Whole Dog Journal's Blog October 14, 2013

“General practice” veterinarians: What are your likes and dislikes?

Posted at 08:42AM - Comments: (14)

I was thinking about the traits I like in a vet after a friend told me about a bad visit to a new (to her) veterinarian. She was moving to the new vet because of some bad experiences at another practice, and she heard good things about this new practitioner in town. She had called the old practice and asked them to send her dogs’ records to the new practice, and had asked the new practice if they received them; it took several calls over the course of a week or so to confirm that the records had been sent and received.

All three of her dogs’ heartworm preventative prescriptions needed to be renewed; in this area, all the local veterinarians require that dogs receive an annual physical examination in order to receive a prescription for heartworm preventative. So she decided this was a good time to make the leap.

When she made the appointment, she made a point of asking for an appointment for enough time so that the veterinarian could examine all three dogs thoroughly, and perhaps answer a question or two about each. The littlest dog has crummy teeth, which she brushes regularly, but she hoped he could take a peek and say how the dog’s teeth and gums looked to him. The youngest dog has bad hips, and she wanted his opinion of their present condition (she had the dog’s X-rays sent from the other clinic). And the biggest dog suffers from seasonal allergies; she wanted to see what he thought of her management regime and the condition of the dog’s skin.

She waited for an hour past the appointment time in the waiting room. No one explained why.

When she was finally shown into an exam room with her dogs, the veterinary technician apologized for keeping her waiting (finally), although my friend had to ask, “Did you guys have an emergency case come in or something?” (because no explanation for the lateness was offered). Yes, she was told, we had an emergency, and the doctor is the only one here. Having a bad feeling about how this visit might go, especially since she was hoping for (and had called to request) a long introductory visit, to establish these dogs and their various conditions to the person who would become their primary physician, she asked, “Would it be best if I made this appointment for another day?” But the tech said, “No, really, it will be okay. The doctor will be right in.” The tech took all three dogs’ temperatures, and excused herself.

And then she sat in the room for another 25 minutes.

Then the door opened. The vet came in with the dogs’ charts in his hand. According to my friend, he neither introduced himself nor apologized for his lateness. He didn’t say anything (or ask any questions) as he briefly examined each dog, so my friend tried to narrate and ask questions. “How do her teeth look? I brush them daily, trying to prevent the need for more extractions . . . How do her hips seem to you? How does her skin look to you? She has allergies . . .” But she said each time she mentioned something that was going on with the dog, he said something like, “Oh?” He clearly hadn’t had a chance to look at any of the dogs’ charts.

After the very perfunctory exams, my friend says the doctor mentioned a special antifungal shampoo and a supplement for the dog with allergies, and a new pain medication for the dog with the bad hips . . . and then left the room, looking down at the charts. A few minutes later, the tech came in and said, “You can go, I’ll bring the shampoo and stuff to you up front.” “Oh!” my friend thought. “I guess I’m done with the vet, then!” No goodbye nor nice to meet you, and thanks for answering hardly any of my questions!

Lateness happens, especially when there are emergencies, but the situation really ought to be explained to the clients waiting, and after an hour or more, an offer really should be made to reschedule, especially this sort of visit, which wasn’t pressing. And in my book, there is just no excuse for a medical practitioner of any kind failing to introduce himself when he enters the exam room! And I would not be inclined to return to any practice where the doctor, for whatever reasons, failed to communicate well or engage with me about the animal that brought us together. These things really irritated my friend, and they would really bug me, too.

What things are most important to you in a primary care vet? What things would make you look elsewhere?

Comments (14)

I take my dogs and foster dogs to the larger of the two local practices. For one thing, I've always been able to get in quickly for urgent situations. Also, each vet has their strong and weak areas, so as I've gotten familiar with the practice, I can choose to see (or ask if I'm not sure) whichever one is best for the specific issue. My 'favorite' vet is a young woman who has a gentle, thorough approach and is receptive to questions and suggestions about alternatives to her suggested treatments. She's not such a great surgeon, though, so then I use the guy who would drive me crazy as a GP vet.

Posted by: MadderScientist | November 8, 2013 12:45 PM    Report this comment

We have "shopped" at all of the 5 practices in our small town. We settled on the "new" dr. who had a practice in the city for 30 years and moved here to retire but got bored. He has the most updated equiptment as well as relationships with specialists who he often gets second opinions from or will refer to if needed. He also makes a huge effort to continue his education and learning the newest in the vet world. Besides all that though, he calls all our animals kiddos in conversation and takes as much time as we need in appointments.We also have his cell number for emergencies, like porqupine incidents. He also askes how everyone is doing when he and his wife eat lunch where I work. Reasons we chose him over our other limited options include use of obsolete techniques for handling animals...basically abusive. Lack of training on new treatment methods and mis diagnosing/treating. This did not happen to us personally but a close friend was perscribed cream for his puppy's hair loss and told a skin scrape would be too stressful on her. He got a second opinion while in the city and she had really bad mange to the point of compromising her immune system. Otherwise we've had sketchy appointment experiences like not being told the regular vet is out of town and her retired father will be conducting out puppy's first exam until we're in the exam room.

Posted by: Unknown | October 22, 2013 11:15 PM    Report this comment

I work with a group that rehomes retired racing Greyhounds. The vet we have been seeing donates services to the group so wanted to support her. I love my vet but.....
I want a vet who can think outside of the box. I brought my male Greyhound in because he was losing weight even though I had increased his food by 75%. My vet didn't really ask many questions. Instead she immediately diagnosed renal issues. She drew blood for blood work which showed liver values just barely off. We went home with a recommendation for a renal diet food (I feed a homemade raw diet so declined to purchase the food) and blood pressure medication though his BP was not taken. She said she wanted to have an MRI done! I am not in a position to pay for an MRI so said no. After thinking about my hound's weight loss I made a connection. My daughter had recently gotten her driver's license and was taking the dogs to the dog park several times a week. My boy was running and playing like a crazy dog! Thus the increased appetite and weight loss.
It was such a simple thing to diagnose if a few questions had been asked. I could have spent a ton of money and still had no resolution.
The vet also disapproves of the diet I feed and usually comments on it. I keep hoping she will make the connection between how seldom my pets come in for problems and the diet. I also want a vet who is open to nontraditional treatments.
I'm very sad to say I am looking for a new vet. It will be awkward to ask that records be sent to someone new.

Posted by: Beverly M | October 20, 2013 4:05 PM    Report this comment

oops sorry my comment was not clear.....I have found vets I LOVE down here in NC...Dr. Tysor in Siler City and Dr. English in Cary and Dr. Welch on the OBX. There is a problem down here regarding people not spaying and neutering their dogs and cats and letting them run loose and not having fenced yards. But you are correct Elizabeth I hate living in the South and miss the North terribly. We moved here for cheap taxes and you get what you pay for.

Posted by: Olivia | October 20, 2013 10:16 AM    Report this comment

I am sorry to see Olivia B. had problems with vets in NC. (I think that could be true anywhere.) Sounds more like she hated having to move SOUTH.

Getting vet recommendations from dog friends or those in the local Golden Retriever club, or local dog training or kennel club, can help you find a better vet, in a new area. NC State University offers a vet school (unlike many states) & a number of specialty practices in the Wake Co. area around it (which is in the center of the state). NC also has holistic vet practices, which is pretty progressive, IMO.

I like a vet with different sections or waiting rooms for dogs vs cats. I look for (and found) a vet who takes enough time to carefully examine my dog(s) & to listen to me & who BELIEVES me, when I feel something is wrong with any of my dogs. I respect my vet (who continually takes more training classes & seminars). That way, when she suggests certain tests or possibilities, she can be both conservative as to treatment or more expensive, yet cutting edge - but always gives you options. (And since I find that my holistic practice is so much better at diagnosing & treating my dogs' unusual problems) than my formally fine, but strictly Western medicine vet, I think I am the happiest I ever been with my vet care; & can truly say I TRUST my vet.

She tells me (if for any reason I am not called back in 24 hours) with test results (that they do in-house) to call her PRIVATE cell phone number. If an emergency occurs, again - call her private cell phone, etc. Does YOUR vet do that? She prefers & recommends titer testing & raw diets. (She got me started on raw0 & yet sells NONE of it, so no profit for her.

My vet, Dr. Gail Bowman, Bowman Animal Hospital (Raleigh, NC) got her degree @ Auburn (as a canine opthamologist) & can do any Western medicine care, but when she opened her own practice, she went into holistic & Chinese medicine, acupuncture, blue light lazer, etc. If you don't need or want that, she also has about 6 other hand-picked, superior western medicine vets in with her. Someone is always on duty (to look after the pets who are too sick to go home) & the clinic has night time office hours & weekend hours (both Sat & Sunday) -which very few vets offer. They can also see you on an Emergency basis after hours & that IMO, is outstanding as well as potentially life-saving. The super office staff rarely changes & they great you by NAME.

Posted by: Betsy | October 18, 2013 1:45 PM    Report this comment

We had two aussies up until March of this year. The older one of the two died at age 13 here at home.
I had been taking both to the same vet for several years but each time I went she seemed to be less and less interested in what she was doing. It wouldn't take a genius to figure out that the older dog appeared to have developed some kind of cardiac problem. Or maybe it's because I'm an RN that I noticed the signs more than others might. Clearly tho this vet should have seen that something was out of sorts with him. By the time she figured it out several months later he was in pretty severe distress. We put him on all kinds of cardiac drugs. But to little avail. His last few months were not good ones. We woke one morning to find him gone.
When I called a few days later to report to this vet that he had died her response was " well, it's a good thing, after all he was very old". It's a good thing I was on the phone rather than talking to her in person. I'm not sure what I would have done but I know what I wanted to do.
We never went back to that office again and I have suggested to anyone who asks that they might want to seek better care.
As with Dr.'s for humans some are good, some are great and some would make a good used care salesman.

Posted by: Barbara W | October 15, 2013 7:31 PM    Report this comment

You hit the nail on the head: communication! Which is a TWO way street. I want a vet who will listen to me; I know my dogs and while I certainly rely on him to know the vet side of things, I want to know my observations are heard. Had an older dog who started insane scratching ONE DAY, saw four different vets, she was miserable. Ended up calling her internal med vet, who was 400 miles away; he consulted with a dermatologist vet. We treated her for mites, and voila! She stopped scratching. Was dismayed at the "try a baking soda rinse" option, the worst one was "try Science Diet joint diet, it has lots of Omegas in it." And then the pred shot of course. My vet has no qualms about saying "I don't know" and knows that I am not neurotic or hypochondriacal for my dogs. Luv him!

Posted by: Diane | October 15, 2013 2:31 PM    Report this comment

I used to keep foster dogs and the rescue I was fostering for wanted me to try a new vet because he was cheap. I took my foster dog, a sweet older female, to the new vet. After being ushered to a room and waiting, the vet swooped in, no introduction to me or the dog, and just started man-handling the dog and poking and prodding until she turned around and tried to bite him! I was shocked because this dog had a very sweet non-aggressive personality. Honestly, I didn't blame her. He was awful. We saw him one more time at the request of the rescue with the same results, but no biting. He was obviously trying to see way to many dogs in a day to make up for his cheap rates, which doesn't really work. I only wish I could remember this guys name so I could write it here and warn anyone thinking of going to him. After that I just took the foster to my own vet and picked up the tab. My vet found out I was paying for the foster and started giving me a discount on the services. I love my vet. He is Dr. Jim Houchens at the Arvada Animal Hospital in Arvada, Colorado. I've gone to him for years and he always greets me with a hug and immediately sits down to greet my dogs and says "hello my friend" to each of them. I always bring both my dogs even if the appointment is just for one of them and Dr. Houchens always asks about them both and gives them both attention. He is great and never makes me feel rushed.

Posted by: KAREN S | October 15, 2013 2:13 PM    Report this comment

I appreciate a vet & staff that recognizes that my animals are my family & each one is unique. I take my dogs to an office that usually makes me wait forever, but the doctor is gentle, thorough, extremely knowledgable because he practices continuing education & likes to educate his clients. He also respects & agrees with my preference for natural supplements before resorting to harsh drugs or surgery. I consider most vets to be drug pushers who believe whatever their drug reps claim without doing any research. A less is more approach to drugs & invasive procedures is better. Also, clean is important. And creating enough space for pets to pass each other without incident. I hate when vets dont give a fearful or stressed animal enough time to relax. I know they have a tight schedule, but a terrified dog doesn't. Thanks for asking

Posted by: Laura T | October 15, 2013 12:47 PM    Report this comment

In my opinion, on the checklist of all the things you should look for to choose a "good" veterinarian, right at the top of the list needs to be the following question. "Is the practice privately owned by the practicing vet or is it owned by a corporation?". If the answer is the latter, move on to other possibilities and don't even give consideration.

Posted by: Robert C | October 15, 2013 11:50 AM    Report this comment

I "shopped" vets for a while until I started going to our current one. They seem to recommend a lot of tests and shots, but don't push it if I say I don't want to do a particular one. The two younger vets I've seen sit right down on the floor with my (big) dogs for kisses and pets before they get started. What I really appreciated, tho, was when one of the younger vets recommended surgery for a hematoma in my dog's ear, which I was prepared to do, but when the older vet saw it, he said to wait to see if it would resolve itself - which it did. He could have done the surgery and charged me accordingly, but did the right thing, for me and my pooch.

Posted by: MJC | October 15, 2013 11:47 AM    Report this comment

That story makes me appreciate our fabulous vet all the more. Last time we had to wait to see her because of an emergency, she apologized all over and cut our bill in half.

Posted by: VERONICA M | October 15, 2013 11:26 AM    Report this comment

We foster dogs and so take the dogs to the vet who cooperates with the rescue group. This was not the same vet that I had been using for my resident dogs (she was fine and lives near me and said she would make house visits to me if I needed them). The "rescue" vet is the most wonderful human being and a great vet too. I have now switched my own dogs to her. I hate living in North Carolina (we are Northern transplants and hate how they treat animals down here) but it was worth moving here to meet this vet. We also have a great animal eye doctor down here (one of the old dogs we took from the shelter needed surgery to treat cataracts). We also found a great vet on the obx when we had a vacation home there. Memorial day weekend and one of our old Goldens started having symptoms that caused us concern so we called for an emergency appointment. When the vet (male) walked into the room he bent over and kissed Rush on the head and said "hello old man". He did an xray and made a terrible diagnosis....and he was correct.....but we felt that our beloved old Golden was in good hands.

Posted by: Olivia | October 15, 2013 10:52 AM    Report this comment

I am looking for a new primary care vet for my 11 year old dog. Is there an article in the archives discussing how to choose a veterinarian?

Two of the reasons that I am unhappy with my current vet: her prices are much higher than other vets in this area; she seems to overprescribe tests, so I no longer fully trust her recommendations. She is a very caring, warm person who always gives enough time to me, but sometimes it feels like she is more attentive to me than to my dog.

Posted by: Susan M | October 15, 2013 10:36 AM    Report this comment

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