Next to you, your veterinarian may be the most important person in your cat’s life. She is your cat’s surgeon, radiologist, dentist, dermatologist, neurologist, ophthalmologist, psychiatrist and pharmacist, all rolled into one. Choosing the right person to care for your precious feline can be overwhelming. Here are my recommendations on how to go about finding a vet you and your cat will be comfortable with.
Look for a cat-only or cat-friendly practice
If you can find a feline-only practice in your area, that’s usually going to be your best option. If there are no feline exclusive practices, look for a Cat Friendly Practice® as certified by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. These practices take specific steps to make sure they understand cats’ unique needs, implement feline-friendly standards, help decrease the stress of the veterinary visit, and provide a more calming environment for you and your cat.
If you can’t find either a feline-only or cat-friendly practice, look for a Fear Free® certified practice.
Make an initial appointment without your cat
Once you’ve narrowed your selections down to a handful of practices, make an appointment at the hospital without your cat. This will give you an opportunity to learn more about the practice and their services, get a first hand look at the clinic environment, and get that all important feel for the practice without worrying about your cat being stressed out. Ask to meet with the veterinarian who would be taking care of your cat. Offer to pay for this appointment. You’ll be taking up the vet’s time, and while most practices will not charge you for this type of meet and greet, offering to pay starts your potential relationship off on the right paw.
During your visit, look for the following:
- Does the hospital look and smell clean? Caring for pets can result in unpleasant smells, but they should never be allowed to linger in a hospital.
- Is the front office staff friendly and responsive or do they seem harried and rushed? While veterinary practices can be extremely busy and stressful, a harried staff can be a sign that a clinic is understaffed.
- Are there separate waiting areas for cats and dogs?
- Does the practice have cat themed decorations as well as dog themed ones? This can be an indicator of which species a practice prefers to deal with.
Ask these questions:
Once you meet with the veterinarian or a staff member, ask the following questions:
- What do the vet and staff do to make cats comfortable during their time in the clinic?
- How do the vets and staff keep current on advances in veterinary medicine? Do they attend continuing education meetings?
- Will you always see the same vet or will you need to see a different vet each time you bring your cat in?
- How are after hours emergencies handled?
Some red flags to look out for
- The staff won’t give you a tour of the practice, or allow you to be “in the back” with your cat. This is a huge red flag for me. While some areas of a clinic may be off limits to clients at certain times, in general, you should be allowed to be with your cat and/or visit her if she needs to stay at the hospital.
- The vet’s knowledge is out of date. While no vet can keep up with all advances in veterinary medicine, it is reasonable to expect your vet to keep current and to attend continuing education meetings. Red flags in this area include vets who still give “annual shots” or treat every condition with antibiotics or steroids.
- The vet does not take enough time to answer questions. Ask how long an appointment is. Short appointment times can be an indicator that vets are constantly rushed.
Look for the right vet for you and your cat before you have an emergency so you can take your time making this important decision.