Cost is not the only criterion when choosing veterinarians


December 19, 1992|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

Q: For more than 20 years, our pets went to the same veterinarian, who always kept them in fine shape.

His prices were reasonable, and if something like surgery or illness came up, he let us pay a little every month until the bill was paid.

He retired a couple of years ago, selling his practice to a pair of young veterinarians.

The new vets dropped billing right away: Now it's cash on the barrel head each time. If the bill is a large one, you're expected to pull out a credit card.

And then there's what seems to us to be "padding." Every time we take a pet in, these vets push something else on us -- like heartworm tests and pills and dentistries.

Our old vet's idea of basic care was an annual checkup and shots. Over the years, many of our pets lived to advanced ages.

We're thinking about switching vets, but we hear dentistries and the like are all the rage. What's going on in these vet schools?

A: What's going on is that veterinarians are trained in methods comparable to those in human medicine, and they come out of school ready to practice the top-flight care they learned.

There's nothing in your letter that suggests your new veterinarians are "padding." In recent years, heartworms have turned up in every state, making heartworm tests and pills a necessary part of proper pet care. As for dentistries, they prolong and improve pets' lives. Dental procedures involve not only cleaning and polishing the teeth, but also checking for and treating broken or rotting teeth, cavities, abscesses and periodontal disease.

You do not have to authorize these procedures, but your new vets would not be doing their job if they did not inform you of their existence and importance.

As for costs, it may well have been that your former veterinarian enjoyed a low overhead that his successors can only dream of. Chances are they are not far from the prevailing rate for services, since they need to stay competitive.

The price of veterinary care is certainly a consideration, but it needs to be weighed against the quality. I am always stunned when people call me and ask me to recommend "the cheapest vet in town." Would they want the cheapest pediatrician in town or the cheapest dentist?

That said, I believe your biggest problem with your new veterinarians is neither knowledge nor prices, but a style with which you're not comfortable.

My recommendation is to discuss your concerns with the new vets. They may well be willing to accommodate your needs -- by allowing you to return to your old payment plan, for one thing.

On the other hand, if they don't want to hear your views or don't seem interested in addressing your concerns, you may be happier taking your pets somewhere else.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278

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