Get some opinions. Ask around to see where people take their pets, why they take them there, and if they are happy with the veterinarian.
Ask friends, family, and co-workers, but be sure to ask them why they see this particular veterinarian. Pet owners often take their pets to a certain clinic just because they always have and always will, or because the veterinarian is a long-time family friend. This doesn't make it the best choice for you.
Ask groomers, petsitters, kennels, and other pet service facilities.
Ask people at a breed club
Ask your local humane society or other animal-welfare groups
Ask private pet rescue organizations
Educate yourself on the veterinarian's background
Record with the state's medical board (Have any complaints have been filed?)
Record with the local humane society
Membership with any professional veterinary associations
If the veterinarian is a specialist (behavioral, surgical, ophthalmology, etc.), check to see how he or she qualifies to be a specialist. Be sure that he or she has experience, education, and certification in their specialty.
Office Hours, Appointments, and Emergencies
What are the regular office hours? Are they compatible with your schedule?
Are appointments required?
Can you request an appointment with a specific veterinarian? Seeing the same veterinarian will allow him or her to become more familiar with your pet and better able to evaluate whether your pet is ill because he or she has seen your pet before.
How many veterinarians are in the practice?
Are there technicians and other professional staff members?
Who covers the practice when the doctor is unavailable?
Is the doctor available to occasionally answer questions over the phone?
Will the veterinarian take calls or answer phone messages if a crisis befalls your pet during the evening or weekend?
How are emergency calls handled during regular office hours?
How are emergency calls handled after office hours?
Does this clinic provide emergency after-hours assistance, or is there a nearby emergency clinic you will be referred to?
If your veterinarian refers patients for emergency care, get the address and phone number of the facility and be sure to drive by the emergency facility so you'll know where it is.
Is the emergency clinic staffed while your pet is there? Will there be any time period when your pet will be unattended to?
Fees, insurance, and payment methods
Do ask about fees, but don't base your decision solely on the cheapest clinic.
When evaluating fees, be sure to find out what is included, some clinics will include anesthesia, monitoring equipment, and aftercare in the cost of a surgery, while other clinics will have them as separate charges; so you aren't always comparing the same fees and services.
Is the veterinarian a specialist in an area that you do not require for your pet? Fees may be higher for specialists and it might not make sense to pay more for a specialist that does not apply to the needs of your pet.
Are discounts offered for senior citizens or multi-pet households?
Is payment expected on the day of the visit?
Does the clinic accept your insurance plan?
What methods of payment are accepted? Are credit cards accepted?
Condition and location of the facility
Is the facility clean, comfortable, and well-organized?
Examine the lobby, waiting room, parking lot, and lawn for cleanliness and odors.
Are the magazines and literature in the waiting room current or out-dated?
Are the posters and bulletin boards well-kept? Or are they ripped, stained or out-dated?
What types of products do they sell? Are they focused more on providing medical care or pushing products?
Some veterinary clinics are members of the American Animal Hospital Association, which means that the clinic has voluntarily pursued and met the association's standards in the areas of facility, equipment, and quality care.
How busy is the clinic? Is the lobby full or are the phones ringing off the hook? A certain level of busyness is a good sign, but too many clients can lead to long waiting times and a low availability of appointments.
Friendliness and quality of staff
Are they helpful and informative?
Are they too pushy?
Do they take the time to listen and answer your questions?
Do they seem to want to get off the phone quickly or do they seem too busy for you? If yes, they will probably always be too busy to give your pet the care needed.
Are they dressed professionally and cleanly?
Is the receptionist friendly? Does he or she answer the phone professionally and state his or her name? Can he or she answer basic questions about pet care?
Is the staff friendly, caring, calm, competent, and courteous?
Does the veterinarian interact well with the technicians?
Are you comfortable with the veterinarian? Veterinarians are a individual as the rest of us. Some have an easy “bedside manner” and others are more abrupt and in a hurry. Some will explain every detail about your pet's condition and others are too busy to do so. Some will calm your fears and grieve with you and others will brush off your concerns or seem insensitive to the loss of a pet.
Be aware that technicians handle basic procedures, such as drawing blood, taking temperatures, and preparing your pet for surgery, so it is important that you are comfortable with the technician's ability to handle your pet and work with you.
Range of services that the clinic provides
Are x-rays, ultrasounds, bloodwork, and other diagnostics done in-house or referred to a specialist?
How quickly are the test results received?
Does the veterinarian offer a wide range of medications?
Does your pet require a veterinarian with special interests, such as geriatrics?
What experience does the veterinarian have with any specific medical need your pet might have, such as diabetes, allergies, or chronic pain?
What is the veterinarian's policy on vaccinations for kittens, puppies and adult cats and dogs? Many veterinarians are getting away from automatic annual vaccinations for adults because of evidence that immunization lasts longer than 12 months for some vaccines, and research has linked too-frequent vaccinations with immune system disorders.
Other things to consider
The veterinarian should perform an exam on your pet during the first visit. This should include feeling the pet over for suspicious lumps or bumps, checking the eyes and ears, listening to the heart, and checking the teeth.
The veterinarian should ask you questions about the pet's general health and ask for the pet's medical history.
Your pet should be comfortable with the veterinarian. An experienced veterinarian will handle the most difficult pet without causing any undue stress on the pet.
Does the clinic offer any other services such as boarding or grooming?
Is the veterinarian willing to prescribe medication and allow you to fill the prescription elsewhere?
Do you trust the veterinarian? Most importantly, what do your instincts tell you?
If you are transferring your pet from another clinic, be sure to transfer your pet's medical records.