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Laddie's World
Choosing Your Collie's Veterinarian

   We all want our pets to live long and healthy lives, but for most dog owners, the internal workings of their four footed best friends may be a mystery. Having someone on your side who does understand the finer points of what makes a dog tick is an integral part of providing the best for your adult collie or puppy. When you have concerns or questions about your collie's health, a veterinarian is just the person to see.

   "But we recently moved and the vet we've been using for years is just to far away to go to now."
   "This is my very first collie and I just don't know where to look."
   "How do we go about finding a vet and what should I look for in a good vet?"
   Take heart dear collie loving friends. There really are some great vets out there. Here's a few ideas on finding one and what to look for.


FINDING A VET...

   Whether you just picked up your very first puppy or just moved into town there are a couple of ways to find a vet in your area. One old stand by has long been to open up the phone book and see what's listed. Of course, the phone book can't give you a personal opinion about the vets it's advertising.

   If you had a regular vet in your old town, you can try giving them a call and see if they have a listing of vets near your new home. You never know. Maybe your old vet went to school with a vet that works in your new neighborhood!

   This next way to find a vet can have several pluses. Ask someone you see with a dog where they go. This can be a helpful way to get someone's personal opinion or even some extra information about the vet that you may not get from the other two options. Asking someone in town with a dog, especially if you're new, can be a great icebreaker and help you find a few other good places for doggie activities. You and your collie may even make lifelong friends of this nice owner and dog!


EVALUATING THE OFFICE...

   "Okay. Now I have a list of several different vets. What do I do now to decide which one is right for me and my dog?"

   Now you need to examine the personal preferences of you and your dog.

   How far are you willing to drive? If your collie gets car sick easily, you may not want to drive endless miles just for a check up. Showing up with a collie covered in vomit or saliva (or both!) may not be your cup of tea, so you'll probably be looking for convenience. That is the predominant reason most people choose a vet.

   How much are you able to pay for services? You may not be able to spend $50 just to walk in the front door of the office so you may be looking for a vet with competitive yet reasonable prices. Remember that although in most cases higher fees may reflect advanced technical support, it isn't always the case. If there's only one vet in a hundred miles of you, and he seems to be a bit on the expensive side without a lot of fancy equipment, you may not have a choice. And it should not be a stretch for any vet office to be able to give you some sort of reasonable estimate of their services. After all, no one wants to sit in a waiting room for an hour, have a general exam of their dog done in five minutes and suddenly be surprised with a $200 vet bill! Know before you go I always say.

   Are you looking for someone with emergency services? Some people are very adamant about having a vet that can come in the office in the middle of the night to help a dog that was hit by a car, is refusing to stand or running a high fever. Basically, you never know when something will happen and a vet that can help you at any time is a very valuable commodity. My vet has a second phone number to her house for emergencies and with several vets available at her office they take turns going in for emergencies.

   Do you want a vet with evening or weekend hours? With people working more than ever, it might be helpful for some folks to consider a vet with extended hours. Taking a whole day off just to take the dog to the vet may sometimes just not be possible so a vet with evening hours may be just what you need.

   What kind of facility do you want to take your dog to? Do you want an office with state of the art equipment that may allow the vet to do certain tests within the office instead of sending them out to a third party testing facility? Or do you just want a comfortable place that keeps you (and your collie) calm. People with dogs of different health needs will look at different things. If your dog is usually nervous about being in other places an office with a calming appearance will probably help you both, and if you have a dog that has many health issues, you may want a vet who can do almost anything in their office to lessen the down time between testing and implementation of whatever type of therapy your dog may need. My vet's office has a calming atmosphere in the waiting room with plants, gentle lighting, cute park style benches and a separate waiting area for the cats complete with a fish tank for their enjoyment. Even the bathrooms are extra large so a person can take their pet in with them. The examination rooms are large enough so as not to be overly confining to a claustrophobic dog and the equipment is all new and very sturdy. The entire place is clean and neat and best of all, they have a separate entrance and room for animals that may have a contagious disease.

   How about the staff? Are they pleasant and helpful and are there enough knowledgeable assistants to handle whatever kind of dog comes along? Are they reliable and thorough when relaying information to the vet and do they obviously enjoy their work and like animals? When staff members have problems with certain animals it's almost a guarantee that the animal will pick up on their feelings and in many cases react to it. If the staff member weighing a chow doesn't like chows or is nervous around them, that staff member certainly won't be radiating an air of calm that could help to prevent something silly from happening.

   How about record keeping? If the office doesn't have some sort of workable, reliable filing system there could be serious accidents from prescribing the wrong medicine from viewing the wrong file. Your pet's file should contain everything there is to know medically about your pet from his very first visit on. It may also contain safety and behavioral information needed to protect those that need to handle your pet. Anytime you switch to another vet office you should make sure to have your pet's entire file transferred to the new vet. This is imperative since even the smallest bit of information marked from a puppy visit could be the difference between life and death for the dog as an adult.


EVALUATING THE VET...

   There are certain things that your vet must have in order for you both to become the best team possible to champion your pet's health. First and foremost, the vet you chose must be competent. They need to know what to look for, what questions to ask and when to start treatment or probe a little more. If the vet isn't up on the latest medical advancements, your pet could be missing out on some seriously beneficial help that could make all the difference in their life.

   Your vet must be able to effectively communicate with you exactly what he sees, recommends, and what certain things can mean to you as an owner. If your vet constantly flings around medical jargon and you have no idea what he is saying, than how can you make a reasonably informed choice? For some people, English may be a second language. It could be very beneficial for these owners to find a vet who speaks their native language or has a well trained assistant that can translate clearly and reliably.

   A vet MUST know his limitations and understand when it is time to refer you to a specialist. There are very few vets that can without a doubt do absolutely everything and anything that could possibly relate to the dog. Many vet schools will give only so many hours and only the most absolutely necessary information in certain subjects to enable a vet to perform their job. As an example, there are many schools that only give a few hours instruction about nutrition. And while some schools offer animal or specifically canine behavioral classes, they may not be mandatory for their veterinarian training. While they are very knowledgeable in how food can affect the physical health of a dog, some vets are not as aware of the potentially devastating effects the wrong food can have on the mind of a dog as others who took canine nutritional as well as behavioral classes. If your vet suspects that a serious behavior problem could be the result of a food issue that he cannot diagnose precisely because of his training, he should be able to recommend someone who has training specific to those issues. A general behaviorist could be who he needs to send you to. If bad behavior is the result of a suspected chemical imbalance that your vet is not completely familiar with, then the vet should be aware that he needs to send you to a Veterinary Behaviorist. There is a difference between the two. Many behaviorists may have the same behavioral training as a Veterinary Behaviorist but only a Veterinary Behaviorist can prescribe medications that could help your dog. If a vet thinks your collie may have an eye problem that he is not qualified to treat, than he will need to send you to a Canine Opthamologist. There are a great many areas in the field of Veterinary Medicine that require specialists and your vet must be able to recognize when its time to hand you over to them for help.

   Anyone who calls him or herself a vet must be able to recognize the dog/owner bond and respect it. A vet has to understand what this pet means to the person at the other end of the leash or he cannot be the best vet possible. A vet should always treat you and your collie with concern and respect. Just because you don't know or understand something he should never talk down to you and he should take the time to explain it thoroughly to you. If the vet rushes in, does what he needs to and then rushes on to the next patient, he may be to busy to give you the help your collie needs. If the office you go to is always like that and you don't like it or feel uncomfortable with it, then perhaps you need to consider a change. If there are other vets in that office, try to find one that doesn't have an overloaded schedule. If an office has five or more vets and has none-stop traffic rushed in and then rushed out constantly, than maybe you need to change to a different office if possible. Large vet offices like this can sometimes be more of a detriment than a help to a dog that has issues, health or otherwise.

   As an example of poor recognition and respect for a dog and its owner, my mom took my big sister Cassie, a Samoyed/Labrador mix, to a new office due to recently moving. Cassie was extremely dominant, protective and especially un-thrilled with men in general let alone those that thought they were "IT". When the vet walked in, my mom instructed him to take the treat she had set by the door and kneel low letting Cassie come to him to take the treat. The vet apparently seemed to think that he knew better and told my mom "What good will this do. If she's going to bite me, she'll bite me. This won't make any difference."

   He walked over and reached down for Cassie and she did indeed display her displeasure by attempting to bite him. When he fell back in surprise to her swiftness, my mom asked him if he would like to try again her way. He accepted. He took the treat and kneeled low. My mom gave Cassie permission to go see him and she ambled over, sniffed his hand and the treat and then gently took the treat. She ate it, licked the vet's hand and then his face and happily nuzzled him into petting her. She was fine for the rest of the visit. My mom asked if she could explain exactly what took place but the vet said 'no, he didn't have time' and then was gone.

   This vet did not respect my mom's greater personal knowledge of Cassie and did not recognize her commitment to their bond by watching for the safety and comfort of all involved. He also displayed his unwillingness to learn new things by refusing to listen to the explanations of someone  who obviously understood their dog's behavior. My mom did not make any further appointments with that vet in the future.

   Even though my mom understands many things pertaining to dogs, she still likes to feel that my vet is giving us the fair treatment we deserve and not push us out because of our job. (Our vet has regularly requested our business cards to replenish her stock and listens intently when my mom explains some little detail of my training. The vet assistants ask her questions and they very often point us out to other owners with their patients and tell them we can answer a training question better than they or perhaps offer a tip that may help with their dog.)

SOME THINGS TO REMEMBER...

   Some final things to remember about your vet and the office you choose:
   * Try to keep focused on what's important to you. If you start to nit pick every minor detail, you'll never find an office to measure up to your expectations.

   * Its okay to switch veterinarians if you or your dog are unhappy, but try to avoid unnecessary repeated changes. It does your dog little good to constantly see different vets who never have an opportunity to establish a good rapport with either of you.

   * Don't accept poor patient care but try not to be quick to judge. One incident of a foul odor or dirty floor could mean they just had a rough day or rough customer. Things can happen that can throw their normally predictable routines into a tizzy.

   * Don't think that there is nothing that can be done when a vet and his office constantly display poor care or have serious issues that need to be addressed. Sure you can change vets, but you can also log formal and written reports with that office's Veterinarian Board and your state's Board of Veterinarians. Even one casually written letter will most likely be checked by these agencies, and if the issues are found to be present and/or serious enough, that office can be shut down. This applies also to people that get inbred, deformed or very sick puppies from pet stores. Even though there may be a health guarantee from the store, a vet must check and sign off on these puppies before and after they arrive at the store. This information must be logged so it is findable. Finding out the names of those vets and then calling both the vet board for the state that the pup came from and the vet board from the state that you live in and/or got the puppy from, will help to eliminate the few crooked vets out there that sign off on sick and poor quality puppies just to make a quick buck. It would help the long running feud on puppy mills also since these places would no longer be able to pass these puppies on to unsuspecting consumers. You can also try calling you state vet board to check to see if there have been any complaints filed for the office you are interested in.

   * Many vets will tout that they are member of this vet association or that vet association, and while many of these associations are excellent groups who demand certain levels of quality from their members, there are some associations that vets can join simply by paying a member fee. One good member association certificate to see at your vet's office is the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). They set very high standards of practice for their members. Requirements for accreditation are so strict it can be tough for some smaller clinics to qualify even if they do practice the highest quality veterinary medicine and surgery, so don't rule out a practice just because they aren't a member of AAHA.

   * Any vet office that refuses to allow you come and visit the office without a patient might need to be reevaluated and while being polite enough to call ahead of time is always just good manners, try to ask for a general good day of the week to visit versus an exact day and time. Some offices may attempt to hide things they don't want you to see if they are a little less than above the board.

   Well, I hope I covered everything you'll need to know about picking a vet. If I think of something else I'll add it. Until then, happy hunting!