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Alpha-Vet Soup (Choosing A Vet)

Finding a great vet can be a challenge. There are lots of good veterinarians in our area and you might need to visit a few before you find one you click with.

I think the most important quality to look for is someone who communicates well with you and who works with you to problem-solve any health issues that arise.

My favorite Oly vets

Let’s get this out of the way first. The two veterinary professionals I recommend most are Dr. Kim Martin (my own veterinarian) and Dr. Mike Kiefer (of Olympia Veterinary Hospital, 352-7561).

Dr. Kiefer is, in my opinion, the BEST diagnostician in the Oly area. I’ve known him to diagnose problems within moments of meeting an animal. In fact, when I moved to the area, I brought a cat to him who had seen 4 vets over the course of 3 years for a variety of symptoms and despite lots of exams & tests, nobody could figure out what was wrong. When I took my cats to Dr. Kiefer for a check-up he took one look, heard me describe one symptom & knew precisely what was wrong. I was blown away. Year after year I hear similar stories from others. Dr. Kiefer is an old-school vet, who is pretty formal and focuses on pharmaceutical and surgical solutions to most problems.

Dr. Kim Martin

I switched from Dr Kiefer to Dr. Martin because of how I saw one of my cats respond to her. Jane Ear was terrified of most humans and only let a couple of us touch her. Dr. Martin, the doctor who saved her life, was one of those few. Initially, I wanted Jane E to see the vet she’d already seen simply to reduce her anxiety. I’d seen her attack far too many people to risk taking her to visit a new person. Upon seeing Dr. Martin’s love & affection for Jane E over the course of a couple visits, I decide to switch to using her as my usual vet for all of my cats. And I still drive my cats 30 min (one way) to see Dr. Martin! After getting her DVM, Kim Martin decided to become licensed in small animal acupuncture, too. She is also an avid reader of nutritional research. She always lays out several possible plans for dealing any given health issue, from conservative pharmaceutical approaches to purely nutritional ones. That’s one of the reasons I like working with her. Another factor for me is that Kim Martin & her staff are very involved with several animal welfare groups and events like Feline Friends, Covenant Creatures, and Paws for the Cause. (Social responsibility means a great deal to me.) Then there’s also the fact that she offers loads of educational opportunities for clients: workshops, seminars, and classes.

I’m certain there are other great vets in our area that I haven’t met yet. Of those I do know, these two are my favorites.

Ok… Now that my personal opinions are out of the way, I’ll move on to factors that are important when looking for a new vet.

Get referrals

Ask family & friends which vet they use and what they think of their vet. Also find out which other vets they’ve used.

As you talk to friends, keep in mind that what makes my vet perfect for  me doesn’t necessarily mean that she is the right vet for you.

Common reasons people say they chose their veterinarian are:

  • personality”fit”
  • compassion & love for animals (they remember dogs’ names but have trouble remembering humans’ names)
  • credentials, certifications, & specialties
  • availability (when the clinic is open & also after hours)
  • information & knowledge-sharing abilities
  • communication (communication style, ease of contacting the vet, or the forms of communication used [email, txt msg, phone])
  • emergency situations handled with compassion & professionalism
  • collaboration with other care providers (some vets have on site massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc)

Search membership directories of professional veterinary organizations, especially those for areas of specialty. Take a look at http://aahanet.org/, http://www.wsvma.org/, http://www.holisticvetlist.com, http://www.catvets.com/, http://www.aava.org/ or http://www.avds-online.org/.

If all else fails, check phone directories. Some online directories allow people to post comments about businesses so you can read about the kinds of experiences others have had with the vets in our area.

Monument to French vet, Dr Henri Bouley

Visit potential veterinary clinics

Schedule an appointment with the practitioner without even talking the animals along. Tell them you’re looking for a new vet & want to get a feel for people in this area. After visit several clinics it’ll be easier to consider things like:

  • Are their preferred approaches to health care aligned with yours? One of the most important considerations for me in choosing a veterinarian whether their approach is like mine. For conditions that are responsive to nutrition or acupuncture, I prefer to go those routes than to put my cats on medicines. When making important health decisions for our pets, it’s important to feel comfortable asking questions and to feel confident that the vet will explain everything clearly & lay out the options in ways we understand.
  • Does the clinic give potential clients tours of their facilities? Is the staff friendly & helpful to you & to the clients who walk through the door? Is the office clean & organized?
  • Is the clinic open when it is convenient for you? Several veterinary offices in Olympia are open on weekends & evenings. Can you get a sense for how long people have to wait between scheduling appointments and going in? How much time do initial visits usually take?
  • Does the clinic provide after-hours care either in person or on the phone?
  • If you prefer email, does the vet provide consultations and follow-ups through email?
  • How much does a routine exam cost? Does the vet offer payment plans?
  • How long does it usually take to get lab results from routine blood work? It’s faster & usually cheaper if a vet can do lab work & x-rays in their office. It’s especially useful during emergencies.

Visit with your animals when they are healthy

Rumi in crisis

It’s really important have established a relationship with health care professionals before your pets need urgent medical care. Imagine visiting your own doctor for an emergency without having met them when you were healthy. Knowing what is “normal” for your dog or cat (establishing their baseline) makes it much easier for vets to recognize early signs of health problems.

Also, having an existing relationship with a veterinarian often makes it easier to get emergency treatment from that vet because they’re more likely to find space for established clients into their appointment schedule – even if it’s full. Taking animals to familiar surroundings during emergencies minimizes their stress and anxiety. Plus the doctor has immediate access to your dog or cats health records. And there’s sometimes a financial benefit, too. It might be cheaper to visit your own vet in an emergency than to take your pet to an emergency clinic.


(Note: I do not accept payment for mentions or reviews of products and services that I write about on this site.)

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Photo of “Monument Dr Henri Bouley” by Jebulon.


1 comment to Alpha-Vet Soup (Choosing A Vet)

  • Here’s an excellent article written by DVM Andrew Jones about how many veterinarians remain in business despite numerous complaints and lawsuits filed against them: http://www.theinternetpetvet.com/bad-vets/ . In a different blog post I’ve written about a local vet clinic that has a reputation among former clients’ whose animals deaths can be attributed to their missed diagnoses (cancers, infections, starvation, dehydration, broken bones, autoimmune disorders, etc) and lack of appropriate treatment. Yet somehow they’ve remained in business for decades. Please – for the sake of your beloved pets – choose your veterinarian carefully.

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