Realistically most people attend their nearest vet. If you are lucky enough to have a choice then here are a few things to think about to avoid potential disappointment further down the line.
Out of Hours Policy
All vets must provide 24 hour emergency cover BUT this can take different forms. Traditionally your own veterinary surgeons cover this out of hours answering the phone 24 hours a day 365 days a year. This will still be the case in many vets however emergency clinics are popping up all over the place and in many cases their veterinary surgeons cover the on call for a large number of practices.
Pros – you get a wide awake staff and a clinic set up specifically to deal with emergecnies; the staff may have further qualifications in emergency and critical care.
Cons – the emergency clinic might be miles away from your usual clinic; you (and your pet) won’t be familiar with the staff or the building; they may have a different pricing structure to your own vet; they may not have ready access to your pets medical records.
In some veterinary clinics there will be 24 hour supervision of hospitalised patients. Usually these are the clinics also providing 24 hour emergency cover.
Some clinics will use the out-of-hour emergency provider to look after their in-patients and this will mean someone will have to transport the animal to another location.
In other clinics the animals will be checked during the night. Obviously no animal is neglected but in some clinics there may be lonely parts of the night if animals are otherwise stable and not requiring treatment.
All veterinary surgeons graduate as a jack of all trades and are familiar with routine procedures but if your pet needs more complex treatment, for example surgery on a broken limb or more sophisticated diagnostics, can these be done in the same clinic or will you have to be referred to another practice.
Some clinics will be a one stop shop with specialists in all fields. Other clinics will do the basics and send you elsewhere for more complex procedures.
Most cats find a trip to the vets stressful but some practices make the visit easier than others. There are cat friendly clinics and these will have separate waiting areas, a separate cat ward and maybe even cat-only clinics to avoid cats having to endure a room full of barking dogs as well the vet.
Open clinics or Appointments
Very few vet practices have open clinics because they are inevitably busy and chaotic. However, they can be handy for some people if they don’t mind the wait. Most clinics run appointment systems but it would be worth knowing the average waiting times as even with an appointment time the waits can be lengthy in some practices.
Clinics operating over various sites are handy so you don’t have to travel so far. This is great for routine appointments. However, bear in mind branches are often smaller than the main clinic meaning they are less well stocked, have less staff and your animal may have to be transported to a main clinic for further treatment.
I’ve put this last deliberately. Price is always the first thing people think about but I think it’s better addressing the above points first. Decide on the level of care you feel comfortable with. Every pet owner is different. Some people like cheap and cheerful others want the gold standard. Generally, the level of care you want is directly proportional to the cost.
If you want to compare prices, asking about the price of a dog booster or cat spay is advisable as these procedures should be roughly comparable across clinics. You may also be interested in how much they charge for a prescription.