Our pets are a part of our family, so making sure their health is well looked after is really important. Choosing a vet can feel like a huge task, with many different types and sizes of practice. But there are some useful factors to consider when choosing which is the best fit for you and your pet.
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The majority of pet-owners choose their vet based on its location. This makes sense, as nobody wants to be travelling a long way for their dog’s booster vaccination or their cat’s flea treatment. There are often a range of local practices to choose from, unless you live in a very remote area.
Bear in mind that some practices will have multiple branches, which may vary in size. If you are closest to a small branch, you may have to use a larger site for certain procedures, or if the branch is busy. Large animal and equine practices may charge differently for ‘zones’, so proximity can be key.
2. Species treated
This may seem obvious, but it is clearly important that your vets can actually treat your type of pet! There are still ‘mixed’ practices to be found, who deal with all types of animals. But it is becoming more common for practices to only treat certain types. These are commonly split into ‘small animal’ (also called ‘companion animal’), ‘farm animal’ and ‘equine’. There are also specialised ‘exotic’ practices, who commonly see small mammals, reptiles, fish and birds (although most small animal practices should also see these species).
If you have a wide range of pets under your care, you may wish to seek out a mixed practice so that your animals can all be registered at the same vets. But it is equally possible to have your cat registered at one vet and your horse at another.
3. Overnight care
The vast majority of pet health problems can be seen during normal opening hours. But if an emergency situation arises, it is always necessary to know how to seek help. All vets are legally obliged to provide some form of emergency cover, but it does not have to be by themselves, at their own surgery. Some veterinary practices will cover their own out-of-hours work, with your regular vets being on call overnight if you need them. Others will use specialist night vets at a separate practice, or host night-working vets at your own practice.
There is also a variation in whether practices can hospitalise patients overnight or whether they will need to be transported to an alternative site. Most large animal and equine practices cover their own night work, but occasionally will team up with other local practices, or employ night vets.
There are pros and cons either way. Being able to be seen at your local practice, by your local vet is excellent as you and your pet will be familiar with the staff and premises, and they will have access to all your pet’s notes. However, although travelling (sometimes some distance) to an emergency vet may seem like a disadvantage, it is worth noting that these centres should be staffed by vets who have not been working throughout the day as well as their overnight shift, who often have an interest in emergency and critical cases. And the premises are often large and well-equipped for emergencies. Veterinary practices will also vary in whether they are open on weekends and bank holidays for routine consultations, emergency consultations only, or not open at all.
Veterinary practices vary in size, from small one-person bands to large hospital premises with multiple vets all working from the same site. Others may be large practices spread over several small branches. Again, there are advantages either way. Big practices may have more resources. But with a smaller practice you may be more likely to see a familiar face every time you need to visit.
5. Appointment times
There is some variation in what times different vets will offer appointments. Some will offer early morning, evening and weekend appointments, others follow more standard hours. Some surgeries still offer drop-in clinics, where a booked appointment is not necessary, whereas others will have set clinic times. Knowing when your chosen surgery is open, what appointment times are offered, and the best way to book an appointment are all useful pieces of knowledge.
6. Accreditation and awards
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) runs a voluntary accreditation scheme called the Practice Standards Scheme; which approximately two thirds of UK vets are part of. This is a tier system, with practices having to meet certain criteria to attain accreditation. There are also other voluntary schemes, such as the International Society of Feline Medicine cat friendly clinic scheme.
7. Cost, health clubs and other discount schemes
Although not an easy topic, the financial cost of owning pets can be high. Veterinary fees will differ depending on location, their facilities, overheads and more. Veterinary staff should be able to give you prices for routine treatments if you ask. It is becoming more common for vets to offer various sign-up schemes, where you pay a monthly fee and in turn receive various offers and benefits. If you are a regular visitor to the practice, vaccinate your animals annually or use regular treatment or medication, these may end up being very cost-effective for you.
8. Extra services
Some veterinary practices can offer some additional services, such as puppy socialisation classes, weight clinics or evening informational talks as some examples. Others will have extra abilities on-site, such as a hydrotherapy unit, a visiting acupuncturist or a groomer. Some first opinion vets may also have interests and extra qualifications in certain areas (such as surgery, dermatology or reproductive medicine, for example) which may be of interest if you have a pet with a known health concern.
Word of mouth and personal recommendations can be a really useful way to find a vet. If you know people in the area with a similar pet to you, it can be handy to ask their opinion. And if not, always check online reviews.
10. Does it feel right?
At the end of the day, whatever bells and whistles may be on offer, the important thing when choosing a veterinary practice is that it feels like the right one for you and your pet. Sometimes, the right vets is just the one that you and your pet feels comfortable with, which cannot be underestimated. Hopefully, the above points are useful when starting your search. And you and your pet can find a practice that just ‘clicks’ with both you and your pet.