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It is best to try and register with a vet before you actually need one. There are a wide choice of veterinary practices available, offering a range of different services depending on their size, facilities and staff.

Personal recommendation is often a good starting point, so try chatting to other pet owners before making a decision.

In addition, have a browse through ‘Yellow Pages’ (www.yell.com), which will give you an idea of the number of practices within a sensible distance of your home. Don’t look too far afield, as you may need to get to the practice quickly in an emergency.

Another useful source of information is the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons – the regulatory body for the veterinary profession in the United Kingdom. Their address is Belgravia House, 62-64 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AF (telephone number 020 7222 200, www.rcvs.org.uk). They will be able to tell you of a vet near you. The website also has a ‘find a vet’ facility, which means you can search by geographical area, speciality or practice interests.

Try to select one or two practices you feel might be suitable and then start doing more in-depth research. Remember, it is also worthwhile thinking about the various pet insurance policies that are available and what they cover.

Visit the practice and ask a few questions to help you decide which one would be the best for your pet.

What to look for

Appearance

  • Is the waiting room and reception area clean and welcoming?
  • Are the practice staff you meet friendly and helpful?

Location

  • Is the practice close enough to get to easily, especially in an emergency?
  • Is there adequate parking?

Opening times

  • When is the practice open for general appointments?

What to ask?

Facilities

  • Are there any special clinics, such as ‘Weight Watchers’, ‘Puppy’ or ‘Kitten’ clubs’? The last two are particularly important if you are getting a puppy or kitten.
  • If the practice has many vets, can you request to see the same one each time?
  • What range of species does the practice treat and do any of the vets have additional qualifications?
  • What are the arrangements if a pet needs hospitalisation overnight?
  • What happens if a pet needs to be referred for more specialist treatment?

 

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Emergencies

  • What are the arrangements for ‘out-of-hours’ treatment?

Costs

  • What are the costs of routine procedures, such as worming, neutering and vaccination?
  • Is this the total cost, or are there any additional payments you may have to make?
  • Does the practice take credit cards? (A minor detail, but often so important to know)

Once you have chosen a vet, make an appointment to get your pet checked over. You and the vet can then decide upon a suitable care programme.

It is worthwhile taking the time and trouble to find the right veterinary practice, as it may well be the one that looks after your pet for the whole of its life.

Who works at the vets?

Veterinary Surgeons study for 5 or 6 years at university to obtain a degree in veterinary science. But graduating isn’t enough by itself. In order to practice as a vet, they must be members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which will give them MRCVS after their name. Many vets will also study for extra qualifications, such as a Certificate or Diploma in a topic they have a special interest in, such as radiology and dermatology.

Veterinary Nurses study for two or more years and, after passing their examinations, they may register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as a ‘listed Veterinary Nurse’ (VN) allowing them to carry out specified procedures under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon. They can also study for additional qualifications, such as in pet behaviour or nutrition.

Other staff at a veterinary practice may include cleaners, practice managers, receptionists and secretaries who all contribute to the running of the practice, leaving the clinical staff to concentrate on looking after your pets.

Communication

It is important that your vet is a good communicator and many will have studied this when they were at university. It’s also important that you ask as many questions as you want – this is where a checklist is useful – print out the one on this website before you go to your vet and write in the answers.

The better the communication between vets and pet owners the likelier it is that your pet will get better. Good communication helps your vet find out what’s wrong with your pet and helps you understand what you have to do to help your pet get better.

It’s a two way process and you can help your pet by:

  • Making an appointment when the practice is quieter, as that will give you and your vet more time to go through your pet’s care. The practice receptionist will be able to help you with this.
  • Taking a list of all of your pet’s symptoms with you – even if you think they are minor. All symptoms act like jigsaw pieces and all are important when putting together a diagnosis. Take your checklist with you if you are picking up a pet after hospitalisation.
  • When you’re making an appointment make sure you let the receptionist know how many pets you’d like examined and what their age is. For example, unvaccinated pets may need to come to a special clinic to avoid contact with sick pets in the waiting room.
  • Writing down key points in your checklist. Some vets may also be able to print out an information sheet for you or give you a leaflet.
  • Letting the vet know if you don’t understand something. Vets would rather go through things again to make sure that owners understand what’s happening.
  • Asking practice’s veterinary nurses for help – they are critical in a pet’s recovery. They will often be the ones doing the ‘hands on’ care like dressing changes and would be happy to demonstrate what you could do to help your pet recover from illness.
  • Being honest! Vets would rather know that you hadn’t been able to give your pet all of the tablets or if your pet didn’t like the pills.

The veterinary profession is a service industry and it is important that they remain sensitive to a pet owner’s needs. A good relationship between vets and clients lead to both working for the same aim – getting a pet better.

If you feel that your vet isn’t telling you exactly what’s going on and what are the possible outcomes, the best thing to do first of all is to contact the veterinary practice that looks after your pet and have a chat with them. You can speak to the vet concerned, or else the senior partner if you are not satisfied with the explanation that you receive.

If you still feel unhappy, you can contact the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Belgravia House, 62-64 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AF (Telephone number 020 7222 2001 or www.rcvs.org.uk). If you go into their website, and enter the animal owners section at the mid-right of the home page, there is information to help clients who are unhappy with their vet.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons is the regulatory body for vets in the UK, and ensures that standards are maintained within the veterinary profession, safeguarding the interests of the public, amongst other things.

Author – Elaine Pendlebury BA BSc  BVetMed DMS MRCVS  Senior Veterinary Surgeon (Science & Welfare) PDSA

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