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I'm looking into getting a new vet. They're super nice and are great about helping me over the phone for minor things instead of making me come in and I love that about them. However, they're a little out of the way (20 mins) and to be honest, other than helping me a lot over the phone, they haven't done a whole lot to "wow" me that they're anything above mediocre. I got a recommendation from someone I met at a dog park a while back and I looked a little into his office. We also have a back-up vet that's pretty great but we bump heads in regards to raw feeding and holistic methods. They think raw feeding is too dangerous and holistic medicine is bogus. I know I'll probably forever have to keep one normal vet and one holistic, but I'd like for the two to at least understand each other. What are some things I should be looking for in a new vet and some things I should be doing to ensure they are the right fit for us?
 

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For me, I want a few things:

1. Decent staff. No matter how good the vet is, if their receptionist won't answer the phone or forgets to give messages, they're no good to me. The staff is who I'll be talking to most often, so the staff need to be okay at their jobs. Plus, unmotivated staff is a sign of poor management of some sort- abusive behavior, low pay, etc. I am staff, so I don't want to support that.

2. Keeps up on modern research. A lot has changed in veterinary practice in the last decade, if they can't keep up, they're not for me.

3. Patient and kind to my dog. Some vets are surprisingly brusque and uncaring with dogs. I don't need them to love my dog like I do, but a little patience and kindness goes a long way.

Currently, I have 2 vets. I prefer the one, they're more modern and know more about nutrition, but they don't have great office hours, so I keep the other sort of as a backup. I visit both every year, one every 6 months, and then in between visits depends on who's available.
 

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Another way to long Philo Vance post

Over the past 35 years and a dozen pets I've had almost as many vets so I have some opinions :)

Some years ago when the first dog I'd ever had developed explosive diarrhea and was never the same again, I had been feeding raw meaty bones, supplemented raw muscle meat and organs along with some "five star" kibble to make life easier for my wife. To say the least I was shocked when the dog I had gone out of my way to feed an ancestral diet developed a serious GI problem that eluded diagnosis.

I liked my "conventional" vet at the time. She had never fought me over feeding raw nor did she blame the diet when the dog got sick. So we proceeded "conventionally," testing for parasites (negative), trying an elimination diet (didn't help since the problem wasn't "allergies"), eliminating raw for a time and experimenting with "high end" single ingredient "holistic" foods. He just got worse and worse.

He should have had an endoscopy much sooner. I think I was afraid it would confirm he had Inflammatory Bowel Disease which can sometimes be managed but not cured. My vet gently suggested that the gold standard for the condition was prednisone. I was having none of that!

So for the next six months I worked with two different "highly regarded" homeopaths. Not a single thing they suggested made any difference whatsoever. The only thing that helped at all was metronidazole (flagyl) and grocery store kibble. But he was only slightly better and you can't keep him on that forever, can you? Still I wouldn't give prednisone.

So finally we had the endoscopy and it confirmed IBD but could not give us a cause or a definitive solution except steroids and a Rx diet (and how could I expect those icky ingredients to make a difference; he wouldn't eat it anyway). Well by this time Dylan was so sick we had to give him regular B12 shots and fluids sub-q for dehydration from the diarrhea.

I really wasn't going to make my dog a guinea pig for traditional Chinese medicine, reiki, standard process whole food supplements or any other magical healing method. We went to an internal medicine specialist who of course prescribed . . . prednisone and this time we took it.

Made no difference. Did we wait too long? Were we just unlucky and overlooked an option that might have made all the difference? Who knows? But on reflection, given that both the conventional vets and holistic vets were equally unsuccessful, I came away with much more confidence about the conventional vets. But that's just me.

If you have used a holistic vet to resolve a serious illness that conventional medicine couldn't "cure" then that's great. But if you think you need a holistic vet simply because you're open minded and want permission to feed raw I'd think twice if your dog gets seriously ill. Any DVM, no matter his/her ideology can care for a healthy dog, but I know if my dogs get sick I want the best evidence based care they can get. A well written anecdotal account of recovery won't persuade me.

Now all this aside, I am a great believer in insurance. To be perfectly frank I take anything that any vet suggests with a grain of salt. My present vet is very matter of fact. He's really too busy to make it a priority to argue with me about food. He knew I cooked for my last dog the last two years of his life and because he believed me when I told him I hadn't found a commercial food that he could tolerate we concentrated on other areas where we were in agreement. I was very distressed when he diagnosed Benji with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome but I trusted him when he told me the only conventional drug, selegiline, had never worked for him and I didn't subject us all to a wild goose chase for the alternative medicine unicorn that would make everything "right." Benji was old and senile and had intractable GI problems. Those were the unfortunate facts.

Soon enough a new conventional vet diagnosed Benji with a tumor in his rectum when he started to bleed out his rear and there was no time to get to my regular vet. My regular vet couldn't do the surgery; it was beyond his expertise. The new vet could. Time was of the essence and to me it was clear that this was no time to experiment with herbs that might melt the tumor. On the other hand I had no great confidence that this intervention would solve any of Benji's problems. And alas, they didn't. The tumor was benign but it had to be removed yet Benji never regained muscle tone in his rectum and for the last three months of his life was fecally incontinent in the house. We finally let him go because we had lives to live, he was not getting better, there was nothing a vet could do, and his senility was incurable. Sad.

But insurance paid all but $200 of a $3000 bill that would have freaked me out if I hadn't had it. I can't compound my distrust of almost all vets with worries about money. So yeah, I need insurance.

Maybe there's a dream vet somewhere who is equally versed in both conventional and alternative medicine and knows exactly when to use either. The famous (notorious?) Marty Goldstein claims to be one. But frankly I think "holistic" vets are a lot like "holistic" food manufacturers. They are trying to distinguish themselves in a crowded field, have an agenda, and aren't above using scare tactics to smear the competition.

I have only one hard and fast rule when it comes to a vet: make them explain themselves. Many vets in my area have a "you want the best for your pet" attitude that makes them think it's ok to take your dog away without telling you exactly what they are going to do, why and what it costs. Then they come back with an outrageous bill you have to pay because they've already run every test there is since of course you want the best, don't you? If you ask some of them before they take the dog what they're going to do, they'll get condescending or if they do explain what they have in mind, as medical professionals, they can't be bothered to know the prices of what they offer. So you can either trust them or you can stop everything while they draw up an estimate with the help of the receptionist and her computer before you proceed. Meanwhile your dog could be suffering. Insurance relieves me of that concern. I'll make them tell me what they are going to do, and sometimes tell them not to do certain things, but I won't hold up the process for a dog who needs urgent care because I don't want to be ripped off. Insurance allows me that luxury.

Your mileage may vary of course.
 

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What are some questions I should be asking?
@amaryllis can you give me some advice on how to know how recent they are with things?
Well, just to state the obvious, the younger the vet the more recent her training and the older the vet, the more set in their ways they may tend to be. Some states may have continuing education requirements. I dunno. I suppose you could be tricky and research some illness where there have been breakthroughs lately, particularly if they pertain to your specific dog's health. Then feel them out about treatment.

I think if you like a conventional vet and they ask you what you feed it's okay to tell a white lie if you feed raw *and* you're completely happy about the diet you're feeding. Even the best vets can get on their high horse about not feeding raw and you might get off on the wrong foot with someone who is otherwise suitable. for myself, it's kind of a relief to be able to tell my vet I'm feeding one of their mainstream "approved" foods.

Depending on where you live and what veterinary options you have you might want to ask them what kind of surgeries they are prepared to do? If the dog needs to stay overnight, are they left alone, with a tech or is there a doctor either on the premises or on call to come in in an emergency? I once left a very sick cat in a clinic overnight with only a tech and it was a disaster.

Diagnostic endoscopies and ultrasounds are very often suggested. Not every clinic has the equipment or someone on staff who knows how to do them. They often bring in a specialist, which is ok. If they don't do those tests at all you might want to research where you can have them done and the cost ahead of time.

I have most of my prescriptions "compounded" into tasty liquids for easier administration. In many states it is illegal for a vet to refuse to give you a prescription but of course you want him/her to follow up asap with your outside pharmacy. Also many meds are available much more cheaply at Walmart, CVS, Walgreen's, etc. You should know which meds are available as human generics in the appropriate dose. Prednisone is, for example, and is very cheap at a pharmacy. Many newer antibiotics and pain killers are animal only and while they are often available as generics from a compounding pharmacy, buying the "name brand" from your vet can be expensive.

Private practices are often owned by one or two older vets who then hire younger vets to work for them. There can be a lot of advantages to working with one of the younger vets but you might want to be at least familiar and known to the principal in case of a problem or a serious situation that requires their involvement. Also, younger vets are coming out of school with huge debts and in order to compete for the best practices are paying them more than ever. I've noticed that sometimes these younger vets are recommending tests that have never come up before. I'm not saying they're trying to pad their bill exactly but it stands to reason they are trying to earn their keep. It all plays into that "you want the best for your pet, don't you" attitude I find a little off-putting.

Even if you are determined to explore alternative approaches to an illness I think it's wise to learn all you can about the conventional treatment. I would always at least discuss the illness with my conventional vet first, having educated myself, before I go off to something more experimental. It's ideal if your "holistic" and conventional vets talk to each other and respect each other's position, but that's not always possible. I think it's more important for the holistic vet to take the conventional vet's input seriously than vice versa. You really don't want an arrogant holistic vet and there are a *lot* of them.
 
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