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:

  1. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) – The majority of vets belong to this organization, which embraces standard Western ideas about medicine and health.

  2. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) – This is a smaller organization, which opposes the status quo maintained by the AVMA. The AHVMA embraces a natural or holistic approach to medicine based on homeopathic remedies and the avoidance of chemical medicines for preventing or curing disease.

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?

  • COMMUNICATION
    You must feel comfortable asking the doctor questions. If you ask a question—perhaps one that is simple or even neurotic—you shouldn’t feel that you have annoyed the vet. It’s not all that different from choosing a doctor for yourself, or a pediatrician for your children. Do you like the way you interact with them, and do they show their expertise and compassion in a way that appeals to you?
  • CONVENIENCE
    Does the clinic have a location and office hours that generally accommodate your schedule? Will your vet or one of her colleagues ever meet you at the clinic after hours for an emergency?

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

  • CONVENIENCE – The convenience factor is a big selling point for people with multiple pets, children, or other circumstances that make getting out of the house a burden. A home visit by a vet can save you from juggling your schedule to make an appointment at a vet clinic, the hassle of getting there, and the amount of time lost when you must endure a long wait.

    If you work from home or have other obligations there, you lose none of that travel and wait time. Instead, a housecall vet usually gives you an appointment within a thirty- to sixty-minute window (allowing for traffic, weather, and other calls going overtime) and you can carry on with what you’re doing at home until s/he arrives.
  • AVOIDING TRIPS TO THE VET – If your anxious dog is traumatized by going to the vet, you can reduce or eliminate trips there. Some dogs have been so frightened in the past—or are so terrified by the odor that other stressed or fearful pets give off in a vet’s waiting area—that it’s very difficult to help them overcome that terror. So although you may still need visits to a vet’s office or an animal hospital—as explained below—you are making life easier on yourself and your pet by having routine vet visits at home.
  • AVOIDING SICKNESS – You are not exposed to sick pets if you don’t go where the sick pets are: the vet’s office. No matter how well a vet’s offices are cleaned, there is still a chance of contagious dogs passing on their illnesses to others. Avoiding this is especially appealing for dogs whose immune systems are compromised (by illness or age), and those who are raising their dogs without immunizing them against diseases, or are significantly limiting their vaccinations.

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:

  • What percentage of your practice is house calls?
  • What days and hours are you available?
  • Do you also practice in a clinic, or are you affiliated with one?
  • What services do you provide at home, and which do you not?
  • How do your clients handle emergency situations?
  • Do you draw blood and handle other diagnostics or lab work?
  • Do you need to see the dog’s previous medical records at the visit, or beforehand?
  • Is there anything I need to do before you come?
  • What is your policy on follow-up calls after your visit—do you charge for that time?
  • What are your fees and how do you accept payment?

EMERGENCY-CARE FACILITIES

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.

SHOP DOG HEALTH & GROOMING

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