How to make sure your veterinarian checks out

Dr. Bijula Yusin, a staff veterinarian at the Castaic Animal Shelter, inspects Dodger, a two-year-old Chihuahua. Katharine Lotze/Signal

After a trial in which she testified against practices taking place at her former employer, All Creatures Veterinary Center, one of the few 24-hour animal hospitals in the Santa Clarita Valley, Wendy Hand shared a number of tips for animal lovers in case they have concerns.

Hand, who’s worked as a registered veterinary nurse for 11 years, said there are a number of steps one can take to check on whether the veterinarian you’re bringing your animal to is one who can be trusted.

And while there are a number of great veterinarians in the SCV, and the large majority are trustworthy, Hand wanted to make sure people are aware of what to look for when they’re looking for an animal doctor. (Hand has been a practicing registered veterinarian since 2009, which means essentially there are only four things she’s not able to do with respect to treating animals, which a veterinarian can perform: prescribe medication; perform surgery; give an official diagnosis; and offer a prognosis.)

Online check 

The first thing someone can do if they’re acting on a friend recommendation or an advertisement is check out the status of the prospective veterinarian’s license with the Veterinary Medical Board. This is listed on the Department of Consumer Affairs website, as the DCA oversees the VMB. The search site is: 

Hand also cautioned that it’s important to check and see if there are any concerns on file, which would be listed under “Public Record Actions.” A place could be in danger of losing its license for alleged violations but still have the “Primary Status” on its listing. 

All Creatures Veterinary Center in Newhall, for example, has a “Current” listing; however, a closer look at its status listing online reveals a number of complaints filed under “Public Documents.” The documents tab lists a number of active complaints against the location, and an appeal by the veterinarian clinic that’s expected to take well into next year to resolve due to the lengthy statutory process associated with addressing complaints.

Dialogue with your vet

Establishing a relationship with your veterinarian so you feel more comfortable trusting him or her with such an important patient is also a good idea, Hand notes, and can also help a pet owner identify any possible concerns.

“When you bring your pet to the veterinarian’s office for something you’re concerned about, you want to ask the vet what their findings were on (the) exam, and what diagnostics they recommend to diagnose the actual problem and what treatment … and what they expect in response to this treatment,” Hand noted. 

If a veterinarian is unable or refuses to answer any of those questions, “You should be concerned,” Hand said.

Location and accreditation

While the onset of COVID-19 and subsequent health protocols have made on-site visits more difficult at most places, under normal conditions it’s not a bad idea to take a tour of the facility, Hand said. 

Since that might be a challenge right now, it’s also a good idea to check on a veterinarian facility’s accreditation. If a facility is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, then it has passed a stricter inspection and higher standard than simply the state licensing board, Hand noted, which should provide pet owners with some assurance.

She also sought to assure pet owners that, from her experience with a number of different facilities, by and large most places will not have problems or procedure issues. However, since addressing any such issues can be a long and difficult process — and generally one that occurs only after a problem arises — it’s important that pet owners be aware of any potential concerns, and be comfortable with all procedures being performed. 

“You can ask to speak to the person who will be doing the treatments on your animal,” Hand said. “You can ask them to explain what they will be doing and how they will be doing it.”

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