Consumer guide: finding a veterinarian


Consumer guide: finding a veterinarian

You can check with the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services to verify the license of a veterinarian. Visit the CIS Bureau of Health Services Web site at or call 900-555-8374, 8-5 weekdays.

You also can find out whether any complaints are pending or an investigation has been opened or you can file a complaint against a vet through the Web site or by calling 517-373-9196, 8-5 weekdays. If you want details on an open complaint or pending allegation, you must file a request under the Freedom of Information Act with the complaints department.

CIS also posts monthly disciplinary action reports, organized by profession, on its Web site.

In 2000, there were 3,399 veterinarians licensed to do business in Michigan. There were three complaints filed against vets and four disciplinary actions taken by the state.

Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine

By Kim Norris

MSU has hot line

Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine has a pet-loss hot line for people whose pet has died and who want to talk to someone about their loss.

"People who enter veterinarian medicine are compassionate people, and they grieve with their clients when an animal dies," said Janver Krehbiel, senior associate dean for administration at the school. "The students are sensitive to this and formed the hot line with the faculty some years ago."

Grieving pet owners can call the hot line at 517-432-2696. The hot line is staffed by students or faculty 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and accepts messages the rest of the time. Because of financial constraints, out-of-area-code calls will be returned collect.

Modern treatment methods assure better care for animals
September 9, 2001

2001 Detroit Free Press

Many people consider their pets as important as any human member of their family. More than 80 percent of owners refer to themselves as their pets' mommy or daddy and call pets their babies, according to a 1999 survey by the American Animal Hospital Association.

Little wonder, then, that owners are willing to spend more money to care for their four-legged, no-legged, feathered, furry, fuzzy or scaly companions.

Americans spent $11.1 billion on veterinarian products and services in 1996, the last year tracked by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Like human doctors, veterinarians have evolved into highly specialized practitioners with increasingly sophisticated capabilities to diagnose and treat their patients.

Procedures once unheard of in small-animal care -- cancer treatment, organ transplants and other complicated procedures -- have become almost commonplace.

The plethora of specialists and advanced technology available has given consumers more choices when it comes to choosing a caregiver for their animal companion. Of course, it makes it more complicated as well.

But there are many things a pet owner can do to find the best possible care for a pet -- and to avoid the potentially disastrous results of picking the wrong vet or clinic.

Most veterinarians are generalists, and the bulk of their clients are cats and dogs, according to Dr. Robert Fisher, head of veterinarians for the Michigan Humane Society, composed of three clinics in southeast Michigan.

If your pet is uncommon, you should make it a point of finding an animal doctor that is familiar with that type of pet.

"If you have an unusual pet, you should certainly ask about species," says Fisher. "Not all vets are going to be comfortable with exotics. We'll take rabbits, gerbils, and the like, but reptiles, for example, we don't. We'll refer them to someone else.

Likewise, if a pet requires specialized treatment, Fisher and most other vets will refer the patient to a specialist.

If a vet is certified in a specialty, it means he or she has not only completed a 4-year doctor of veterinary medicine degree but also completed additional courses, done a residency and taken a written test, according to Janver Krehbiel, senior associate dean for administration at Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

"There are stringent requirements for those specialties," Krehbiel said.

His primary advice for people choosing a vet: Ask questions.

"Sometimes people are hesitant to ask questions and then go away thinking, 'Gee, I wish I'd asked' this or that," Krehbiel said. "Part of what we do is education. There is not a dumb question."

Where to start

Ask someone. Ask friends, family members, coworkers, even strangers you see walking, carrying or being led by an animal similar to your own. Remember you have an automatic bond -- your pets. Breed clubs and training classes also are good sources of information. Quiz them on specifics such as:

  • How comfortable they feel with the vet and  how comfortable their pet is.
  • Whether the staff is friendly, knowledgeable and responsive.
  • Convenience of location.
  • Problems or delays in getting appointments, test results, consultations?

You can always find a nearby vet through the phone book or online directories. This is probably the least informed way to choose a vet, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad one.

Vets and pet owners alike advise against making price your top criterion when selecting a health-care provider. If you've found more than one vet you like, you might want to compare costs on routine procedures like vaccinations, sterilization and checkups.

Once you have some names to work with, you can do some initial screening over the phone.

Key questions

Here are questions you can ask before you even set foot in the clinic:

  • Is the vet a member of professional associations? Which ones?
  • How much experience does the vet have?
  • Is the veterinarian certified in any specialties?
  • If it's a hospital, is it associated with the American Animal Hospital Association?
  • Is the vet familiar with your breed or species of animal?
  • If you have a difficult pet, how much experience does the vet have and what methods does he/she use to deal with ornery or terrified animals?
  • Office hours?
  • Where are patients referred when the office is closed?
  • How does the vet handle emergencies during and after business hours?
  • How quickly can you get appointments, both for sick visits and routine appointments?
  • If it is a multi-doctor practice, can you see the vet of your choice?
  • How are fees handled? Are credit cards accepted? Will the vet or clinic work out a payment plan?
  • What kind of services are available? Ask specifically about: dental work, medical exams, surgery (specific types), X-rays, lab testing, nutrition and behavior counseling, sonograms, endoscopy.
  • Do they have ancillary services such as training classes, boarding and grooming?
  • Will the vet refer you to a specialist for treatment if necessary?
  • Does the doctor make house calls?

Location, location

The location of the vet is important and one of the top reasons people pick the vets they do. So if possible, narrow your choices to pet doctors within easy travel distance.

Some pet lovers suggest paying a visit to the vet's office before you bring your pet there. But regardless of whether you take Fido with you on the first trip, there are things you should be on the lookout for:

  • Is there parking?
  • Were you kept waiting long?
  • Are the doctors' and clinic's licenses and certifications visibly displayed?
  • Is the staff -- from receptionist to technician to doctor -- professional, courteous, knowledgeable and responsive?
  • Does the doctor take time to explain test results, diagnoses, options and procedures?
  • Did the staff and vet deliver on the things they said they would when you called.
  • Are the facilities pleasant and clean? Are there unpleasant odors? Don't hesitate to ask for a tour of the facilities.

After you have actually availed yourself of the vet's services, you want to know that the doctor and his staff are there for you, even when you're not.

So, be aware of:

  • How promptly your calls are returned and your questions answered.
  • Whether someone is always on call or if there some place you can go 24-7 for emergencies.
  • How cooperative the vet is in releasing records.

    There are no laws in Michigan governing veterinary medical records. The Michigan Veterinary Medical Association recommends that vets keep records for their own protection in the event they are sued by a pet owner. Its guidelines suggest that medical records are the property of the clinic, but the patient has the right to the information in the records and may be asked to pay copying costs.

    Contact KIM NORRIS at 313-222-8762 or

    Some more questions to ask when looking for a Veterinarian

    by Neaner
    • What are your office hours?
    • Are you an emergency hospital with staff on 24/7?
    • Is there more then one Vet working in this practice? If yes do they have specialties?
    • What are the fees for routine services like check-ups or vaccinations? Do you accept major credit cards? Will you allow clients in good standing to make payments if their dog requires an expensive surgery or treatment?
    • What is the range of services that this veterinary hospital provides?
    • Are you and the other doctors (if there are any) members of any professional veterinary associations?
    • Do you have a discount plan for clients with multiple pets? (Office calls waived or reduced, a reduced fee for the vaccinations or medications?)
    • How long does it take to get an appointment for routine/yearly vaccination visit? How about during heartworm season?
    • What constitutes a sick visit when calling and how quickly can a client get into see the Vet? (ex. A day or 2 days of diarrhea or vomiting? Hot spots, or ear infections? Limping or off feed for 2 days?)
    • Are there things that you will allow the owners to treat at home without seeing the Vet or does every call require the animal to be seen?
    • When an owner calls because of a problem, does the front desk pass the info onto the Vet or do they have standard over the phone care for certain circumstances? What are those circumstances?
    • Are owners are allowed to help assist in simple things like holding for x-rays or drawing blood or are the dogs "taken in the back room alone with the techs".
    • Do they have their own blood lab on site or do they have to ship everything out?
    • Is the vet accessible to speak with me personally via telephone?
    • What is your position on home vaccinations?
    • What is your position on vaccine titers?
    • How do you feel about non - traditional treatments along with traditional treatments being used to treat an animal? Are you open to researching newer treatments or methods unfamiliar to you?
    • How do you feel about separating vaccines instead of doing them all at once? (doing Rabies 2 or 3 weeks after the rest)
    • How much of a roll do you think nutrition plays in the health of an animal and in the treatment of certain conditions in an animal?
    • How long does it take to get an appointment for OFA x-rays? For a spay or neuter appointment? Ear cleaning and teeth cleaning appointment?
    • Are you knowledgeable enough to do OFA x-rays or will you refer me elsewhere?
    • Do you have any problems with information a client researches on the internet and brings to you to discuss?
    • How does your staff keep current? (trainings, conferences)
    • What is your staff turnover?

    REMEMBER: Your vet works for YOU. YOU are in charge of your pet's health. Your veterinarian should advise you, but it is ultimately YOUR decision in what is done to your pet. You should never be made to feel inadequate or stupid. If you do not understand what is being told to you, ASK QUESTIONS until you do understand. YOU are paying for your veterinarian's time (within reason), so do not let them rush you. Make sure you understand everything that is being said so you can make informed decisions.

If you're looking for information or a referral to a certified specialist in your area, the following veterinary boards could be useful.

American Board of Veterinary Practitioners



American Veterinary Dental College


American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists



American College of Veterinary Behaviorists


American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists


American College of Veterinary

Clinical Pharmacology


American College of Veterinary

Internal Medicine


American College of Veterinary

Emergency and Critical Care


American College of Veterinary

Internal Medicine including Specialty of Cardiology, Internal Medicine, Neurology and Oncology



American College of Veterinary Nutrition


American College of Veterinary

Preventive Medicine

210-534-7227, Ext. 28


American College of Veterinary Surgeons



American College of Veterinary Radiology



American Board of Veterinary





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