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Many people consider their pets an essential part of their families and want pet care to match.

We consulted with several working vets to get their suggestions for finding a vet that you and your furry (or feathered) friends can feel comfortable with.

1. Think carefully about what kind of care you need.

The kind of veterinarian you hire will vary depending on what kind of pet(s) you own, as well as your pets' ages, your budget, and just how committed you are to them. Are you a first-time pet parent looking to spay or neuter a puppy and just get annual shots thereafter? Or do you have an elderly or special-needs animal that you're willing to move heaven and earth to keep happy and healthy for years to come?

You also need to consider things like the hours the vet office keeps and how many days a week they're open. Some vets even do house calls exclusively rather than working from a stationary animal hospital.

"First, decide on what you might need from a new veterinarian," says Gretchen Norton, DVM, who owns Summit Veterinary Service in Silverthorne, CO. "Do you have a kitten that needs vaccines and deworming? Do you have a dog prone to heart disease that needs some advanced heart monitoring equipment? Do you have an extremely active dog that might need emergency care? Do you have a cat that hates the car and needs a veterinarian nearby?" All of these situations might call for different types of veterinary practices, Norton notes, so keep that in mind when you're conducting your search.

You also need to consider things like the hours the vet office keeps, how many days a week they're open, and whether they make house calls. (Some vets even do house calls exclusively rather than working from a stationary animal hospital.)

"Every veterinary hospital is unique and offers varying hours and services," says Denise Petryk, DVM, director of veterinary services at Trupanion, a pet healthcare insurance company. "Find one that allows you to get the best care for your pet with the services you want and hours that fit your schedule."

2. Ask friends and family—and vets— for recommendations.

One of the most reliable ways to check out a vet ahead of time is to ask trusted friends and family where they take their own pets or livestock. "Ask them why they like their veterinarian, and build a small list of [animal] hospitals you're interested in" based on that information, Petryk says. And if you're in need of specialized care that your current vet doesn't provide, ask for recommendations of other professionals, Petryk adds. For example, "Are you interested in acupuncture for your senior pet? Your primary care veterinarian may also be able to refer you to nearby specialty centers for these [alternative] treatments."

Norton points out that smaller vet clinics may also refer you to a specialty practice if your pet needs advanced care or surgery. "A general clinic might not have an endoscope, but will refer you to a place that does 15 [endoscopic surgeries] a week, because that offers the best care for your pet," she explains. Norton also notes that not every clinic has every piece of monitoring and diagnostic equipment, but reputable clinics will usually know exactly where to refer you when your pet needs it.

Some vets are even willing to expand their own scope of practice if they see a need in the community for a certain kind of specialized vet care, notes Brittany Barton, DVM, a vet who owns HEAL Veterinary Hospital, an integrative care practice in Dallas, TX that offers traditional vet care as well as emerging, evidence-based therapies such as acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, nutriceuticals, and special surgeries, among other options. "My journey into integrated care started with caring for an aging three-legged dog...[that] did not tolerate [steroids] very well," and was also developing mobility problems, Barton explains.

While researching other treatment options for the animal, Barton discovered a medical-based acupuncture and physical-therapy approach that tended to work well with these animals."I tried to find a pet rehab facility that could work with my patients, but found that the hours and availability of therapy were limited. So I decided to become certified [in these treatments] to better serve these patients."

3. Check out professional veterinary organizations and reviews online.

The Internet offers a wealth of options for researching available vets in your area and also looking into their professional backgrounds, experts say. Petryk suggests looking at the websites of industry organizations like the American Animal Hospital Association or theAmerican Veterinary Medical Association to check out their member directories and other helpful consumer information about what makes for a good vet and animal hospital.

Online reviews of vets and vet practices can also be helpful, but approach them with caution,advises Amber Anderson, DVM, a vet with Redondo Veterinary Medical Center in Redondo Beach, CA as well as a certified veterinary journalist who educates the public about good vet care. "Google can be helpful," Anderson says, "but I advise people to stay away from sites like Yelp [because] their reviews are questionably selected . . . [often] based on if a business advertises with them."

4. Explore cost, payment and pet insurance options.

Vet care—especially emergency or specialty care—can get pricey, experts tell us, so it's important to plan for these expenses whenever possible and ask prospective vets ahead of time about their pricing for both routine care and specialty options. "I personally recommend [setting up] a pet care savings account and [buying] pet health insurance to clients," Anderson notes, adding that some vet practices can offer discounted services or payment plans to clients on limited budgets.

"Owners should consider their personal finances before committing to a pet," Anderson adds. It helps to call around to vets in your area for estimates on annual routine care for the type of animal you're considering bringing into your home, if you haven't already done so.

Still, don't be afraid to shell out for specialty vet care—it might cost less than you think, Barton notes. "Like any other veterinarian, I try to remain competitive in pricing for all of our services and surgeries," she says.

5. Do a meet-and-greet first, and bring questions.

Many vets offer free initial exams for first-time patients that allow pets and pet parents to get to know a prospective vet practice, according to Norton. "You get to meet the doctor and clinic staff, and usually get a tour of the facility," she says. "That gives you a chance to ask questions and form your own opinion about how well you fit in at this clinic."

If no clinics in your area offer free initial exams, Norton suggests setting up a wellness exam for your pet, since this typically is cheaper than waiting until something is seriously wrong. "[It] also establishes your pet as a client in case of an emergency," she advises.

Petryk suggests pet parents write down a list of questions for their new vet to ask at the first appointment. "A great way to get to know your veterinarian is to have an open conversation with [him or her]," she says. "You should feel comfortable talking through any questions or concerns about your pet's health, and your dialogue will give you a great grasp of your relationship with your veterinarian."

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