From the day you get your dog or cat one of the most important people in your life should be your vet. How do you choose a good one? In India, for every real vet there are about 50 clinics set up by compounders pretending to be vets. Since few people bother to look beyond the sign that says Doctor, you are likely to go to one of these. The next problem is the vet who passed out of veterinary college ten years ago but has not read a single medical manual since then and relies on hit and miss methods, depending on the fact that while people may shout about their animals dying because of mistreatment, they are unlikely to do anything else – and if they don’t come back, there are ten more suckers who will. This is usually the case with all government vets, so avoid if you can.
Next is the vet who comes from a really bad college. There are 33 veterinary colleges in India. All of them are run by the government and all of them are run on animal husbandry lines – to produce meat and milk. The concept, that vets do other things besides insemination, has still not struck most colleges. Some have now started teaching their vets about treating animals but these are few and far between.
The last problem is that most Indian vets don’t really like animals. Most have become vets after they failed in at least 4 other entrance tests. This is the simplest test to do and it is the cheapest course in India, so anyone who has done school and wants to be a “doctor” enters. 70% go into government jobs and are very happy in slaughterhouses and inspecting poultries and piggeries, because they get bribes from the animal owners and they don’t have to learn anything. 20% go to multinational laboratories where they experiment on animals. 10% come into shelters or start their own practices.
So, even if you find a genuine vet, you need to know how to judge him. Is he going to keep your pet healthy?
How do you find him? Look in the directories, search the Internet or ask neighbours and friends. Ask local animal activists and shelters, even veterinary college professors. You could also ask the Veterinary Council of India (Ph: 011 -26184149 / 26184354) whether the vet is accredited to them or not.
Evaluate several veterinarians, taking one or more of your pets to each vet for a wellness exam and consultation.
The other factors are:
Is the veterinarian closer to your home?
Is he easy and confident with your animal?
Is his office clean? Notice how organized the office seems and whether it smells. Are the receptionists friendly? Do they treat clients as though they are guests in their own homes?
Do they have a laboratory and X-ray? If you have an emergency, you are not going all over town to get your animal x-rayed and blood tested.
Do they have round the clock services? Is someone available if you have an emergency?
How do they handle hospitalizations? Are they staffed at night or do they refer to a 24-hour emergency clinic? Do they keep an eye on them or do they immediately forget and leave them where no one is watching them at night.
How many veterinarians are in the practice? One-person practices are nice but multi-doctor practices may have extended hours and generally someone is always available if you have a pet problem.
Regardless of how you choose a veterinarian, developing a relationship takes work. Make sure you understand everything your veterinarian says. Don't be afraid to question anything and keep questioning until you fully understand the answer. If you do not feel comfortable with your veterinarian, consider seeking a different veterinarian.
Do not choose a bad tempered vet. I know of several really bad vets who get away because they are so bad-tempered that their clients do not question them. One vet who takes the highest fees in Gurgaon always diagnoses every animal as having erlichia canis which is tick fever and then prescribes a series of expensive antibiotics which a few months down the road destroy the liver and kidneys.
In the exam room, note the skill and respect with which the doctor and nurses handle your pets.
Try to get a sense of how committed the veterinarian is to educating you about your pet's health care.
Does the vet give you educational handouts and suggest websites to consult for more information?
Is the vet willing to review and discuss information you've collected?
Does the veterinarian focus on preventing disease? Does he take a thorough history, asking about your pet's lifestyle, diet and medications?
Does the vet counsel you on dental care, recommend parasite control and advise you if your pet is overweight?
Does the veterinarian participate in ongoing educational teachings, such as through the Veterinary Information Network? Does any of the doctors or nurses have special training or offer ancillary services?
Do the veterinarians in the practice discuss challenging cases with each other, so that when your pet is ill, you benefit from the expertise of all the vets on staff?
If you're there with your pet for an actual visit, do the veterinary team's explanations of the exam findings and treatment plans make sense to you?
How do they handle referrals to specialists, if that's necessary?
Ask these questions from your vet:
1. How much does your pet weigh? Note what your pet weighs and keep track of it.
What is his body condition? If he has extra fat relative to his overall size, ask what you can do to help him lose weight. They may recommend that you cut back on his portions, change his diet, or increase his activity. If he is too thin, ask for recommendations to address this issue.
What should he be eating? Depending on your dog’s sex, age, weight and overall health, your veterinarian may recommend a formula that may be beneficial in the presence of an underlying medical condition.
Was his physical examination normal? An examination can help to identify problems early when conditions may be more treatable. Ask if his heart and lungs sounded normal, if his abdomen felt normal on examination and if he overall appears healthy. If not, what is wrong? What can be done?
How do his teeth and nails look?
Is he getting the vaccines he needs?
Does he need tick prevention medication? Ticks can carry diseases that can cause severe illness.
Does he have worms or need a de-wormer? A faecal examination can help determine if your pet has gastrointestinal worms.
Are there any routine tests that should be done to monitor his health for his age? Dogs age differently depending on their breed, size and weight. Some large breed dogs are considered "senior" at 6 or 7 years. Some smaller breed dogs are not considered senior until 8 or 9 years of age. Many veterinarians recommend routine blood work to assess your pet's organ function on a periodic basis.
Is there anything you can do to make your pet more comfortable? This applies most often to senior pets. Does your veterinarian think your pet is in pain? If so, is there something they recommend? There are many new arthritis medications that work well in dogs. Some additional comfort measures may include a special bed for arthritic pets.
To get the most out of your vet visits, make sure you have information about your pet to help the vet better understand your pet’s problems. If you are visiting your veterinarian for any type of ailment, make sure you know details about the ailment. Your veterinarian will want to know when the problem started, how often it is a problem, and if there are associated symptoms. For example, if your pet is vomiting, they will want to know when it started, how frequently it occurs, if there is blood or other abnormalities, and associated symptoms such as diarrhoea, if your pet is not eating, or if your pet is acting lethargic? Make sure you are honest. Tell them what table scraps you feed or anything else about how you care for your pet. If you missed a dose of medication, don't be embarrassed, just tell them the facts. Your veterinarian can only help if he knows the facts.
Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, has grown and advanced to the point where it’s simply impossible for a single doctor to know everything. And though your physician needs to know only one species, veterinarians are supposed to treat anything on four legs, plus birds. That’s just not possible, and even the best specialists are sometimes stumped at first. To me, one of the signs of a really good veterinarian is the willingness to say, “I don’t know,” followed by, “but I’ll find out.”