If you're going to have a healthy pet, you'll need the help of a veterinarian. And while some people believe these health-care professionals are virtually interchangeable, distinguished only by convenience and price, you're doing your pet a disservice if you don't put a little effort into choosing the right one.
To work effectively with your veterinarian, you need to develop a relationship over time, so he or she can build a history and become familiar with you and your pet. Group practices are fine, but working primarily with one veterinarian, either alone or in a group, is best.
Your veterinarian should be technically proficient, current on the latest treatments and willing to seek out more information on your pet's behalf. A good veterinarian should be articulate, able to explain what's going on with your pet in a way that you can understand, and willing to answer your questions so that you can make a responsible decision on your pet's behalf.
Above all, you must be able to trust your veterinarian. After all, knowing what goes on in a veterinarian's office after you leave your pet behind is impossible. An animal can never comment on treatment, and an animal lover must rely on trust to be sure a pet has been dealt with fairly.
Before you choose a vet, ask friends, co-workers and neighbors for recommendations. Over the years, animal lovers can tell which veterinarians are knowledgeable, compassionate and hardworking. These veterinarians are always talked up by satisfied clients.
Other factors may help you narrow down your list of possibilities:
-- Is the clinic or hospital well-versed in the kind of pets you have? If you have birds, for example, you need to be sure you're dealing with a practice that handles enough feathered pets to be comfortable with them and knowledgeable about them. Certifications should weigh in your decision as well, such as the ones granted by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in canine, feline or avian care. Such additional certifications demonstrate an eagerness to seek higher levels of knowledge.
-- Is the clinic or hospital conveniently located, with hours you can live with? If you have a 9-to-5 job, a veterinarian with a 9-to-5 clinic won't do your pet much good. Many veterinarian offices are open late on at least one weeknight and for at least a half-day on Saturday, or they are willing to make other arrangements.
-- Does the veterinarian show a willingness to consult with veterinary college staff or independent or in-house specialists, or does she subscribe to an online veterinary service? An interest in discussing tough cases with colleagues is the sign of a veterinarian who's putting in effort on your pet's behalf. Online veterinary services also assist veterinarians in getting to the bottom of a tough case, as well as offering continuing education and searchable databases of professional journals.
-- What kind of emergency care is available, if any? Although emergency veterinary clinics are prepared for any catastrophe, they are not familiar with your pet. If your veterinarian's practice does not offer 24-hour care, does it work with one that does?
-- Do you feel a rapport with this person? Are you comfortable asking questions? Discussing fees? The final call on whether a particular veterinarian is right for you comes down to intangibles. If you don't feel comfortable, you're less likely to deal with your veterinarian, and the lack of productive communication hurts your pet in the long run.
-- Will your pet be comfortable? You need a practice that runs efficiently enough that your pet isn't stuck for very long in a waiting room. If you have cats, you might want to consider a feline-only practice, or one that has separate waiting rooms for cats and dogs.
If you're not happy with your veterinarian or you don't trust your vet's work on your pet's behalf, you'll be considerably less likely to go in for anything less than an emergency. And that's a bad way to manage your pet's health. Preventive care is easier on both your pet and your bank account, as is working with a veterinarian in whom you have confidence.
PETS ON THE WEB
A good place to start searching is with the Veterinary Information Network's free veterinary-referral service, VetQuest (www.vetquest.com). More than 25,000 veterinary practices are in the VetQuest database, and the service even shows you a street map to help you find the hospital or clinic you choose. Bird lovers should also visit the Association of Avian Veterinarians home page (www.aav.org), which also offers a free referral service. Finally, find out more about the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners at www.abvp.com.
If you're thinking of going anywhere over the holidays, don't delay in making boarding or pet-sitting arrangements for your pet. In some cases, it may already be too late; boarding kennels and pet-sitters get their first year-end holiday reservations long before the Fourth of July.
It doesn't hurt to have a backup plan, either. One of my favorite stories involves a family who decided to take their basset hound with them on the plane from California to Minnesota for Christmas. Problem was, although the temperature in California was fine for shipping animals that Christmas morning, the temperature in Minnesota was below federal regulations -- the dog had to stay behind. The family had made no arrangements for that, of course. So they put their heads together, called a friend to collect the dog and caught the plane for Minnesota.
The friend now in charge of the dog actually left behind his family's Christmas celebration to head for the airport, but there was "no room at the inn" for the dog at any local kennels. He was a good sport about keeping the dog and everything worked out fine, but it could have been a real disaster. When it comes to the holidays and pets, you can never plan too carefully.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I'm a firm believer in leashes, but it never ceases to amaze me how inconsiderate and rude people can be about keeping their dogs on leash.
Many times this last summer I have gone to the park with my dog for a day of walking and fun, only to have another dog come running up with its hair raised or barking.
On one particular occasion, a big mixed-breed dog came running toward us with its hair raised, dragging a leash behind it. As it stood there growling, I took my long leash and slapped the ground beside the dog, scaring it off.
At that particular moment the owner came around the trees. This young woman proceeded to use language a sailor wouldn't even dare. I said that if she couldn't verbally control her dog, there's a new invention called a leash. To which she replied, "He's got one on." I pointed out to her that I had watched her dog earlier harass a couple of kids and another dog owner and that she was just asking for trouble, hence another round of foul language erupted from her mouth.
I don't recall seeing any pet articles about having consideration for the law and letting other people enjoy the day with their dogs. Not only are these roaming dogs annoying, but they can be dangerous -- as well as a potential car accident. If people truly loved their pets, they would make an effort to give them the proper training and keep them in control at all times.
I would not wish harm on any animal, but it is hard for me to feel anything for the dog owner who is crying over his dog that has just been run over. With proper control of the pet, this could have been avoided. That poor animal is now dead thanks to a master who should have loved him as much as the dog did the family.
Can you please write about the importance of leashes and having consideration for others? With obedience training and a leash, anyone can control a dog, even if it gets loose. -- K.Q., Spokane, Wash.
A: You've done just as good a job as I could have, and I thank you for writing. Aggressive, annoying, out-of-control dogs are a danger not only to the people and animals in their immediate vicinity but also to the future of all dogs. Who can blame people who don't like or are afraid of dogs from pushing for pets to be banned from public spaces in such circumstances? As always, it's a case of a few ruining it for all.
Oh, and while we're on the topic of being responsible: When you're picking up that leash to head out, pack some plastic bags, too. A considerate dog-owner keeps his dog under control and never leaves any calling cards behind.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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