Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Finding Dr. Wonderful And Your Mutt's Mayo Clinic: Getting Started

This post is another excerpt from Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life Dr. Nancy Kay agreed to share with us.

Did you get the book yet? Go get the book! Get the book! Get the book!

How do you go about finding the ideal family veterinarian who works in a great clinic?

Begin your search by asking friends and neighbors. If they are passionate in a particularly negative or positive way, learn why. Their reasoning may not be relevant in your case—your neighbor may be excited about the 'free vaccine with every office visit' policy, whereas such an enticement might not appeal to you. It may even be a turnoff.

Next, 'shmooze' with others at your community dog park, and see if there's a negative or positive consensus regarding the vets in your area.

Talk to dog trainers and the staff at pet stores, feed stores, grooming parlors, boarding facilities, and your local humane society. Ask them who they've chosen for their own dog's care.

If the same names keep popping up—whether in association with complaints or compliments—take note. Such information is likely quite reliable.
Although not necessarily easy to obtain, far and away the most trustworthy and accurate opinions come from staff at your local emergency hospital.

Many family vets refer their after-hour emergencies and patients requiring overnight case after a procedure to such a facility, and people working there readily acquire information (and form opinions) about the referring veterinarians—how they think and their ability to make important medical decisions.

Hospital staff interact directly with these vets, read their medical records, and observe the quality of their x-rays, surgical techniques, bandages, splints, and anesthetic recoveries. They also get a clear sense of clients' level of satisfaction with the care their dog has received.

Trust me—if a client is unhappy, the emergency hospital staff members are going to hear about it!

So how do you get the 'lowdown'? This can e a little bit tricky as staff may be reluctant to share their recommendations. After all, their business depends on referrals from general practitioners within the community.

If favoritism is perceived, the hospital's business will suffer. Here I've offered some advice (I hope you don't mind the little bit of bribery involved!)
  1. Pay your local emergency facility a visit, ideally during a quiet time—call ahead to see if the waiting room is somewhat empty.
  2. Arrive with your arms filled with home-baked goodies.
  3. Give the receptionist a sense of what you are after, and ask to speak with the emergency vet, promising that you only need two minutes of her time.
  4. If allowed access, try to have a private conversation and get straight to the point. Bend over backward to reassure the vet that you will be discreet. Say that you are looking for exceptional medical care for your dog, and ask for a few (not just one) recommendations. This way, she can feel she is not showing favoritism.
  5. You can also provide her with a list of names already suggested to you.
  6. Listen carefully and watch the doctor's response—she might be reluctant to give you an out-and-out negative opinion, but her body language may tell you a great deal.
Don't forget to also tactfully solicit opinions from other hospital staff. Although technicians and receptionists are not always forthcoming with recommendations, where they are, count your blessings.

You've received some exceptionally valuable information.

Related articles:
Speaking For Spot: The Single Most Important Dog Book You Will Ever Read
Making Tough Medical Decisions For Your Dog: Lily's Story 


DR. NANCY KAY wanted to become a veterinarian for just about as long as she can remember. Her veterinary degree is from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and she completed her residency training in small animal internal medicine at the University of California—Davis Veterinary School.

Dr. Kay is a board certified specialist in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and published in several professional journals and textbooks. She lectures professionally to regional and national audiences, and one of her favorite lecture topics is communication between veterinarians and their clients.   Since the release of her book,
Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, Dr. Kay has lectured extensively and written numerous magazine articles on the topic of medical advocacy.  She was a featured guest on the popular National Public Radio show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Dr. Kay is a staff internist at VCA Animal Care Center, a 24-hour emergency/specialty care center in Rohnert Park, California. As a way of providing emotional support for people with sick four-legged family members, Dr. Kay founded and helps facilitate the VCA Animal Care Center Client Support Group.  She also facilitates client communication rounds for VCA Animal Care Center employees.

Dr. Kay was selected by the American Animal Hospital Association to receive the 2009 Hill’s Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award.  This award is given annually to a veterinarian or nonveterinarian who has advanced animal welfare through extraordinary service or by furthering humane principles, education, and understanding.  The Dog Writers Association of America selected Dr. Kay for two awards.  The first was the 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award recognizing
Speaking for Spot as the publication that best promotes the health and well being of dogs. The second award was for the Best Blog of 2009 (www.speakingforspot.com/blog).

Dr. Kay’s personal life revolves around her husband (also a veterinarian), her three children (none of whom aspire to be veterinarians) and their menagerie of four-legged family members. When she’s not writing, she spends her spare moments in the garden or riding along the beach atop her favorite horse. Dr. Kay and her family reside in Sebastopol, California.


  1. I love the book "Speaking for Spot" and what an incredible resource.

  2. It is, isn't it? I just wish I could had read it 7 years ago. Would have saved us a lot of grief.

  3. I've been pretty lucky with my vet. Our family has had the same group of vets for almost 30 years and we are pretty happy with them. Some of the "old guard" are retiring, but the new vets that are comming in are great, too.

  4. I am glad you were lucky with yours. I imagine that the 'new guard' will be great also, as picked and mentored by the great 'old guard'.

  5. Hi Y'all,
    Excellent information. My humans have found friends and family are the best source for finding me a vet. It is especially helpful if one of your cousins has a physical problem and their Humans are pleased with the way the vet handles the problem.
    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    P.S. to Karen...one of my vets just changed and she is even nicer and even more up to date than the "old guard". :) and I loved the old vet.

  6. Glad you guys are so lucky. We did have one vet who came highly recommended by friends but he turned out mediocre at best.