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How do I choose the right vet?

vet care

From a dog's point of view, it's extremely important that the relationship between his owner and vet works well. For this to happen, there has to be good communication between the two. Also, the owner needs to trust that the vet has the dog's best interests at heart and has to be prepared to follow his recommendations.

Communication: This is the cornerstone of any good relationship, and surveys often identify this as a problem area, with owners sometimes feeling they don't understand what the vet has explained to them, or that they disagree with him. Communication is a two-way process though, and while vets have a responsibility to ensure owners are informed about any procedures that are recommended, and that they understand what is going on, it is also the responsibility of the owner to make it clear if they don't understand, or if they need to discuss matters further.

Trust: Is extremely important. If an owner trusts their vet they are far more likely to follow his advice. Surveys consistently show that a common reason for the failure of treatment is owners not giving the full course of medication to their dogs, so it's important owners are happy to do as their vet suggests. To deserve trust, the vet should obviously be courteous, understanding, sympathetic, well-informed and able to communicate well. In addition, both the vet and the surgery should be clean, and the facilities should be sufficiently extensive and up to date.

The Internet: Take care with the Internet in order to ensure they are well informed, vets in the UK have to do a minimum of 35 hours of continuing education (such as courses and seminars) each year. This helps them to keep up to date with new treatments and procedures. With a range of journals and textbooks, they can broaden their knowledge, and for many vets, and their clients, the Internet also provides a useful source of information.

Problems sometimes occur when dog owners find information on the Internet, which appears to disagree with the treatment their vet has recommended. However, it is important to remember that the Internet is an unregulated medium, and some of the information that appears on some websites is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. Still, given that dog owners may have more time than vets to research a particularly rare or unusual disease, it can be helpful to make the information they find available to their vets.

Vets will also use other sources for researching unusual problems and often the most accurate information comes from colleagues in referral or research centres who are experts in a particular area. If a vet feels that he does not have the knowledge, expertise or equipment to deal with a particular case, he may recommend a referral to a vet with more experience in that area. Equally, if an owner does not feel confident in the diagnosis or treatment decided upon by their vet, they should discuss this with him and seek a second opinion, or referral, if necessary. Because of the importance of sharing information regarding cases, and the fact that vets are required to keep owners' records confidential unless given permission, it is important that vets are kept appraised of the situation if a second opinion is sought.

Referral centres will only normally see clients who have been referred by their own vet so that he can pass information on, and vets from whom a second opinion is sought will normally request the animal's notes from the original vet. In addition, any complementary or alternative practitioners should not see animals without the vet being informed and agreeing that such treatment is appropriate, or will at least do no harm.

Medication: Although vets normally prescribe and supply medicines directly to the animals under their care, recent changes in legislation have made it possible for owners to request a prescription for medicines, which they may then buy elsewhere. In all cases where medicines are prescribed, even where ongoing courses are being used for the treatment of chronic conditions, it remains the responsibility of the vet who issues the prescription to ensure the medicine is appropriate and safe.

This means that prescriptions cannot be issued without the vet seeing the dog in the first instance, and regularly for check-ups in the case of ongoing medicines. Owners may wish, therefore, to request estimates from vets for examinations and other investigative techniques, prescriptions and the price of medicines.

Shop around:

Shopping around may help keep costs down. However, remember it is in the dog's best interests to have his comprehensive notes at one surgery, so the vets there are fully appraised of his past history, should he have a problem. When dogs have been neutered and vaccinated at separate cut-price clinics, and have perhaps had access to medicines purchased over the Internet, it can be difficult to establish the cause of disease when a dog then comes into a fully-equipped surgery. In addition, the yearly vaccination check-up gives vets the opportunity to pick up early signs of disease, often before the owner is even aware a problem exists, and early recognition of problems gives dogs the best chance of responding well to treatment. Where possible, therefore, it is advisable for owners to take their dogs to a practice that has access to a full range of investigative and surgical equipment.

How to complain:

If owners feel they are unhappy with some aspect of the care they or their pet has received, they may wish to make a complaint. In the first instance, the best route is to speak or write to the vet involved, or, if owners do not wish to speak to that vet, they may wish to speak to his practice principal.

If an owner is unhappy with the response they get and wishes to take a complaint further, they should write to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), in London, with all the details. This is the body that regulates the veterinary profession in the UK and every practising vet in the country has to be a licensed member. The RCVS is responsible for helping to maintain standards in the veterinary profession by advising vets on their professional responsibilities, and by conducting disciplinary hearings and potentially removing vets' licences to practise if they behaved negligently.

Where the relationship between vet, client and dog works well, it is a strong bond that lasts throughout the dog's life, with the vet being involved in every aspect of his health care to the benefit of that dog. Looking after dogs from the first puppy check until old age is a pleasure and a privilege that vets enjoy, and, at the end of a dog's life, having a familiar vet there makes things easier for both owner and dog.

What vets should provide:

  • A clean, tidy surgery.
  • A professional, caring approach.
  • Good communication and clear explanations.
  • The best advice he/she can give regarding diagnosis, further investigation and treatment.Provision of 24-hour emergency care.

What vets hope to get from their clients:

  • Clear explanation of symptoms or signs of disease (it's often helpful if owners make a list, so that they don't forget to mention anything they are worried about).
  • Being prepared to follow advice and give medicines according to instructions.
  • Being prepared to return for follow-up appointments to check treatment has been successful.
  • Discussion of anything the owner is worried or unhappy about.
  • Prompt payment (insurance is always helpful) or the institution of a payment plan if full payment is not immediately possible. Having comprehensive pet insurance means veterinary bills can be paid promptly.

Useful address

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Belgravia House, 62 - 64 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AF.

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