The dog's blog no. 3 - Choosing a vet practice

Choosing a vet practice

Now we have Moscow, a 2 year old rescue German Shepherd, I find myself in the new position of needing to find a vet. But how do I choose one? To be honest it's not immediately obvious to me what to look for.

I think the first thing is to ask myself what I want from a veterinary practice. If Moscow has an accident or falls ill I want to know immediately who to contact. I also want advice on keeping Moscow healthy (vaccines, parasites, diet) and maybe on behaviour too. I have no doubts that the people in any practice will be caring and want to do their best for my dog. Of course I need to know about opening hours and out-of-hours cover. And I want to be able to trust that any procedures will be performed to the highest standard. But I also want any treatments offered to be guided by evidence, to know if there is a choice of options, be told about uncertainties and be involved in making decisions where possible.

I start with an online search to 'find a vet'. Top of the list is the RCVS site. I see that there are five practices in my area. I can refine my search to find practices that have car parking or disabled access, by type of animal treated, speciality, advanced practitioner status, whether it is a training practice, and by special interest (e.g. behaviour, complementary medicine). It also tells me which practices have RCVS Practice Standards Scheme (PSS) accreditation. I find out that the PSS badge is intended to give reassurance that the practice premises have met a range of minimum standards including hygiene, 24-hour emergency cover, staff training, certain types of equipment and cost estimation procedures. It seems a no-brainer to go for an accredited practice. This narrows the field to three practices.

I try to make a choice by looking at practice websites, through personal visits and by asking around. People have good things to say about all the practices. Practice websites helped me compare opening hours, out of hours cover, staffing and pet health plans. Through visits I met friendly and welcoming receptionists. One is an independent practice, another is a hospital (part of a large chain) with a hydrotherapy pool. One (part of a different chain) had an open day and I was able to take a tour of the practice: this engagement almost won me over.

As the new owner of an adult rescue dog rather than a puppy, I found helpful advice on 'Visiting the vet for the first time' on the website mypetonline.co.uk (a site belonging to the drug company MSD for pet owners). Practices should think of including similar information on their sites.

Moscow's vaccinations aren't due until the start of next year. So the most pressing need is to get parasite coverage. At every practice I've found that I need to have a veterinary consultation to get advice on parasite protection. I sense that the parasite protection aspect is very product focused, and that I will probably only be offered the most expensive prescription-only products. I could go to a pet shop to buy parasiticides. For me, this highlights the undefined distinction between vet and pet shop parasiticides, which I think is confusing for pet owners. What I would like is to be able to walk into a practice and speak to someone knowledgable who will assess my dog's needs, help me understand why parasite protection is needed and offer me a choice of products to buy (which might include prescription-only products) to suit the dog's and my needs.

Well I'm still not sure which practice to go for. The three are a bit different from each other, but not in ways that make any one an obvious choice. I realise I can't get answers to some of my questions without using a practice. So on the face of it, I would be happy to use any of the practices. Maybe I'm spoilt for choice.