How To Choose The Best Veterinarian For My Cat?


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Your choice of a veterinarian is an extremely important decision that could profoundly affect the quality of care that your cat receives. So how does one go about choosing a vet?

First, you should probably begin by defining your needs. It may help you to compose a list of those things that are a priority for you. For instance, do you need someone in close proximity to your home? If you depend on public transportation or a friend driving you then the distance is certainly a very important consideration. Do you prefer an old-fashioned one-veterinarian office or a multi veterinarian practice with on-staff specialists and the latest in diagnostic equipment? Of course, there are many practices that fall somewhere in between these extremes - just something to consider while narrowing down your choices.

Does your cat have any special needs such as a history of urinary blockages? Is he diabetic, or have heart disease? If so, then you need a veterinarian with as much experience as possible in treating that particular problem.

Do you think you want a hospital with all the latest technology like laser surgery, CAT scans, and magnetic imaging? Of course, everyone wants the best diagnostic tools, but these machines have to be paid for, and once in a while that causes extra testing and costs that perhaps could have been done without.

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What is an "Animal Hospital"? What is a "Veterinary Clinic"?

First, let's discuss the differences between a veterinary clinic and a veterinary hospital: By definition, a veterinary "clinic" has a set number of hours in which it is staffed or open and does not provide 24-hour care. A "hospital" is available 24 hours and staffed by either a veterinarian or para-professional staff at all times.

What is an AAHA Hospital?

Some veterinary hospitals are accredited by the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) which means that they have fulfilled certain requirements designed to increase the level of care being provided to companion animals. A hospital can be AAHA certified in one, or all, of seven categories- Feline being the one we most care about (the others include Traditional Medicine, Avian Medicine. Emergency Care, Emergency and Critical Care, Dentistry, Surgical, and Ophthalmology).

What is the Difference Between a "Feline Specialist"and a "Feline Practitioner"?

A "Feline Specialist" is a veterinarian who is certified by the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners)- a professional organization of veterinarians who share an interest in providing excellence in the care and treatment of cats. To look for a Feline Specialist in the USA visit the AAFP website.

What About Emergency Veterinary Services?

If there is no other emergency facility available near you then a "hospital" might be your best bet. Problems don't necessarily show up during office hours and knowing where the closest 24-hour facility is would be a really good idea. Other owners opt to use a clinic for their scheduled veterinary appointments and visit a designated emergency facility near them if needed. If you go this route, make sure you keep the emergency facilities phone number and address somewhere you can find it when you are upset and approaching hysteria.

How Do I Begin Looking For A Veterinarian?

If you have friends or family members with pets, ask which clinic they use and what they like and dislike about the clinic, the vets, and the staff. If you are new to the area and don't know anyone, you might want to go through your phone book to look for possible candidates. You might want to look for a feline specialist if one is available, or a veterinarian in an AAHA Hospital with feline accreditation. If there isn't a specialist in your area, don't worry - many general practice vets are extremely capable, very concerned with continuing education and they make it a real point to stay informed. Make a list of the 5 or so veterinarians you think are most likely to suit you. Then call the offices and ask a few simple questions over the phone. The receptionist won't have time for an extended conversation but should be able to tell you their days and office hours, who handles the emergencies after hours, how many vets they have on staff, and whether clients are able to get in the same day or typically have to wait for an appointment. This conversation, besides giving you answers to important questions, will give you a feel for the office. There are not really any right or wrong answers at this point- you're just finding out how they sound over the telephone. Mark off any that rub you the wrong way and continue.

Next, drive by all of the locations and check out the time it takes to get there making special note of traffic issues, parking, and the general look of the place. If getting there is easy, there is sufficient parking, and the building seems well maintained, keep them on your list. If not cross them off.

Can I Ask to Visit The Veterinary Hospital?

Now you have maybe 3-4 possibilities, so call and ask for a tour of the facility. This should be no problem for them but it may need to be scheduled in advance, as they don't need strangers wandering around during surgeries, or during the busiest times of the day. I would immediately cross those who won't allow a tour off of your list. You should expect to be shown the reception areas, exam rooms, backroom labs and emergency/trauma areas, kennels, cages, and holding areas and at least be allowed to view a surgery room through a window. You want to see cleanliness, organization, professional-looking techs and other staff, and notice any odors. It is normal to smell the occasional poops or pees, but the stench of long-neglected animal waste should not be present. A slight disinfectant smell is normal. Check where the floor meets the walls for embedded grime, and look at the counters- has the clutter been there for months? Is the bedding in the cages clean? After this visit, you will probably rule out another one or two places just because something rubbed you the wrong way, or the place was dirty, or you just didn't feel as if they wanted your business. At this point, it is time for an actual veterinarian interview. You can now schedule an office call with prospective vets and proceed to ask them various questions that will inform you about their veterinary philosophy.

How Do I Interview a Prospective Veterinarian?

Normally, the price of an office visit is not cheap, but many clinics offer a "no animal present" visit where you can speak directly with the vet without the normal distraction of having a pet in with you to be seen. Many times, this type of office visit will be less in cost than if you were to bring in an animal. If you can only afford to interview one veterinarian, that is fine, but the choice of a veterinarian is difficult and now is the time to think about things so you don't have to second guess yourself or have "hindsight" regrets later on. You are the primary person in your cat's care -- you are the observer, the one with the emotional investment and the ultimate responsibility, and you are the one who writes the checks. The veterinarian is the person you hire to help you with the more involved details and aspects of your cat's care, but it is important to remember that he/she is still working for you. So it is vital that it be someone you get along well with, who respects your opinions as an observer and is willing to be open-minded to any thoughts or feelings you have about specific methodology (vaccines or raw feeding, for example). It is imperative to establish a good, open line of communication with the vet you choose and to make certain to do your own homework before each visit. You will want to write down questions you may have and ask the vet to address them individually in terms you can understand.

Here is a list of several questions you might think about asking them. Add your own, and write them down. Most of us get nervous around doctors, and a list helps us to keep our thoughts organized.

Questions to ask a prospective veterinarian: Do you own a cat? Other pets? Of course, it is not necessary that a vet own a cat or even any pets at all, but it's a good icebreaker and gives you insight into their relationship with animals.

What vaccinations are required for an overnight stay at this facility? There are no wrong answers, but if you are an owner who prefers a minimum of vaccinations and they require everything under the sun, it's a red flag.

How many vets work here, and can I always see the same one? If a relationship with a veterinarian is important, then being able to always see the same one is important too. Of course vacations and days off are necessary for them to remain sane, so who will see your pet when they are not available?

How are emergencies handled? Are they treated here, in this building? Is a veterinarian always here? Or do you refer out to another location?

What type of overnight staff do you have? If your pet must be left overnight will there always be someone there to watch them? Is a veterinarian always available for a middle of the night crisis?

Will I be able to receive copies of any lab reports on my animals? Getting copies of any reports is always a good idea, but some vets seem to want to keep them a secret. You may want copies so you can go home and research things you don't understand.

What is your feeling about using alternative medicine therapies? Some veterinarians are open-minded about alternative therapies like herbs, acupuncture, etc. and some are not. You want a veterinarian who thinks the way you do.

How do you view the importance of nutrition in a cat's health? If you are a raw feeder or use only natural ingredient foods this is something you need to know about your veterinarian. Feeding is a hot topic for many pet owners, and you want a veterinarian whose thoughts agree with your own.

Will you write prescriptions for expensive medications so that I can shop around to buy online and save? Selling medications is one way a veterinary practice makes money, and you want to support your veterinarian as much as possible. But in some instances, you can find higher-priced medications for significantly less if you shop around. Is your vet willing to write a prescription so that you may do that?

Do you offer any multi-pet discounts? Some do, some don't but if you have several pets it's worth asking about.

Are you willing to do a phone consultation or a home visit in the event of a difficult case? You are just wanting to determine their reaction to this question- it will tell you if they are open to help, or think they have all the answers. Nobody has all the answers, and if they need help to solve a problem they should be willing to accept it. The well-being of the cat is always the most important consideration.

How often do most cats you see require teeth cleaning, and what anesthesia is generally used? Their answer to this should be along the lines of "it depends". There are no absolute answers, and every cat is different. Each anesthesia choice should be determined by the specific needs of the individual cat.

Do you offer grooming services? It might come in handy if they do.

If I have difficulty understanding a complex case will you review the basics of the disease with me? You want someone who will take the time to answer all of your questions so that you leave understanding what just happened. We all know that they haven't the time to discuss your animal with you for an extended time, but they need to make you feel comfortable in asking questions.

Do you follow the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) guidelines regarding vaccination sites? Because of the risk of vaccine-related sarcoma, special vaccination site guidelines have been issued for all recommended vaccines in cats. A veterinarian should be familiar with this protocol and follow it.

Will I be allowed to determine when my pet requires euthanasia? In making any euthanasia decision whose call is it- yours or his? Will he tell you when he thinks you are wasting money trying to save a dying animal, or will he insist on trying any option and perhaps prolonging the suffering. Again- you want a veterinarian whose views are similar to your own.

May I be present when blood is drawn, shots are given, etc., or will the cat be removed to the "backroom"? You want to be present for as much of your cat's care and handling as possible. How much you want to see is up to you, but what do they actually allow? Personally, I feel that a vet who removes an animal to be treated elsewhere should invite you to come along if you are comfortable with observing.

Do you offer any payment plans or alternatives for very costly emergencies? Nobody wants to talk about money, but the time to do it is before you need to. Discuss the options you might have when your cat needs expensive care and you are down to your last dime.

Do you offer a referral for behavior issues? They should be able to refer you to a Veterinary Behaviorist for extreme behavioral issues.

Is there a vet tech who is especially good at teaching owners how to medicate their cat? Giving pills to a cat is a skill, and it is one that can and should be taught. The techs are better at it than the vets, and there should be someone available to show you exactly how to give medications.

What are your feelings about declawing? What you really want to hear is that there are other options to declawing a cat. This is another one of those questions listed to give you a feel for the doctor. If they snap back "if you want it declawed, we'll declaw it" then maybe they are not the most informed veterinarian. Your own personal feelings will guide you in what is an acceptable response and what is not.

You've done your research, now choose a veterinarian At this point, you can thank them for their time and say "I hope to be visiting you again soon". You should come away with a pretty good idea of the particular veterinarian's bedside manner. Did you feel rushed, were they abrupt with you, did they seem to respect you as a person? If the answer to any of these questions is YES, then politely thank them for their time; pay your bill, and move on to the next one on your list. A good question to ask yourself is this: Is this vet a person you want to be in a room with as you and your cat are experiencing some of the most terrifying moments of your lives?

You are looking for a calm, knowledgeable veterinarian who is willing to spend the necessary time required to care for your cat and also help you understand what is going on. You want someone who is not overly dogmatic in their approach to the rapidly evolving topics of vaccination and nutrition. You want someone who is capable of admitting that they don't know everything and who is agreeable to accepting help from outside their office if need be.

And now you have to make a decision.

Great medical care for your cat takes two

Once you have chosen your veterinarian remember that great cat care is a two-way street, and you have to do your part as well. Yearly examinations are a must- you can't just show up out of the blue and expect to be squeezed in when it is inconvenient. Yearly exams present a vet with a complete picture of what is normal for your cat and it allows them to follow along with the cat's life and keep track of any small changes and conditions. Despite our careful observations, there are things that can only be evaluated by regular medical checkups- what may not look out of place in one visit may begin to look like a pattern after several. As the cat ages, you may need to go twice a year to keep up with the changes geriatric animal experiences. You should always feel comfortable asking your veterinarian questions, but your time with them is always going to be limited, so you should remember to WRITE DOWN any questions, concerns or other issues you would like him to address during the visit prior to the visit. The key is to be organized and concise. Do not take advantage of a vet's time but do try to get in as much as possible.

Veterinarians are your partners in caring for your cat

To finally wrap this up, remember- the veterinarian works for you. A DVM or VMD after their name does not make them an all-powerful authority on everything. It just speaks to specific education, and like all of us, they only know what they have been taught. You are the primary observer of your cat, you know your cat inside out, and you know what is normal for them and what is not. I urge you to trust yourself when deciding whether something is wrong or not. If you think something is wrong, then it probably is. Never be afraid to ask for a second opinion- medical professionals are long accustomed to that procedure and you should ask for a referral any time you think you need another opinion on a topic. Your cat depends entirely on you and two heads are better than one. So ask questions, be considerate of a veterinarian's hours and time, and pay your bills when you say you will. A great veterinarian who is intimately familiar with your cat's history is often the difference between a mild illness and a devastating loss.

Plan ahead and your cat will thank you for it.

The article was written by our member Cearbhaill

Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

15 comments on “How To Choose The Best Veterinarian For My Cat?

Olivia Smart October 21, 2021
Thank you for explaining how to interview a prospective vet. My husband and I just got a cat and we've been thinking about finding a vet for her. We'll be sure to try some of these out so that we can find someone we'll work well with.
Eli Richardson March 19, 2021
I'm glad you talked about how it's important to interview a veterinarian before choosing them. A few days ago, my wife and I rescued a small kitten from the street, and we're in a rush to find a veterinarian for him. We want to learn about the kitten's health and how to care for him, so we'll be sure to follow your advice! Thanks for the tips about how to find the best vet for your cat!
Charlotte Fleet March 11, 2021
My husband and I just adopted a cat and we want to find an amazing veterinarian to take her to. I like how you suggest asking about how they handle emergencies and if there is always a vet there. We will be sure to use these questions as we are looking for a great vet for our new cat.
Adam Golightly December 1, 2020
My sister has been thinking about taking better care of her cars, and making sure that they aren't in any pain as they get older. Making sure that she can get the right treatment from a professional in order to be more effective. Thanks for your tips about how she should have the references for techs, behavioral issues, grooming, and they can be contacted by phone in case anything goes wrong.
Kristofer Van Wagner August 30, 2020
It is important to choose a vet who is skilled. I own a few cats that need special attention. I will bear this tip in mind when I move to a new town and looking for a vet.
Rosie Beckett July 20, 2020
I rescued a baby kitten from my local shelter yesterday, and my husband and I want to do everything that we can to make sure she is healthy and happy. We know that finding a good veterinarian will be vital for her growth, and this article was very helpful! I like that you talk about taking tours of potential veterinarian clinics so that I can make sure the facility is clean and professional.
Ellie Davis April 3, 2020
It's interesting to know that going to a 24-hour veterinary clinic will be the best idea in case of an emergency. My husband and I adopted a dog recently, and we are looking for advice about what to do in case in case of an emergency. I will let him know about your recommendations to choose the right vet clinic.
Vivian Black February 12, 2020
You made a great point about how you should begin by asking family and friends. My husband and I are looking for an animal hospital since we moved too far away from our old one. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that can help us best.
ityel biletzky August 16, 2017
zoneout said:
This is very informative.   A word on feline-only practices would be welcome.   Is there any advantage or should they be considered like any other vet.   
Good ideal.
ityel biletzky August 16, 2017
ginny said:
I personally feel that the first question: do you own a cat? is not only necessary, it's pivotal. In my experience, especially where I live, there are so many cat haters.  A vet's true feelings about cats may also be reflected in his or her care of your pet, so personally I would NOT want to let another vet touch my cat who doesn't actually like cats themselves. If they like them and own them, I think they try harder.  
Thanks for the sdvice!
fifimanchu August 26, 2016
Over the past ten years, we've used about 6-8 different local vets for our rescue.  I finally found two outside our area that are good at diagnosing problems.  A few of the locals, I might let them do a simple snap test or give a rabies shot.  I have no altercations with locals so that if I have no time to get to the two good ones, I can use them if I have no choice.  Understand, I USE them.  I HIRE them.  I am not at their mercy.  Why do I say this?  If they give me a bad answer, I am going to leave and get a better vet.  For example, if, like a few vets have strongly advised me in the past that I should put down a cat testing positive for leukemia--without discussing what accommodations I may have for said cat--I am not going to respect that vet.  Especially when they continue to apply pressure to euthanize after I inform them I will either adopt the cat only those who have other Felv+ cats or they will go into my leukemia side of my shelter.  I've had a local vet urge me to put down FIV+ cats!  Yes, there are some still living in the dark ages.  Regardless, what business is it of theirs? It is MY cat, not theirs to decide. Another example of a bad vet:  About 5 years ago we adopted out a super cool cat that several years later required many dental extractions.  The adopter went to the greediest vet in town. Many assume that because her fees are high, she's the best.  She is not.  She is very good at self-promotion tho.  Anyway, the vet said the charge would be $12-1500, depending on the difficulty of extractions.  The adopter had $600 she could spend.  Vet said that wouldn't put her kid through college.  Vet strongly advised she put the cat down if she couldn't afford it.  The adopter, like so many who do not question a vet, submitted. The doctor's always right, right?  At the time, I knew a vet who charged $105 for a dental cleaning and 5 bucks for any extractions along the way.  You do the math.  It equals one not-dead cat.  I get a lot of old cats from people going into hospice.  They need dental extractions. The low cost vet retired. I call another local vet & ask for prices.  The quote:  From $450-850 DEPENDING.  On difficulty, etc.  I call around, I widen the net to 50 mile radius.  I find a vet that charges $289 for a dental cleaning and removes teeth as necessary along the way.  No surprises.  Plus I get pictures of the cats during surgery to prove what he's doing, no charge. Man, when I hear about the bezillionth person who "had" to put down their cat because of these kinds of vets, I wanna post all of the wholesale prices that vets pay for meds.  I wanna tell everybody that you can get tapeworm pills at pet stores & Tractor Supply.  You can get a big honkin' bottle of Pyrantel for roundworms (the yellow liquid vets give you a few cc's of) on line from Revival and other sites for 10, 15 bucks.  You can get your vet to write a script for Amoxicillan and get it for free or $4 at super market pharmacies.
ginny January 16, 2016
Time has passed since my last post and I have a little different perspective now.  First of all, all these are good questions with which to judge a "good" vet from a "bad" one.  But just passing an initial interview does not mean said vet is "good".  Experience with that vet might well change your opinion, especially if he/she misdiagnoses your cat, and causes you to spend all kinds of money only to tell you "the labs look fine", when obviously the cat is not fine.  So then it becomes necessary to go in search of another "good" vet with less money than you had before.  And now the one you once thought of as a good vet is now a bad one, and you have a smaller pool from which to choose this alleged "good" vet than before.    It's so frustrating.  On one thread, the OP'er told his story of how his mom's cat had seen several vets who said the labs looked fine, yet the cat was clearly not fine.  And then one poster (an advisor) encouraged (I'm being too generous here with that word) him to find a "good" vet.  But she did not tell him how to find that good vet.  She just judged him for not having found that person just yet and then made him go away with her judgmental attitude.  I subscribed to that post and have not heard anything since she leveled such judgement against him.  Good job!  Now you've chased away someone you could have helped with some actually helpful information rather than the vapid and useless "find a good vet" cliche that was used.  And now the cat continues to suffer.  
ginny August 31, 2015
I personally feel that the first question: do you own a cat? is not only necessary, it's pivotal. In my experience, especially where I live, there are so many cat haters.  A vet's true feelings about cats may also be reflected in his or her care of your pet, so personally I would NOT want to let another vet touch my cat who doesn't actually like cats themselves. If they like them and own them, I think they try harder.  
reba January 4, 2015
This is a great article.  I didn't have pets for about a decade and the last 18 months has been a lot of trial and error in finding out what I want from my vet.  In addition to the above, you also want to ask them about what their standard operating procedures are as far as informed consent.   I honestly wish they'd have a forum on here about having a productive conversation with your vet without it becoming adversarial.  For example, how do bring up all the stuff I've researched on the internet without feeling like I'm questioning the vet's competency.  Also look at where the vet's practicing went to school - if they went to a foreign vet school the likelihood is they're shoulder a couple of hundred thousand dollars in school loans and they need to recover that cost.  Are they utilizing technology?  A practice's investment in technology (computerized chart notes, online appt. booking, direct email contact with the vets) can reduce overhead  and, by extension, their fees. 
zoneout December 5, 2014
This is very informative.   A word on feline-only practices would be welcome.   Is there any advantage or should they be considered like any other vet.   

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