I decided to create this series of articles to address the top questions I’ve been asked as a veterinary technician. I’m a CVDT (Certified Veterinary Dental Technician), have been in the field for over ten years and have noticed a trend in the most commonly asked questions by pet owners. The answers found in these articles will reflect how things have been done in my experience only; keep in mind that all veterinarians and veterinary hospitals have varying policies and techniques.
We will take a look at a somewhat controversial topic for the purpose of this article. Let’s compare the differences in the care your pet would receive at the veterinary office as opposed to the care he may receive at a local animal shelter. Many shelters provide discount veterinary care, while others are strictly a place for rehoming animals. We’ll be address those shelters that provide low cost veterinary care.
Cost is certainly an issue when it comes to pet care. It is not uncommon for pet owners to scour the yellow pages, calling up every local clinic to find the cheapest route. Many times the cheapest route is a local shelter that also provides low cost veterinary services. So when you call the vet and find out that routine vaccinations may cost around $100 only to find out that the local shelter does them for around $20, you might be assuming that you’re better off going to the shelter.
Right? Wrong. There is a huge difference here. Granted the price itself is higher but you must compare item for item what you are getting. Low cost vaccine clinics offer just that; vaccines. When you call the veterinary clinic, ask them what exactly the $100 covers (or whatever cost you are actually quoted).
In a typical veterinary hospital an annual visit includes an examination, fecal examination, heartworm testing (for dogs) and then vaccinations. While one may assume that the most important part of the annual visit is the vaccines, it is actually the physical exam. Surgeries are the same. Find out what the spay or neuter cost actually covers before assuming you’re getting a better deal by going with the place that is simply cheaper.
There are trained staff members that work both in veterinary clinics and animal shelters. There are plenty of shelters that even have registered technicians on staff. However, it is important to find out what sort of training the staff you are working with has had. Someone who used to work at a vet clinic years ago isn’t going to have the same training and skill as someone who has been thoroughly trained and has been through various routes of continuing education. Veterinary medicine is constantly changing. Only through continuing their education can anyone be expected to keep up with the latest technologies and advancements in medicine. Too often there are unskilled individuals prescribing medications, giving injections or diagnosing pets when they do not have the knowledge, nor the legal status, for doing so.
This isn’t to say that shelter folks are unskilled. I’m sure there are many shelters with very educated staff members. All I’m saying here is to find out who is taking care of your pet. This is especially important when you choose to take your pet in for surgery. Pets must be monitored while under anesthesia and I don’t know about you, but I’d want to be darn sure that my pet is being observed by someone who fully understands what they are doing.
3. Hospital Set Up
This is one comparison that is simple to evaluate for yourself. All you have to do is ask to see where surgeries are done. This goes for both the animal hospital and the shelter. Both should be more than willing to show you around. If they don’t, go somewhere else. If they do and you don’t like what you see, go somewhere else!
The area where surgeries are done, the surgery suite, should be clean from top to bottom. There should be space and openness and the room should not also be a place where animals are kept or a place for storing pet food, etc. There should be lots of lighting as well as a brightly lit surgery suite is essential for a veterinarian to be able to do his or her job well.
4. Quality of Medicine
We all want the best care we can possibly get for our pets and in order to find that we have to do our own leg work to find the best quality care possible. Call ahead of time and ask lots of questions. What’s even better is to meet the vet and the staff before you need them. In the case with surgeries, I know I’d definitely want to know the person who is performing this type of procedure on my pet. Get references as well. Word of mouth is a powerful thing! Find out if others were happy with the care they received or if they were dissatisfied.
What many people will find is that the quality of care found at a shelter is typically quite low. This can stem from a variety of reasons including an uneducated staff, lack of drugs available and lack of funds to provide the care required. Shelters are typically either government funded or funded strictly by donations. They don’t often have the funds available to purchase high tech equipment or highly effective drugs that may be just what your pet needs.
Not all veterinarians provide the greatest quality of care either so do some leg work and find out before you actually need services if you’re comfortable with the care your pet will receive.
This is one of those subjects that varies a great deal from pet hospital to pet hospital and from shelter to shelter. Mostly, it varies from pet hospital to shelter. Let’s take a theoretical example to help explain.
Let’s say your dog was hit by a car and is injured to the point that he is suffering badly. Maybe the most humane thing is euthanasia. However, instead of taking the dog to the veterinarian, you take him to a local no-kill shelter. Many no-kill shelters do not offer what the most “humane” treatment is but only what their philosophies state, which relate to their no-kill theories. Hopefully this never happens to you and your dog, but if this did happen to my own personal pet, I think that I would actually prefer the honesty of the veterinary clinic, that has no preset “theories” to do what is the very best for my pet.
How about another example? We’ll pretend that you are taking your Pit Bull Terrier to the local shelter for some sort of care. He has a habit of running through the woods and romping in the sticks and leaves so he gets cuts on his face and body from time to time. Upon taking him into the shelter you’re bombarded with comments about fighting Pits and how you should surrender your dog into their care. Now I don’t know about you, but I’d be upset about this. However, it is not an uncommon thing for shelter philosophies and theories to be set so strongly that they can sometimes assume that they know what is happening with every single pet and assume that they are able to provide better care than the current owner. This may be the case sometimes, but not all.
Ok, so granted, that may be an extreme example to use but I can’t lie; it has happened… numerous times. I, myself, would to take my pet only to those who are more concerned about my pets’ health care than they are about putting such philosophies before anything else.
There is much to consider when comparing shelter medicine with that which your pet can receive at a veterinary clinic. Not all shelters are bad, not all vet clinics are good. You have to do your own part in finding the best possible place to take your pet and then worry about the costs. We all understand that cost is an issue in many cases but don’t put your pet’s health at risk simply to save a buck.