If you own animals, it’s vital that you have a veterinary practice that you feel you can trust to take care of them. It’s also really important that you’re able to build up a rapport with the staff at that practice – knowing them will help to reassure you, and will aid in communication if and when your animals need attention.

So, what should you look for?

Species

First of all, make sure the practice is set up to offer good quality care for your animals!

All vets are qualified to treat every species of domestic animal, but if (for example) they haven’t seen a gecko or a parrot for over a decade, they’re going to be a bit rusty! That said, don’t be put off by the lack of a “specialist in…” title – the term “specialist” in the vet world means that the vet in question has certain additional qualifications in an area. Many of us work predominantly in one sphere of practice (for example, equine, small animal, or exotics) without being termed specialists. What you’re looking for is someone with “a special interest in…” whatever the animal may be.

If you have dogs and cats, this is unlikely to be an issue, but otherwise, try to find a practice where one or more vets take a special interest in, or is a specialist in, care of that species. So, while most birds, reptiles, and small mammals are technically grouped together as “exotics”, it is useful to find someone with particular expertise in, say, reptile medicine if you have iguanas, or avian medicine if you breed cockatiels.

This may mean you need to be registered with more than one practice if you have animals of several different species. Most small animal practices aren’t set up to offer more than the most basic care for horses, or vice versa, for example.

If you have cats, try to find an ICC listed “Cat-Friendly Practice”, but this is less important now than it used to be, as most practices are set-up appropriately nowadays (for instance, with separate wards and waiting rooms for dogs and cats).

Special Requirements

If your pet has any specific requirements (for example, a particularly complex heart problem, or syringomyelia), it may be worth trying to find a practice with a vet or a group of vets who are either specialists, or have a particular interest in, that type of condition. However, this should be quite a long way down your list of priorities unless it’s a really rare and exotic condition. We all work to stay current in modern techniques and ideas, and we all have a huge array of textbooks, journals and referral practices that we can consult if needed to bring ourselves up to speed.

Location

This is absolutely vital – if you find the perfect practice but it’s an hour’s drive away, you’re asking for trouble in an emergency. The vets’ has to be close enough for you to get there in a reasonable amount of time if it’s urgent – usually within half an hour, or ideally fifteen minutes.

Out of hours arrangements

In the more rural parts of the country, it is still common for practices to look after their own out-of-hours work. This means that there will always be one of the vets and one or more of the nurses that work there “on-call” to deal with emergencies overnight and at weekends. In equine and farm animal practice, this is still the norm as well, although increasingly practices are pooling their resources to provide cover.

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However, it is much more usual now for urban practices to use a centralised “Out Of Hours Provider” – a centralised hospital facility that covers many different practices in the area. There are advantages to this – the staff there are dedicated emergency vets and nurses, and as they only work the night and weekend shifts, they’re less likely to be tired after a long day. On the other hand, it does mean you may have to find your way to an unfamiliar location, and deal with a vet you don’t know, in an emergency.

Price

Everyone is always looking for a bargain and, like every other business, vets compete to offer the best service at the cheapest price they can. However, remember that you don’t get something for nothing – an exceptionally cheap practice may have older equipment or less staff than a more expensive one. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

Personal Preference

Of course, at the end of the day, you have to choose a practice where you feel comfortable. No matter how good the care is, or how good the prices are, if you really don’t get on with the staff, it’s time to start looking around for an alternative.

Our own website can help you find a vet in your area.