Other than you and your family, your Weim’s veterinarian is the most important person in his life. Differences in vaccination schedules, oddball behavior issues (mulch eating, anyone?!), and a slow-to-mature immune system mean that Weims often have special needs when it comes to choosing a vet.
Unfortunately, many people don’t take the time to research or they don’t do it early enough. Choosing a vet should ideally happen prior to bringing home a new Weimaraner or before you move.
I already have a stellar vet, but for the sake of this article, let’s assume I just moved to Los Angeles. As a benchmark, I used Vetlocator.com and found 1075 vets in a 50 mile radius of Downtown Los Angeles.
This is how I would systematically go about narrowing that list and finding a great vet.
Narrowing Your List Down From 1075 Veterinarians
Don’t Start Here (Location) – This is often the first criteria that people consider. Sure it matters, but don’t let this be a determining factor. It’s worth driving a few extra miles for the right vet. I’d drive tens of extra miles myself.
Reputation – Since I’m in LA, I have an overwhelming number of choices, specifically 1075! So the first place I start is by asking. There are a lot of dog people around you, not just friends and family. Co-workers, people at the pet store or dog park, neighbors, trainers, anyone that owns a dog has probably visited at least two different vets. And all these people will have their opinions.
However, your best referrals will come from your local Weim club contact or local breeders (of any breed). If local Weim people, especially breeders, are going to a particular vet, it usually means that that vet is educated in your breed. This can be invaluable knowledge that another vet may not have just due to the clientele they see.
Continued Learning (and Accreditation) – The really good vets I know work at American Animal Hospital Association accredited clinics, but the rock star vets don’t stop learning after vet school. I’m more interested in the person’s desire to keep up with continued education versus a clinic being accredited, so I look for vets that have participate in continuing education classes, internships and stay current with literature. Bonus points for certification by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners.
Narrow Your Veterinarian Selection Criteria Even Further
At this point, my list has now been narrowed down from 1075 to only 25!
If you’re following along you now have 2 lists – your referral list, and your AAHA/ABVP list. If you have a match on both lists, great! Go try that vet. But what if you don’t have any other matches between your lists? This will usually be the case, so I would choose 1-2 vets from each of my lists and make an appointment to visit the facility to find out more. Since you want to keep your visit fairly short, you should have a list of questions ready. Keep your eyes peeled as well and ask about or note the following.
Knowledge – Does your vet see many Weims or other sporting breeds? In addition to vaccination differences, Weims can have some immune system issues (HOD, delayed vaccination reactions, allergies, IBD etc.) that you want a vet to be able to spot quickly. Weims are notorious for their garbage guts and will eat anything from rocks to socks, especially as puppies. Knowing the breed and the issues common to Weims is a great thing (although not always necessary!)
Respect and Flexibility – Knowledge is good, but is the vet also respectful of your views as well as those of your breeder? A specific example of this would be if your breeder has asked that you put your puppy on a modified vaccination schedule. It is not uncommon for a Weimaraner breeder to have to call a new puppy owner’s vet to explain the reason for their vaccination schedule; is this going to cause a “fight” or will the vet be agreeable to some (respectful) Weim education? Will they allow you to make educated decisions about your dog’s overall care with their guidance?
Number – How many vets are in the office? Will you be seeing just one or will others cover for your vet? There is no right answer here, but you need to know. Just because one vet at the clinic is good doesn’t mean they are all good.
Special Procedures – Will you need anything like ultrasounds, rehab therapy, radiology services, or other more advanced procedures? Do they have the capability of running an in-house full chemistry blood panel in an emergency situation? How comfortable are they with calling a specialist for information? Or referring your dog to a specialist if he needs something that is out of their range of expertise? Which other vets do they routinely consult?
Cleanliness – How clean are their facilities? What do they use to clean and how frequently do they do this? After every dog? At the end of the day? You have a right to ask!
Staff – I have mixed feeling about staff because quite frankly I am paying for the vet’s expertise not the staff. However, the quality of the staff can really enhance or ruin your dog’s experience. Observe if your dog likes it there. Is the staff friendly? Do they take time to help you and your dog feel comfortable? Are they good administrators? For example, can they prioritize calls and know which ones need immediate assistance? Are they proactive or do you have to remind them to give your messages to the vet or to get test results back?
Cost! – How I wish cost weren’t a factor, but it is, especially with multiple dogs. Check to see if they give a discount for anything and check into the cost of vaccinations and see if they have a special puppy or senior wellness package. Do they take pet insurance? If not, will they be flexible and give you a payment plan if you get stuck with a massive bill? It never hurts to ask!
Personality – This is low on my list. I’ve found that sometimes the better some vets do with dogs, the worse their human social skills are. And that’s okay! However, the vet should be willing to answer any question you have and be willing to ask someone if they don’t know the answer, especially in cases where a specialist may be needed.
I prefer my vet to be proactive in their practice. I don’t like the “wait-and-see” approach most of the time, although sometimes it can’t be helped. Other people prefer a more conservative approach. Vets have some preferred approaches as well, and it is usually easier when those approaches mesh.
Compromises and Deal Breakers
No one veterinarian or clinic can be perfect, so prioritize what the most important things are for you to have a good relationship with your vet. You may have to make a few compromises, and the last three items on my list (staff, cost and personality) is where I’m willing to make mine.
Not only should you have a good idea of where you are willing to compromise, know what your deal breakers are! My deal breakers: Refusing to a give brief tour of facilities, lack of current knowledge, lack of respect for my or my breeder’s wishes, lack of supervision for overnight stays.
I said earlier that location shouldn’t be a determining factor, but at the end of this exercise what if your choices are all 20+ miles away? It seems a little silly to go that far for minor things like a vaccine booster. Plus, Weims get into trouble – some of them lots of trouble and seemingly all the time!
I highly recommend having more than one vet. I usually have 3: my primary vet that is a good hour away from my home that conforms to my highest criteria, a local vet that is 20 minutes away for routine things, and finally I always always know where there is a 24 hour emergency clinic around.
Fire If You Have To
Don’t feel bad if you try a vet out and then have to fire him. Your records will be accessible to the next vet, and now that you know how to screen a vet, it will become easier for you to identify what kinds of vets work best for you and your Weimaraner.
You really only have to do this exercise a few times in your Weim’s lifetime, maybe only once, but the peace of mind knowing that your veterinarian is part of your team is really priceless!