Buy a Dog But Choose A Vet First - By: Susan Sportman

When buying a dog:
Choosing the right kind of to move in with the family is more important than many people realise. For instance, breed, size, long hair, short hair etc. not to mention the fact that the bigger the dog usually means bigger vet fees. Below are a few ointers for you to think about.

1. Do you keep your home very warm? Some dogs are bothered by warm room temperatures. A Chihuahua would be a better choice than Shih Tzu in that case.

2. How much dog can you lift? A Pug is a happy-go-lucky companion but may weigh 18-pounds while a Yorkshire Terrier usually doesn't exceed 7-pounds.

3. How much grooming can you do? If arthritis is a problem, avoid longhaired breeds such as Pekingese or Maltese and look at short, smooth-haired dogs such as Toy Manchester Terrier. Beautiful coats are beautiful because they're groomed daily.

4. How much exercise does the dog need? Any Terrier is a high-energy dog requiring outdoor exercise. On the other hand, an English Toy Spaniel or Japanese Chin can get all the exercise they need inside an apartment.

5. Is the breed's temperament a good match with you? Some people find Toy Poodles too challenging and would do better with the sweet-tempered Papillon.

6. Are you prepared for the costs of dog ownership? The bare minimum estimate for dog ownership is $1 a day.

7. Can you acquire pet insurance? Many companies offer group rates to their employees and retirees.

8. Would being a "foster" owner satisfy your need for canine companionship? Even if you don't want to take a dog into your home, shelters always need people who can walk and play with the dogs or provide temporary housing.

9. Finally, have you considered what happens to your dog if you can't care for him? Toy breeds often live 15-years or longer. Be sure to include instructions in your will on how your pet should be placed.

With a little forethought and planning, you can select the right breed of dog for your lifestyle and enjoy many happy years together.

Choosing a vet:
Find a vet, if possible, who specializes in small animals (as opposed to one who treats large and small - like horses, cows, cats and dogs). Your community may only have vets that do a little bit of everything - and there's nothing wrong with that, if that's all that's available, but I'll remind you - you usually go to a specialist for your health issues, don't you?

If you're new in the community or haven't needed a vet before, word of mouth is a great way to start looking for a new vet. Ask everybody you can get your hands on - co-workers, friends with pets, local humane societies or shelters. Ask questions: are they happy with their vet? Do they like the way they're treated when they take their dogs in?

If your dog is a particular breed, check with the local or state breed associations to find out who they use, or local breeders. This can be especially useful if you buy a puppy from a local breeder, because the vet will have seen your puppy and know at least some of his history.

Once you have a referral from someone you trust, here are some questions to ask:

1. What services does the vet offer?
Is it a one-doctor office, or a multi-doctor practice? As vets try to streamline services many are consolidating practices and forming partnerships and group practices. There's nothing wrong with this - just be aware that you may not always see the same vet. And find out if they offer 24 hour emergency services, or if he or she is affiliated with someone in the area who does. Like everything else in life, illness or accidents don't always happen between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

2. Does the vet offer a full surgery suite with on-site lab work? X-rays? Ultrasound?
If the vet has to send all lab tests to an outside agency to be processed, you may be getting popped with additional charges because those tests aren't being performed or processed in-house.

3. Get a fee schedule.
Cost is usually one of the biggest considerations for dog owners, and it should be lowest on the list of importance, at least in my mind. Not because cost isn't important, course it is, but if you have a vet that you're happy with and who gives your dog the best care you can possibly find in your area, does paying a little extra for that care really matter in the long run?

4. Check out the physical characteristics of the facility.
Is it clean, or does it smell? Are the ads or magazines in the waiting room current? (That may not sound important, but if the staff and doctors aren't keeping up-to-date on the latest and greatest information, this may not be the place you want to bring your dog.)

5. Communication
By that I mean how well does your vet communicate with you? Will he or she explain the condition or illness in terms that you can easily understand, or do they try to confuse you with high-tech or medical jargon? A good vet will go over treatment options with you, explain necessary tests, review x-rays or test results, give complete and clear instructions for home care or further testing requirements, etc.

Take your time to do a complete and thorough evaluation before choosing a new vet. Your dog's life literally depends on what choice you make. Make it a careful one.

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