How to Find the Right Vet for Your Pet

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on March 21, 2024
9 min read

Choosing a veterinarian is one of the most important decisions you'll make for your pet. Your veterinarian will be an important partner for you in making sure your pet lives a long, healthy life. Think about the issues that are important to you, like the vet's philosophy or values and the clinic’s hours and location. Knowing your preferences ahead of time will help you narrow down your choices.

The best time to find a vet is before you need one. Ideally, you'll choose a vet before you bring home your pet, and some offices can even help you find the best pet for you and your lifestyle. 

If you’re moving, you should look for a veterinarian as soon as possible. Don't wait until your dog or cat needs a vet before you start looking for one. If your pet is sick or injured, it can be stressful to find a vet quickly. 

Word of mouth is often the best way to find a veterinarian. Ask your friends and family if they recommend anyone. Online reviews can also be helpful, but suggestions from people you trust are even better. Different pets and families have different needs, though, so consider meeting with a few vets before choosing one. 

You can also check with your state's veterinary medical association for a list of qualified veterinarians, or search the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to find accredited veterinary practices. If you’re moving, your current vet may be able to make recommendations.

Other sources for finding the right vet can include:

Breeders. If your dog or cat is purebred, you can ask your breeder and check in with local breed clubs. The club members often know veterinarians who have experience with your pet's specific breed. 

Adoption services or animal shelters. If you adopted your pet from a rescue organization or a shelter, they may have recommendations. Some shelters and rescue groups have partnerships with local veterinarians.

Exotic animal groups. If you have a pet other than a dog or cat, you may need to find a veterinarian who sees exotic animals. A veterinary association for the type of animal you have, such as the Association of Avian Veterinarians and the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, can help you find a veterinarian.  

Those who work with pets. Other professionals who work with pets, including groomers, trainers, dog walkers, and pet sitters, also may have experience with veterinarians in your area.

Cost of care

The cost of veterinary care can vary from one clinic to another. Veterinarians sometimes offer payments on a sliding scale based on your income, and some offer payment plans. Also, veterinarians who partner with shelters and rescue groups may offer discounted or free services to pets adopted from these organizations.

Shelters and nonprofit organizations sometimes operate their own veterinary clinics and provide care at lower costs, too. But the care they provide may be limited to spaying, neutering, and basic wellness care, so they may not meet all your pet’s veterinary needs. Some pet stores house veterinary clinics, and they may offer low-cost vaccinations and other services.

Another way to keep veterinary costs affordable is to get pet insurance. There usually will be an insurance that will fit your budget and needs. The American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association have resources online for looking into the right coverage for your pet.

Your veterinarian can also be a great resource for getting information on insurance. Your employer might offer pet insurance too.

Here are some things to consider when you're choosing a vet: 

  • Check the office’s hours of operation. Will they be compatible with your schedule? Are they open on weekends or after hours?
  • Consider how far away from home the office is. If your pet doesn’t like long car rides, you may want to find an office that’s close by. But you may opt for a veterinarian who’s farther away if they’re a better fit for you and your pet.
  • Ask about the services they offer. If your pet needs an X-ray or other test, can they do it at the office, or will you have to go somewhere else?
  • Ask about payment options, including sliding scales and payment plans. Are all fees due in full at the time of service?
  • Arrange a visit to the veterinarian either with or without your pet. If you go without your pet, you can tour the office without the distraction of managing your pet, and it may be easier to observe whether the office is clean and well-organized.
  • If you take your pet with you, you can see if they’re comfortable with the vet and how the vet treats your pet. For some pets with fear or anxiety issues, veterinarians who use “fear free” and “stress free” practices may be important.
  • Talk to the staff and see if they seem friendly and helpful. 
  • Observe the waiting room. Is it hectic and full of people and their pets? Do people seem frustrated with the wait? How often are people being called back to exam rooms?
  • Find out whether their values and attitude match yours. Some of the things you’d consider when choosing a doctor for yourself, like the veterinarian’s overall approach and bedside manner, may be important in choosing a vet. After all, you will be communicating with them on your pet’s behalf about their care. 
  • Research veterinarians. Verify their license through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards, which provides links to state veterinary boards where you can search for licenses. You can also see if the vet’s office is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, which means it meets certain standards. But the AAHA accreditation is voluntary, and many veterinary clinics are not accredited. 
  • If you plan to travel internationally with your pet, you’ll need a veterinarian who is accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide the health certificate you’ll need for travel. You can search for accredited veterinarians on the USDA website.

Some of the questions you should ask will depend on your pet’s breed and age, as well as anything you know about their medical needs and history. Start with a few basics when you’re considering a new vet.

  • How many veterinarians are in your practice? Can I request a specific vet?
  • How do you handle emergencies? Do you provide emergency care after hours? If not, what after-hours clinic or facility do you recommend?
  • Do you offer hospitalization? If so, how do you monitor pets staying overnight? 
  • What services do you provide?
  • Can you do tests and procedures on-site?
  • Do you provide specialist referrals when needed?
  • Do you have a pharmacy?
  • Do you accept pet insurance?
  • Do you offer dental care?
  • How much do you charge for an office visit? How much do routine vaccinations cost?
  • What are your payment policies?
  • Do you accept walk-ins?
  • How far in advance do I need to schedule a wellness visit? If my pet has an issue that’s not an emergency, how quickly would you typically be able to see them?

To confirm whether the veterinarian’s values match yours, you may want to ask their approach to issues such as spaying and neutering, declawing, holistic or alternative care, euthanasia, and cancer care. If you and the veterinarian have conflicting views on these issues, it’s helpful to know this up front, and the vet may not be a good fit.

If you aren’t happy with your veterinarian's care of your pet, try talking to them about it. Go into the conversation with an open mind, and be willing to listen to why the care differed from what you expected. It can be a difficult conversation to have, but your vet should also be open to listening to your concerns. Be prepared to share the reasons for your concerns. Your veterinarian may be able to explain their procedures to you, or they may decide to shift their treatment approach.

If you still have concerns about your pet’s treatment, you may want to get a second opinion. You can ask your veterinarian to refer you to a colleague or specialist. If you still aren’t comfortable with your veterinarian after that, it may be time to find a new one.

If your concern is serious enough that you want to file a complaint, you can file one with the state veterinary licensing board.

You can take your pet to a new veterinarian for any reason, but here are some red flags that may mean it’s time to switch.

  • They treat you or your pet badly.
  • They have misdiagnosed your pet.
  • They seem insensitive to you or your pet’s circumstances, including your financial situation. 
  • They communicate poorly or won’t disclose information about your pet’s treatment. Veterinarians often need to explain diagnoses and treatment options to pet owners, and you should understand what’s going on with your pet and what your options are.
  • If your pet is staying at the clinic, they won’t allow you to visit them. (But you can speak with the vet to see if their policy is in your pet's best interest – for example, trying to keep your pet calm instead of excited by your presence)

If you decide to switch, let your veterinarian know. If they ask why you’re leaving, you can give an honest, constructive answer. You can tell them it’s not a good match, and if you want, you can be straightforward about your specific concerns.

Then, request a copy of all your pet's records, which you’re legally entitled to. Most records are digital and can be sent to your new veterinarian easily, or you can ask the receptionist for copies. Your new vet will need this information, including any x-rays, bloodwork, and other test results that may help the new vet understand your pet’s current condition and diagnose future problems.  

When you’re looking for a veterinarian, recommendations from people you know can be helpful.  The veterinarian you choose for your pet should be someone whose values match yours – and someone you can see trusting with your pet’s care. A visit to your potential veterinarian’s office can give you helpful insight on the office itself, the veterinarian(s) who work there, and the care they provide.

  • When should you get a second opinion from a veterinarian? If you’re not happy with the care your pet has received, or you think your veterinarian’s diagnosis or approach to treatment is wrong or  not appropriate, you should consider getting a second opinion. 
  • Is it bad to switch vets? No. Being unsatisfied with the care your pet has received from your current veterinarian is one reason to switch, but you can switch for any reason, such as convenience and cost. 
  • Are there single-species veterinarians? Yes. Some veterinarians specialize in one species, such as horses. There are also single-species practices (like feline-only practices).