Choosing the right veterinarian for your pet

Did you know that 2011 marks the 250th anniversary of the first formal veterinary school? The school was founded in Lyon, France by Claude Bourgelat in 1761 and focused quite naturally on treating ailments of horses. Horses provided power for wor...

Did you know that 2011 marks the 250th anniversary of the first formal veterinary school?

The school was founded in Lyon, France by Claude Bourgelat in 1761 and focused quite naturally on treating ailments of horses. Horses provided power for work and transportation; keeping them healthy was of serious economic importance.

The New York College of Veterinary Surgeons established in 1857 was the first vet school established in the United States. Twenty-two years later in 1879, veterinarians were required to graduate from an "established and reputable" veterinary school or college.

The establishment of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in 1933 helped usher in the era of the companion pet to America. Small animals (dogs and cats) were being raised and kept as simply pets, not for economic advantage. The AAHA is responsible for accrediting small animal veterinary practices in the United States and Canada today.

So how does one pick a vet? This question surfaces most often with people contemplating purchasing or adopting a pet. Several factors should go into your decision.



Fifty-one years ago (Whoa, did I figure that right?), when I received a puppy for my 6th birthday, there was only one local animal hospital. The vets there treated all farm animals; horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, fowl, dogs, and cats; pretty much everything. At one point, I may have even followed a veterinarian's advice on how to clear a small spot of ringworm that I had contracted from a horse I had in training. Those vets were the "go to" guys for everything.

Today, most practices have specialized to various degrees. While some clinics still serve a range of animal species, they may also have vets that specialize with a specific species of animal or a specific treatment area.

Naturally, the larger the community, the greater the likelihood of a specialist; and the smaller the community, the greater the range of animals served by one clinic.

Many practices treat small animals only. Some clinics are open during regular business hours only and refer all after-hours emergency work to 24-hour emergency clinics. Unless you are dealing with a clinic staffed 24/7 you can expect to pay a hefty after-hours fee to bring in a doctor and related staff to treat your pet in an emergency.

Levels of service

Solo practice veterinarians may be generalist or have a specialty. Dr. Jill Langlie, the primary vet I use for my horses, specializes in equines and makes farm calls. She operates her business out of her truck. Dr. Jill will vaccinate my barn cats or yard dog upon request, but her area of expertise is the horse.

For extensive radio graphs (X-rays), surgeries, project cases and even broken bone repairs, I trailer my horses to Dr. Ken Greiner's Lake Region Veterinary Center in Elbow Lake, Minnesota.


Dr. Greiner has a staff of veterinarians, technicians, surgical suites designed for equine work and stalls for recovery and rehab. Both are very competent vets offering different levels of service.

In Becker County, we have Dr. Dennis Lange of Aurochs Veterinary Service in Audubon, Dr. Randall Lindemann of Frazee and the late Dr. Dick Teal of rural Detroit Lakes. These are solo practices, treating multiple species of animals and offering varying levels of service. They make farm calls and offer after-hours services.

The Detroit Lakes Animal Hospital is a small animal practice offering the services of Dr. James McCormack and Dr. Tom Haggart. Their clinic offers a variety of in-house diagnostic services including radiographs, ultra sounds, complete blood counts, fecal exams and urinalysis.

They employ seven vet technicians, and offer computerized client support including PetPortals, a computer program allowing clients to make appointments and access medical information regarding their pet(s). DLAH refers after-hours emergency calls to the emergency clinic in Fargo; house calls are rare.

Assessing your needs

When shopping for a vet, focus on what you want for your pet.

What if your mature pet develops allergies? If your current vet is not well versed in this area, you may want to ask for a referral to a specialist. Talk to other pet owners who have dealt with similar problems and learn who provided the treatment with the best results for their pet. Contact a university that has a veterinarian teaching program. Be proactive.

If you are a new pet owner, how much education are you looking for? Do you want a clinic that sends home packets with food samples, booklets and DVD's with pet care information, or may offer training classes? How is your memory? Is it important to you that you receive reminders from your vet of upcoming vaccination boosters or heartworm test dates?


How much are you willing to spend for vet care? Do you have pet insurance? Not all vets participate in insurance programs. Some require payment in full at time of service.

Decide how important it is to you to have access to your vet 24/7. Are you comfortable seeing one vet for routine needs and another for emergencies? How far are you willing to drive to give your pet the care that is important to you?

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