There's nothing worse for a cat owner to experience than having a medical emergency and no veterinarian to turn to for help. This isn't a decision that you want to have to make under pressure. Plan ahead and give your feline friend the best physical care that you can.
How do I begin my search for a veterinarian for my cat?
Approach your search as if you were looking for your own personal doctor. Ask yourself, what traits do I like to see in doctors that I deal with? What kind of medical facility should they have? How available do they have to be? Is experience more important to me than having a good bedside manner?
Once you've identified what your basic veterinarian needs and desires are, start looking for input on who meets your qualifications. Ask friends, neighbors, family members, animal shelters, and local cat breeders. Pay attention to any names that are consistently mentioned, whether for good or bad purposes. You should also consult the yellow pages to see if any ads or names catch your attention.
Once I've narrowed my choices down, then what?
Make a list of general questions to ask each vet. While the vet might not be the one who answers your questions, an employee of the clinic should be able to provide you with all of the information that you're looking for. Some vets might encourage you to come in for a free consultation to ask your questions and express any concerns that you might have.
A sample of questions that you might ask would include, but not be limited to:
Where did the vet go to college?
What does the vet specialize in, if anything? Small animals versus large animals? Dogs and cats versus "exotics" like reptiles and ferrets?
How has the vet stayed current with medical information? Do they attend conferences, subscribe to journals, or give lectures? Are they members of any veterinarian associations?
Does the vet have a "back-up" vet on call when they're unavailable? If so, who is it?
Is the veterinarian in a clinic that has more than one attending vet? If not, what's the experience level of the employees? Are there any certified technicians working at the clinic?
Are they available for emergency services "after hours?" If so, how do you contact them and how long does it take to get a response?
What's the average waiting period for getting an appointment with the doctor?
Are there certain medical conditions that the veterinarian is not trained, qualified, and/or comfortable in handling? Can they repair bones, administer chemotherapy, or provide chiropractic services?
Are they versed in alternative treatments and therapies or do they prefer to utilize traditional medical practices only?
Do they make house calls?
My initial questions were answered, so now what?
While it's all right to have a number of your questions answered over the telephone, you should try to visit each veterinarian's office that you are considering using. Ask for a tour of the facilities, but don't just drop in and expect to be immediately accommodated. Schedule a visit if need be.
Ask yourself the following questions while being shown around the clinic:
Is this a clean medical facility?
Are the people friendly as well as knowledgeable?
Do the medical equipment and other technology look current?
Are there any obvious gaps in their medical equipment, such as no x-ray machine?
Are the surgical areas what I would expect?
Would my cat be comfortable in the "kennel room"? Are the cages too small, are there dogs barking in the same room, is it dark, cold, and smelly?
Does this look like a safe place for my pet to have to spend the night or longer if need be?
Do I get a warm fuzzy feeling while looking around or do I get a knot in the pit of my stomach?
What else should I do prior to leaving the veterinarian's office?
Chat with the employees and get a sense of how they like their job and the animals they work with. Ask about their pets and you'll get a good idea of the character of the person based on their response. A real pet lover can't say enough good things about their pets or the pets of others.
Ask about fees for common services like a general exam, nail trims, and vaccines, as well as surgery fees for neutering/spaying and dental cleanings. Inquire about potential emergency related costs. Create a hypothetical emergency-situation and see how quickly the fees add up.
Take your time when choosing a veterinarian for your cat. Allow enough time to make a decision prior to even bringing your cat home. If possible, have the vet that you've chosen conduct the pre-purchase examinations on all of the cats that you consider adopting or purchasing. Then you'll know if your choice was a correct one. If not, you still have plenty of time to keep looking. There's a lot of good veterinarians out there; do some research and locate the best one for your cat's needs.