Guide to Choosing a Veterinarian

Guide to Choosing a Veterinarian

Our pets are beloved members of our families. We want our pets to have long, happy, and healthy lives. To help us take care of our pets, we need the help of a qualified veterinarian. It is important to choose a veterinarian who offers competent, professional care.

Veterinarian Services

Your pet’s veterinarian is a necessary part of maintaining the ongoing health requirements of your pet. Some of the important functions provided by a veterinarian include:

  • Preventative care (such as vaccinations)
  • Care of sick pets
  • Administration of medications
  • Providing exams and tests
  • Emergency services
  • Additional services (including spaying or neutering)

It is important to get your pet used to going to the veterinarian and undergoing basic exams. That way if your pet becomes sick, it will be easier to evaluate and diagnose the problem. Just like with humans, it is a good idea to bring your pet to the same veterinarian every time it needs medical care. The veterinarian and your pet will get to know each other, allowing the veterinarian to provide comfortable, high-quality care.

Finding Veterinary Care

There are various ways to find quality local veterinary care.

  • Recommendation from a friend or family member
  • Online listings
  • Phone book or Yellow Pages
  • Veterinary associations
  • Breeder’s organizations

When looking up veterinarians, remember to also look under the listing of “animal hospitals.” Both terms are often used interchangeably. When searching for a veterinarian online, you can search “veterinarian in (your city and state or zip code)” to obtain search results for vets in your area.

Most veterinarians provide service for all types of animals. While dogs and cats are the most common pets, many other pets also require medical care. Some specialty animal hospitals provide care to specific types of pets. For example, if you have a bird, you may want to look for a bird hospital. If you have an unusual or exotic pet, you should call the veterinarian to make sure they are able to provide care.

The Veterinarian Office

The veterinarian’s office may consist of one or more veterinarians along with a team of support staff. Support staff usually includes at least one veterinary technician and a receptionist. It may also include a pet care provider or handler. Large veterinarian offices or hospitals employ several or more doctors so there is typically a veterinarian available.

Evaluating a Veterinarian

There are many things to consider when choosing a veterinarian, such as:

  • Area of specialty (cats only, dogs only or most types of pets)
  • Types of animals accepted
  • Veterinarian qualifications and length of experience
  • Number of veterinarians at the location
  • Location
  • Costs
  • Services offered
  • Hours of operation
  • Emergency care
  • After hours care
  • Professional staff
  • Diagnostic equipment
  • Cleanliness

When you evaluate a veterinarian, you need to consider your pet’s concerns as well as your own. For example, you may prefer to find a veterinarian that is located close to your home because this makes it easier to get there. However, you must weigh the other factors as well. You may also wish to take your pet to a veterinarian who specializes in that type of pet, such as cats only, or dogs only, or reptiles. You certainly want to ensure that the medical care your pet receives is the best possible. Determine which considerations are most important to you and your pet so you can adequately compare facilities.


A veterinarian is a medical professional and therefore has the qualifications, training, and expertise to provide medical care to animals. Veterinarians may be licensed by local or state licensing boards. Veterinarians may be members of an association such as the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) or the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Additionally, veterinary practices are businesses and should be licensed with the city or state. You can search for the veterinarian online to locate reviews from other pet owners and learn about their experiences with the veterinarian, and whether they are recommended. You can also check the educational background of the doctor and staff. This information may be available at their office or on their website.

Animal Hospitals

Animal hospitals provide a variety of pet care but are also equipped to handle pet medical emergencies. Some animal hospitals have extended hours or are available to care for pet emergencies at any time of the day or night. Additionally, they usually provide general care for animals during regular business hours. If your regular veterinarian is closed or unavailable, they may refer you to an animal hospital in the area for urgent care needs. When choosing a veterinarian, you should ask which animal hospital they recommend in the event of an emergency after normal office hours.

Surgical Centers

Animal surgical centers provide only specialized surgical care. If your pet needs surgery that your veterinarian is not able to provide, you may be referred to a surgical center. Some of the types of surgeries that are handled include back, hip, spine, stomach, and leg operations, tumor removal, among others. Once the surgery is complete the pet is typically referred back to their primary veterinarian for ongoing care.

Vaccinations and Pet Care

Pets require regular vaccinations and preventative immunizations. Yearly exams are recommended and you are likely required by law to keep your pet current on rabies and other shots. It is essential to ensure that your pet is properly vaccinated, because if a problem occurs, such as if your pet bites a person or another animal, there could be severe consequences. Ongoing medical care is also required to prevent heartworm and pet flu, which can be contagious. This link contains a typical schedule of recommended vaccinations for dogs and cats:

Veterinary Exam

A veterinary exam allows the doctor to check the pet, listen to the heart, look in their ears and nose, check vitals, and complete a general well-being review. This is done in an exam room, usually on a table. A general exam may take less than 15 minutes. The doctor should explain any problems or medical issues that are noted. If your pet requires a shot, the doctor or veterinary assistant will usually provide it. Some medical exams include testing a stool sample. This is done to determine if the pet has parasites. Bring a sample with you if requested and the vet will test it and provide you with the results.

Spaying and Neutering

Spaying and neutering are necessary for pet population control. Most pets should be spayed or neutered within the first 6 months of life. However, this should be performed even on older animals. Discuss the advantages of having your pet spayed or neutered with your veterinarian. Most veterinarians handle spaying and neutering surgeries at their facilities.

Additional Services

Veterinarian offices may provide additional services as part of their practice. These may include:

  • Grooming
  • Dental services
  • Boarding
  • Daycare
  • Food and medications for purchase

Your veterinarian may have a professional groomer on staff to provide grooming services. This is helpful because you only need to bring your pet to one location for all its needs. An animal dental care specialist may also be part of the veterinary staff. Dental care is important for pets, but it may require sedation. For this reason, the procedures are best done at your veterinary facility.

Boarding of your pets is a common concern for many pet owners. When you travel, you want to be sure that your pet is properly cared for and that medical care is available if necessary. One of the best ways to satisfy these needs is by boarding your pet at its veterinarian location, if available. Additionally, some veterinarians offer daycare and dog walking for pets on a regular basis (see our guide on “Choosing a Pet Care Facility”).

Paying for Veterinary Care

Veterinary care can be expensive, especially when an emergency arises. There are a few options available to pet owners, which can include pet insurance and payment plans. Typically, veterinary care is paid for at the time of service. If you are unable to pay the full amount, you may qualify for a veterinary credit plan. This is a specialized type of financing that can be used for veterinary care. Another option is to obtain pet insurance. Like medical insurance for humans, a policy provides coverage for specific care needs of pets. Policies are available through a number of different companies. Additionally, some veterinarians allow patients to use payment plans for expensive treatments or care. Check with your veterinarian before you receive a service to determine payment.

Pets can be like family members, so choosing a veterinarian you trust will give you peace of mind.

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.