If you’re a pet owner, the shock of needing to suddenly change vets-especially with multiple pets-can be second only to the grief of a pet’s death. When this happens, you’ll find yourself in one of two situations. The first occurs when the vet has notified you that the practice is ending or will change hands. The second is a surprise situation without any notice.
At the center of our animal rescue efforts was the veterinarian upon whom we had depended for 24 years. She was the Marcus Welby of local vets and took a real interest in the animals we helped. Because we considered her part of our family, it was a shock to find out that she was gone only after she had sold her practice. It left us, with multiple cats inside and a dozen ferals outside, high and dry.
What to Do When You Have Notice
You’ll have the optimal situation if your current vet gives you at least 60 days’ notice. That means time to shop for a new vet. Be sure to get a complete copy of your pet’s medical records.
Vet referral. Your first move should be to ask the current vet for the names of a few other local vets who can oversee your pet’s care. This, however, might be difficult if the old vet is has a specialty practice such as dermatology and there are no others nearby. In that case, a general practice vet might assume some of the specialty responsibilities.
Friends. Look for friends who have the same approach to care of their pets as you do and ask for referrals.
Insurance. If you have pet insurance that limits the practitioners you can see, check with them for suggestions.
Vet schools. If there is one in your state, it’s worth a call or an email to try to get a recommendation. If you live in the same town, consider using the vet school’s students to treat your pet.
Emergency animal hospital. An emergency vet clinic or hospital might be the source of referrals. However, if you plan to use this facility for routine care, be prepared to empty your wallet. I have never had a bill less of less than $1,400.
Cold turkey. The last option is researching local vets one by one. Any vet who won’t return your call to answer initial questions shouldn’t remain on the list. According to the Best Friends Animal Society, the vet should show genuine concern for your animal. After a positive conversation, make an appointment with your pet and bring a list of questions.
Look for an attitude of warmth and patience plus professional skill. Will you be allowed to stay in the exam room during certain procedures? Does the vet talk about his or her own animals in a positive light?
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) suggests checking the practice’s hours to make sure the vet’s hours are compatible with your own. Also check on the procedures for emergency visits or coverage when the doctor is unavailable.
What to Do Without Notice
The departure of your current veterinarian might be the result of a death. You might show up one day to pick up a prescription and find the name on the door has changed. Maybe the vet went to work at another practice. You’re probably upset and sad to have received no notice if you had a long-standing relationship.
No matter how close you were to your vet, it’s important to remember that a practice is based on a business relationship. While it doesn’t soften the blow, it helps to know that many vets who sell their practices sign contracts that prohibit them from treating any animals within a particular distance. Sometimes they also agree to allow the successor to notify existing clients.
If the practice has locked its doors, you’ll have to go through the steps above to find a new vet. If it has changed hands, you’re a bit luckier because you can either stay with the successor or find a new vet.
In our case, the practice changed hands twice within a year. Neither situation proved compatible with our rescue efforts. However, we made sure we kept our animals as patients there until we had found a new vet and could transfer them without any gaps in care.
Changing vets when you don’t want to do so is inconvenient at best. The smoothest transition occurs when owners are able to detach a bit emotionally from the loss of the prior vet-often easier said than done. It helps to realize that you might eventually like the follow-on practice better than your old one.