well. We have two vets. We picked the clinic that we go to because it is a 24 hour clinic and we preferred having later appointments (sometimes as late as 2am). They have recently changed their policy, however, and if you go in after 7 you get an upcharge… but it’s there if we need.

    Our second vet, we picked him because he makes house calls in our neighborhood and we thought it would be less stressful for our cats. He had a website and had great reviews on a review site.

  • Kim

    We’re in between two places – one of which is 40 minutes from where we are now – and we needed to find a vet close by (Siamese cat + 40 minute drive = hell) who was good but someone we may have not wanted to stay with forever. We found them on yelp and were very pleased. Now we don’t want to leave them!

  • Steph B

    I asked my dog trainer who she would recommend when I moved to my current home. I have a good relationship with my trainer, who takes immaculate care of her dogs, and now due to her recommendation I have a lovely relationship with my vet as well. I really like to ask people I trust and respect when it comes to vets, doctors, dentists,etc.

  • We have learned that finding the right vet is more of an art than science. We tried websites. Result? Poor. We tried friend recommendation. Result? Poor.

    We have an awesome vet now. The way we found him was by looking for VetStem certified vets and calling them. This one spent almost an hour with me on the phone, discussing everything I wanted to discuss. We booked a consultation and were very impressed with his knowledge and attitude.

    I certainly hope I won’t have to look for another vet (hoping ours won’t retire any time soon). But if I had to look for another one, it would be a long process that would include an interview.

  • Cat clinic. If there’s a cat clinic in town, that’s were I take Pooky. I never lived in a town with more than one cat hospital, so… simple choice.

  • Almost any vet can do basic work like vaccinations and simple first aid. For us the most important thing is diagnostic skill, the willingness to refer to a specialist when necessary, AND the willingness to stay in the loop between the client and the specialist to interpret test results and evaluate options. I’ll take diagnostic skill over personality any day. You pretty much have to start with word of mouth, then follow up with an interview to discover if you’re on the same wavelength with things like quality of life/end of life issues.

    I also think it’s important to pick a practice in which you see the same person every time so the vet gets to know your animals as well as you.

    I don’t begrudge our vet for being more expensive than average around here. He will take our calls, or call back if he’s busy, and answer every question we have withut rushing. When something goes wrong and we really need him, he’s worth every cent he charges.

  • Yes, I agree. Never underestimate the power of an effective website. I use that as a first step in the process of choosing a vet (or any business for that matter). I look for a good blend of both conventional and holistic approaches in a veterinary clinic. The website can usually provide an idea to how open they may be to integrative medicine. THEN, the second step is how open to questions and friendly are the front staff and vet assistants (very important). After that, you get a sense as whether you want to book the first exam. Then you can usually see if you are on the same page as the vet during the exam. Ask a lot of questions! Good veterinary clinics should welcome and encourage questions.

  • We decided to use the vet that our greyhound rescue group uses for all of their adoptables – it was a guarantee that the vets and staff knew how to treat greyhounds and their peculiarities, which was great peace-of-mind for us. It doesn’t hurt that they’re less than 10 minutes from the house either.

  • Solange

    I go through a process: i ask around, then look up the recommended vet’s website, then look him/her up on sites like yelp, kudzu and citysearch (but word of advice: i usually don’t pay too much attention to the folks who had only posted once and wrote a bad review; i view them as fake posters stemming from the competition). from there, i request a phone consultation and finally move onto an in-person appointment. Demeanor towards both my cats and myself are very important and especially noted at such a time. One time, when my usual vet was on vacay and one of my cats needed to be seen, I met with another associate of his in the same practice and was not impressed. I actually vowed to never see her, even as an alternate, again! Needless to say, I love Dr George and the fact that he talks to my cats when he sees them just as I talk to them every day! ๐Ÿ™‚