HOW TO FIND A GOOD VET FOR YOUR DOG
TWO PHILOSOPHIES OF VETERINARY CARE
As is true of human medicine, veterinary medicine takes different philosophical approaches to wellness care (preventive care) and medical treatment. Two main schools of thought dominate American veterinary care, for which there are two separate professional organizations:
The members of AHVMA hold different views about virtually every aspect of dog care, from questioning the desirability of giving routine vaccinations and the frequent use of antibiotics and other drugs, to avoiding commercial dog foods. Some homeopathic vets claim that commercial dog food is killing dogs. Others are opposed to any vaccinations on the grounds that they contain chemical agents that cause severe allergic reactions, compromise an animal’s immune system, and cause emotional imbalance.
The philosophy of healthcare you follow for yourself will influence the choices you make for your dog. If you visit a mainstream, Western-trained doctor and have no interest in what are called “alternative” healthcare modalities (health foods, herbal remedies, chiropractic, acupuncture, osteopathy, etc.) then you will probably follow the same course for your dog. If you gravitate toward organic foods and embrace homeopathic remedies for yourself, then you may be more comfortable with a veterinary practitioner whose training and outlook mirror your own beliefs.
The majority of dog owners choose a mainstream approach for veterinary care, so this article has that as its focus. But the two main schools of thought are not mutually exclusive: it is possible to take advantage of theory and practice from both perspectives, if you have the time and flexibility to pursue differing diagnoses and treatments for your dog. Vets of both “persuasions” can be open-minded about “bridging,” or making use of other kinds of veterinary care when appropriate. Only you will know whether a combination of the two philosophies is best for you and your dog.
CHOOSING THE BEST VET FOR YOUR DOG
A veterinarian always has at least two customers for every patient: the dog and the owner or owners. So when choosing a vet, keep in mind that there are two distinct versions of “bedside manner” to evaluate, and two different kinds of communication skills that a vet must possess: Do you pick a vet because you feel comfortable, or because your dog seems to be at ease? Or should it be a combination of both?
A THIRD KIND OF VETERINARIAN: THE HOUSE CALL VET
Vets who make house calls are another category of veterinarian, not in philosophy or training, but where they practice. A separate professional organization represents them, called the American Association of Housecall Veterinarians (AAHV), which lists its members online at www.athomevet.org.
THE ADVANTAGES OF A VETERINARY VISIT AT HOME
QUESTIONS TO ASK A HOUSE-CALL VETERINARIAN
Not all veterinary issues can be resolved in your home, and blood work or other diagnostic services usually require a medical office, as do many urgent situations. Some home vets work out of their trucks or vans, while others have mobile clinics in which they can perform surgery requiring anesthesia. Here are questions you should ask beforehand so you have a sense of how much protection and service you can expect from your house-call vet:
Many small animal hospitals use specialized emergency facilities to meet their clients’ needs outside of normal hours. Although this does not seem as comforting in an emergency as visiting a doctor and staff who know you and your dog, it makes sense to have access to a facility that’s staffed and prepared for whatever may happen to your pet at odd hours. Realistically, there’s no way even a substantial private veterinary practice can maintain high-quality care during office hours and also provide emergency intervention around the clock.
So the question is whether your vet’s emergency facility is accessible where you live—an hour is a long way to drive in the dark with a very sick animal. If there is a closer emergency veterinary hospital, ask your vet whether s/he thinks it’s okay to use it instead.