South Coast Today Logo

October 31, 2010

Selecting a veterinarian is as important as choosing a family doctor.

By Brian J. Lowney – Contributing Writer

Author, lecturer and Abyssinian cat fancier Linda Kaye Hardie recalls that when she moved to Reno, Nev., from California several years ago, she pulled out the phone book and began searching for a vet who would understood the idiosyncrasies of her exotic feline breed.

"I called a few, made appointments and talked with vets," she recalls. "Sometimes I paid a small office fee, sometimes not."

Hardie says she compiled a list of specific questions pertinent to Abyssinian cats and general medical policies, such as whether an owner needs to make an appointment for an office visit to get a prescription refilled for a common medical condition.

"I chose the vet who didn't think any of my questions (or me) were stupid or unnecessary," the writer emphasizes.

Sylvia Lesnikowski, a third-year student at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and the recent winner of an American Kennel Club scholarship, says it's important for owners to observe the cleanliness of waiting and appointment rooms when visiting a veterinary practice.

The Pawtucket, R.I., resident says it's important for clinic staff to use a quality disinfectant when cleaning the facility and to "wipe down everything" because while an animal may not be exhibiting symptoms, it may still be carrying a contagious disease.

Gail Parker, a Philadelphia-based pet writer and Irish setter fancier, agrees that it's important that a receptionist (or veterinarian) take a few minutes to answer a few questions over the phone from a prospective client before he or she makes an appointment.

"When I first considered my current veterinarian, I asked if she knew about bloat, as it can be a problem in my breed," Parker writes in a recent e-mail. "A veterinarian should be willing to listen and want to learn what I can share that is specific to my breed, such as the fact that Irish setters can drop weight so fast with just an upset stomach."

Dr. Thomas Burns of Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth advises pet owners who are moving out of the area to check for practices in their new location that are accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association.

"A veterinary hospital that is accredited by the AAHA clearly strives to provide the best care possible by meeting their rigorous standards," Burns explains. "Since accreditation is purely a volunteer process, such facilities enjoy benchmarking themselves among some of the best practices in the country."

Only 17 percent of all veterinary hospitals in the United States and Canada are AAHA accredited, Burns says. These facilities pay an annual membership fee to the national organization.

"Just because a veterinary practice is not accredited does not mean they are not a great practice," Burns points out. "But AAHA accreditation is an almost guarantee that a practice is a high-quality facility delivering progressive care."

He adds, "Nothing is left to chance with the detailed and numerous standards necessary to pass the accreditation process. Everything from pain protocols, anesthetic safety, facility cleanliness to client care matters."

Burns says that the AAHA has a team of experienced veterinary consultants who serve member and prospective member practices in their territory. These experts spend a full day at the clinic conducting a review, which includes an inspection of the facility, equipment, protocols and medical records system.

"The necessary protocols to meet the standards are many and rigorous," Burns discloses. "Every hospital protocol, from anesthetic safety, required equipment, staff safety to facility maintenance is reviewed against the benchmarks of AAHA."

After weeks of intense preparation, Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod was recently reaccredited for three years.

Nationally acclaimed pet writer Cheryl Smith feels confident entrusting her animals to a veterinary practice that is accredited.

"My vet is the only one in the area who is AAHA certified," she reports. "That alone wouldn't be enough to make me choose him, but he has a quarantine room and has passed baseline regulations for cleanliness and other important matters."

For more information about accredited veterinary practices and other pet care-related information, visit the

Swansea resident Brian J. Lowney has been writing about pets for more than a decade. He is a past president of the Wampanoag Kennel Club, an active dog show judge and shares his home with two shelter-adopted cats. All of Brian's columns are available online in our new pet section. Visit