Choosing a Veterinarian

Choosing a veterinarian is easy if  you already have one you like and that respects you. Most vets love to give referrals to people they know. However, some vets do not understand the devotion of pet owners with disabled dogs and merely "humor us" thinking we are nut cases. If your vet "just doesn't get it" you may have to look elsewhere.  On the other hand, with a little education most vets can understand why you are going to such lengths to make your pet comfortable and happy and are more willing to work with you. When I explained to our vet that Hoover still liked playing with his squeakies, lived for a licked dish and hung out in the main area of the house so he could be included in everything we do - he realized Hoover's life was not so bleak after all.   It's important to have your vet "on board" because you will need answers to your questions and a variety of medications for your dog that may range from simple vitamins to narcotics. 

Mobile Vets

A vet that will come out to your home to see the dog is also a plus.  You are more likely to find these sorts of vets in rural areas, only because they are more likely to be set up for house calls due to the number of horse/farm visits they do.  Often they will have a vehicle that contains all the necessary equipment at the ready even for an emergency. The difficulty of getting your disabled large dog into your vehicle is multiplied when he is unable to even help you a little.  A vet that can come to you is a big plus. If there are no mobile vets in your area, you might find it useful to own a dog stretcher which will be a great help in getting a paralyzed or very sick dog to the vet's office.

Staff

You'll also want to have rappor with the veterinary staff as they are the ears of the vet.  I know a very good vet who himself, is awesome.  But his staff is horrible - and every time I need to get meds or talk to him it becomes an exercise in frustration. I no longer go there for even the most routine items - I go to the vet with the friendly, accomodating staff.  It makes a big difference.  Often the staff, when they know your dog, will go to bat for you so that you can get an increase in dosage without a difficult office visit and it's wonderful not having to explain your dog's entire life story every time you call. A staff that doesn't get it can be a real pain to work with - making you wait days for an emergency appointment. A staff that remembers you and your dog is wonderful. Be positive, open to suggestion and flexible and they will appreciate how much you love your dog and will remember you easily.  And always appreciate the staff that looks out for your dog!

Medication Dispensing Can make a Huge Difference in the Comfort of your Disabled Dog

State laws vary, but a vet that is willing to dispense common medications for things such as minor eye infections, topical treatments, and mild pain killers without an office visit every single time are worth their weight in gold.  It's often hard to transport a disabled pet so avoiding the expense and difficulty of an unnecessary exam for something that is chronic makes sense. It's also less stressful for your handicapped or ill dog.  It may even  make the difference of the dog being treated or not getting the medicine he needs. Disabled pets can be more prone to a lot of chronic conditions and minor problems due to a weakened immune system. So you really need a vet that trusts you as much as you trust them. and is willing to call in prescriptions for your dog over the phone. Unless it's a new development, or something that needs diagnosis, you shoudn't have to drag a stressed out dog to the vet office for every minor thing. A vet that understands your dog's specific disability is wonderful - you want someone who knows all the latest research but is not too quick to spend your money when it won't make much difference. 

Young Vet or Old Timer?

Young vet or old?  Young vets are often aware of the latest greatest treatments available for your dogs problem.  On the other hand, they may never have SEEN the problem and may need to research it before feeling comfortable making recommendations. Whereas, an older seasoned vet has seen your dog's problem before and probably has a typical treatment regimine already worked out that he's had success with.  I've found older seasoned vets ultimately cost me less for the same things - they don't have to do as many unnecessary tests to make a diagnosis and also realize not every owner can afford the "latest and greatest" treatments. And just because we can't afford the latest and greatest, doesn't mean we love our pets any less!

Moving Means Leaving Your Old Veterinarian and training a New One

If you are moving to a new area, the best way to find a new vet is to ask your current vet.  That didn't help as we were moving far away so our vet couldn't recommend anyone.  Don't be afraid to call all the vets that are nearby and ask his staff some difficult questions.  Ask how often they deal with geriatric dogs, or situations pertinent to your situation.  Then schedule some basic appointments (shots, ear infection, annual heartworm) so that you can get to know his style and staff before there is an emergency.  You want to find a vet that respects the knowledge you've already acquired with your disabled dog, and has had at least reasonable experience with the disabilitiy you're dealing with.  Find out how emergencies are handled in the new area.  We went from an area of several 24/7 Emergency clinics to an area where each vet was "on call" for his own emergencies. In other words, you can't wait until things get critical when the closest vet is an hour away and needs to be called into the office first.  Often you may need more than one vet - sometimes vet A is good with puppies but vet B is great with geriatrics...so don't be afraid to spread yourself around.  You'll get to know several vets that can act as backup for each other, and you can use them for what they are particularly good at. 

How Much Time, Effort, Emotion and Money to invest?

Which brings me to practicality...how much effort, time, money and emotion do you put into your disabled dog?  As much as you can afford to of course.  But consider that for every expensive treatment there is probably something just as good that might not make that much difference in your dog's quality of life.  My philosophy is that if the test/treatment is not going to change anything, it's probably not worth putting your dog through it (unless you just have to know what is causing the problem).  Often expensive testing will tell you nothing more than you already know.  You'll be left wondering, just as you did before, except you'll be broke.  Spend that money making your pet's days full and happy.

Also don't discount non-traditional methods.  Acupuncture has been found to be quite helpful in pets.  It's become very much mainstream these days and if your dog has arthritis, intervertebral disk disease, or traumatic nerve injury it might be worth looking into.

You want a vet that understands your pockets are not endless, and often it pays to look into financial assistance if you are having trouble meeting your pets needs. A lot of resources are drying up so if you need this assistance, don't wait.  Apply early.  A good vet will help you find a working solution for you at a reasonable cost.  You should not have to go to the poor house because your dog is disabled. You should not have to feel you must put the dog down because you can't afford his medications.   There are many fine treatments, medicines and equipment that will make him quite comfortable for less. Spend what you save on some special treats for him.  He'll appreciate that more than being poked and prodded endlessly looking for a "cure" when there isn't one.

Veterinarian as Petsitter

Sometimes your veterinarian, who knows your dog is the most qualified to be your petsitter.  Everyone needs a vacation now and then and while there are many options, and ideally your vet is the option of last resort (mainly because of expense and potential exposure to disease) it is nice to know that the option is available.  Most vets will do some boarding if they have the room and the staff to do so.  It's nice to find out if this is the case before you need the option so always ask.