Vetting the vet

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When choosing a veterinarian for your dog, you're probably tempted to type in "local vet" in Google and pick a practice you see listed on the first screen, using the same approach you might use to find a pizza place that delivers after midnight.

One very important element of responsible dog ownership is providing your dog with the best possible care so choosing the right veterinarian should require more effort than typing a few words into a search engine. In fact, if you want to find the best veterinarian for your dog, you'll have to do a little homework.

Be honest with yourself

Before you even begin your search, the most important factor in choosing an appropriate vet is being honest about what you want, what you need and what you can afford. Your income or dog budget doesn't define the amount of love you have for your dog so don't beat yourself up if you can't afford the vet who is the talk of your puppy's play group. Veterinarians, like their human-treating counterparts, offer a wide range of services at various costs, which may not reflect the quality of their care.

Knowing what's best for your dog is just one factor in knowing what's best for your family. A household budget may not have the extra dollars for the vet whose client list includes the labradoodle of "that guy from 'Chicago P.D.'" That's fine, because there's a good chance that the vet who sees the boxer of "that guy across the street" may be just as, if not more, competent.

The right vet matters

When you begin the search process, it's important to understand how a good vet will serve your dog's basic and potential needs. Here are six factors to consider:

  1. Initial assessment: Bring your dog to the vet within the first 72 hours after he or she joins the family. The vet will give your dog the appropriate vaccinations, set the baseline for his health and fill you in on any special needs your dog may have. You should know whether they offer services beyond the basics and who they recommend when specialists are needed. Bedside manner counts for those check-ups so it's OK to ask questions that apply specifically to your dog: Do you treat large dogs? Do you muzzle every dog they examine? Do certain vets here handle certain breeds? Who are the specialists in your network? By asking the right questions, you'll be less likely to be surprised by certain policies or procedures later.  
  2. Diagnosing your dog: One of the most important elements of your vet's job will be identifying and treating your dog's potential illnesses. You'll want to make sure your vet has enough knowledge and experience of the diseases that could affect your dog, but also the basic equipment to diagnose those diseases should they occur.
  3. Sharing information: While this seems simple, it's not always a given. If you're an active dog owner, it's likely your dog will see local groomers, interact with dog walkers and spend time at nearby extended care facilities who will want to see your dog's records. Your vet should be willing to share information on your dog's vaccinations, his or her general health and whatever other information might be essential to other service providers in your dog-care network.
  4. Treating long-term health issues: Dogs who have serious illnesses or sustained major injuries can still live long, productive lives if given proper treatment. Make sure your vet has solid, long-term options for you and your pet.
  5. Emergency options: Having a good vet is important but what do you do when your dog throws up on your bed at two in the morning after eating the peanut-butter-and-poison concoction you put under the kitchen sink? Does the practice offer emergency services or will they refer you to a local 24-hour practice? Either way is acceptable but be sure you know the appropriate contact information and potential cost for late-night care.
  6. Euthanasia: Most vets have long-term relationships with the dogs they see and the respective dog owners. Putting a dog down is always difficult so you want to find a vet who will be compassionate but realistic about possible options when the quality of your dog's life begins to suffer.  

In many ways, choosing the right vet is like choosing the right mechanic. Just because the guys at Big Joe's Auto Repair say they'll fix your ignition for $600, you still check with Fat Sam's, who will do it for $250. Finally, the mechanics at Tall Suzy's seem incredibly trustworthy. They tell you they'll fix it for $400 and guarantee their work for 24 months. If you go through that process for your car, you should take a similar approach when choosing a veterinarian. Remember, you're actually choosing a healthcare network for your dog and more importantly, the people in that network. Your dog has no choice but to trust your judgment in deciding who gets to help her live a happy, healthy life.

If you have specific questions go to our blog at or send us a question on our Facebook page at

Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.


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