Five Red Flag Indicators That It’s Time to Find a New Vet

When someone learns that I’m a veterinarian, their face predictably light up with a smile. It appears that most folks believe that vets are wonderful. After all, we clearly love animals and we must be very smart- everyone knows how difficult it is to get into veterinary school. In fact, people seem far less skeptical of their vet’s capabilities and intentions than they are of their own physician’s.

Time for a reality check. Not all veterinarians are deserving of such benefit of the doubt. Official veterinary disciplinary boards exist for a reason, and I certainly had a few vet school classmates I wouldn’t let near one of my own sick animals with a ten-foot syringe, then or now!

Five red flags

How can you know if your vet’s performance is unworthy of your patronage? Here are five red flag indicators to prompt you to consider looking for someone new:

1. Your veterinarian is a 100 percent do-it-your-selfer, refusing to enlist help from other veterinarians, particularly specialists, within the community. Gone are the days of All Creatures Great and Small when it was reasonable for one doc to handle all medical maladies, great and small. Advances in diagnostic and therapeutic technologies have made it impossible for any individual to be proficient at everything. If your family vet has been unable to arrive at a diagnosis, your pet’s condition is worsening or not improving in spite of therapy, or a complicated procedure has been recommended, enlisting help from another veterinarian makes really good sense. If such discussion is not forthcoming, your vet is likely a do-it-your-selfer.

2. Your vet prefers telling you what to do rather than discussing options. This “paternalistic” style of communication hinders your ability to ask questions and make well-informed choices, and successfully serve as your pet’s medical advocate. Sentence starters from your vet such as, “You need to…”, “You should…”,  “You have to…”, or an unsolicited, “If I were you I would…” are clues that you are dealing with a paternalistic provider.

3. Your vet doesn’t comply with current professional standards. For example, he or she insists on annual vaccinations (parvovirus for dogs, distemper for dogs and cats). The research supporting extension of the interval between these vaccines from one year to three years first became public knowledge approximately ten years ago. A vet who continues to administer them annually is completely missing the boat in the continuing education department or is eager to collect fees from unnecessary procedures. Neither explanation is remotely reasonable.

4. Your vet has made a significant error while working with your pet. A botched surgery, a missed diagnosis, a medical prescription error are examples that should cause consternation. Yes, mistakes happen, but they warrant some face time with your veterinarian to receive an explanation and determine if you will be staying or taking your business elsewhere.

5. You or your pet simply don’t feel comfortable with your vet. Does your normally delightful dog or cuddly kitty transform into Kujo the minute your vet walks into the exam room? Do you feel uneasy asking questions and openly discussing your worries or concerns? Pay attention to your observations and gut feelings. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.

Your exit strategy

If you are planning to leave a vet you’ve been with for years, chances are you’re concerned about how to do so gracefully, without hurting his or her feelings. In response to this concern I quote my favorite line from the movie Moonstruck. Cher demands, “Snap out of it!” as she briskly slaps Nicholas Cage’s cheek. In this situation, I completely concur with her sentiment. After all, what’s more important, your pet’s health and your own peace of mind or your veterinarian’s feelings?

To expedite a smooth transition, obtain a copy of your pet’s entire medical records including: doctor’s notes, laboratory test results, imaging studies (ultrasound, X-rays), and vaccination history. Simply ask the reception staff to provide this for you. This should be a no hassle process as you are legally entitled to all you are requesting. If asked why you are moving on, I encourage you to provide an honest, constructive response.

As the captain of your pet’s health care team, it is your responsibility to determine who your teammates will be. Choose them wisely and remind yourself that the opportunity to care for you and your pet is a privilege that should be well deserved.

Have you ever had to divorce your veterinarian?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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23 Comments on “Five Red Flag Indicators That It’s Time to Find a New Vet

  1. When my 3 yr old spaniel had a seizure, my former vet prescribed what another vet later told me was a horse sized dose of phenobarbitol and Valium without doing any blood tests or anything. When I returned from vacation, his eyes were orange as were his gums. His liver enzymes were off the charts. I think 4000 if that is poss. He delayed my referral to a teaching Hosp saying it could be two weeks. I called a different vet and she told me to go right now as they had a 24 hr ER. He was admitted with liver failure and seemed to improve within a week. They gave me a few days meds and told me to get refills from my vet. The dog went downhill after he gave me refills and I sought a different vet who did subcutaneous fluid IVs to help flush out toxins. A day later he died a horrifying death from a liver hemorrhage in my arms. Turns out the original vet didn’t have the correct refills recommended by the teaching Hospital and subbed with a medicine that was very hard on the liver. When asked why they would refer me back to a vet who had misdosed him originally and caused the liver failure, the hospital told me that if they had told me to get a different vet, mine might have quit sending them referrals.

  2. We divorced a vet who had been recommended to us when we moved to the city we now live in. It is not exactly one of the reasons you mentioned but may be a part of it. He made some decisions about the care of one of our dogs based on wanting to save us money. When I later confronted him about a treatment option he didn’t offer us, I was shocked to discover that he had decided it would be too expensive for us. In no uncertain terms I told him I was in charge of my budget and how I spent my money was none of his business. When I found the veterinary hospital we have now I made it very clear that I did not want them to withhold information from me based on cost…We have an excellent relationship and they respect my decisions as it relates to cost.

  3. Thanks for these tips! A vet should always be effective in taking care of dogs. Dogs have special needs that should be dealt with right away. Finding the best vet around plays a crucial role for the health of a dog.

  4. Here’s a letter I wrote a year ago to my previous veterinarian (I’ve replaced names with “xxx”). I never got a reply, but I continued to get reminders to bring my dog in for shots. I’m very happy with my new vet!

    Dear Dr. xxx,

    I’m writing this because I feel I owe you an explanation about why Layla will not be returning to your office.

    On Friday, February 4, I brought Layla to your office for a check up. I was especially concerned because she is 13 years old, and lately she had been showing some difficulty coming up steps and jumping onto the couch. Her last appointment at your office had been a while ago so I also wanted her to have a complete physical. One of the other things I mentioned to you was Layla’s apparent loss of appetite. You suggested adding low sodium chicken broth to her food to make it more palatable.

    You noticed that there seemed to be a problem with her hips, and you suggested an X-ray, which showed severe bilateral arthritis and a dislocated femoral head on one side. That part of the exam and diagnosis was well done, but I was a little concerned about several other things. In particular, when I asked if you could check her teeth, you were standing near the cabinets/sink and said that you could see her teeth from there, and that they were shiny white and looked fine. You did not even approach her, nor did you make any effort to look closely at her teeth. Layla has been difficult on past visits, but this time she showed no aggression or anxiety. I could still understand if you felt she might try to bite, but you didn’t say anything at all about being concerned that there might be a problem looking at her teeth.

    I was very concerned about her hips, and although I later realized I should have insisted, I simply dropped the topic of her teeth in spite of the fact that a dental check (or at least a cursory glance at her teeth and gums) should have been done for a senior dog – especially after I specifically asked you to look at her teeth.

    On Sunday, February 6, Layla began exhibiting signs of mouth pain. She tried to eat but had difficulty chewing, and pawed at her mouth and seemed to be in a lot of distress. This was the first time I had seen that behavior, and I was very upset that you had not checked her mouth when I asked you to.

    As you know, I requested her X-ray so that I could get a second opinion about her prognosis and possible treatment. As I have a close relationship with the medical staff at xxx (a local animal shelter), I was able to arrange to have Layla’s blood test done at their clinic at a lower cost, so I made an appointment for her to be seen on Monday, February 7. I went back on Tuesday, February 8 to get her blood test results, and brought the X-ray with me. The veterinarian said that her blood work was excellent (only one slightly elevated value), that she should be on pain meds immediately (he prescribed Rimadyl and Tramadol and the clinic dispensed both). He said I should not resort to surgery unless the pain meds were ineffective. He said that if I did decide to choose surgery, both hips would have to be done about 6 months apart, and that there would be a great deal of pain and lengthy rehabilitation, especially for a dog of 13 years. He also said that her behavior did indeed indicate a dental problem and he suggested a dental exam at a full service animal hospital.

    I was reluctant to go back to your office and a friend suggested that I get in touch with xxx and see if they could fit Layla in for a complete dental exam at their office on Friday (their regular day for dental work). I made an appointment immediately for an exam at their next opening, as they required a physical before scheduling anesthesia. Layla had a complete physical, including everything you had done plus a look at her mouth, on Wednesday, February 16. I gladly paid for the additional exam. She had a complete dental exam and had two teeth extracted on Friday, February 25. Both back molars were abscessed and one was also loose. She was placed on antibiotics and a soft food diet for 14 days.

    Fortunately, Layla was on pain meds during the 3 weeks between your exam and the dental procedure, so her pain wasn’t as bad as it would have been otherwise.

    As you might imagine, I am very dissatisfied with your exam, as you neglected to look at Layla’s mouth, even after I asked you to, and especially after I mentioned her lack of appetite. The coincidence of her dental problem and pain becoming so severe within days of your exam compounds my dissatisfaction.

    During this experience, I recalled a time several years ago when I had brought my senior male cat, Arthur, to your office because of a dental problem. You looked into his mouth and said he had an abscessed tooth that you couldn’t operate on due to his age. I took Arthur to xxx Animal Hospital for a second opinion and the doctor used a dental tool and chipped off a large chunk of tartar from the tooth. The chunk was almost as large as the tooth itself, and as soon as it was removed, he seemed to become his normal self. There was no abscess – there was only a chunk of tartar. Arthur lived and thrived for several more years. I had forgotten about that incident until this recent problem with Layla, and I had returned to your office after that partly because xxx is a much longer ride from my house (a problem if an animal needs immediate attention), and partly because I had preciously had only good feelings about your treatment of my animals over the years.

    Dr. xxx, I have always liked you as a person. You have a very nice way of handling animals, and I believe you truly care about them. I think you are a competent doctor in many areas, but I have lost confidence in your ability to care for mine. I hadn’t planned to tell you this entire story, but your email reminder made me realize that I owe it to you and to the animals in your practice to let you know why I’m not coming back. I hope you will understand my reasons, and I also hope you will make a very concerted effort to include a dental check for every animal you treat. I’m aware that dental disease is not only painful, but that it is also poses a very serious risk for infection and can cause heart and kidney problems. In fact, I think you may have been the one who told me that many years ago.

    Maureen Koplow

  5. What a timely post for me.

    Over the weekend one of my dad’s two yorkies was ill, lethargic, no appetite, etc. Being super worried, he called his trusted vet of over 15 years.

    The receptionist who answered said, “sorry we’re full” My dad went on to explain he was very worried, and he was afraid it was critical. He said he would take any time in the next two days. She said, “sorry, we’re booked.” “I can’t help you.”

    No referral to a partner vet clinic that could help, no suggestion of a walk in clinic. Nothing.

    He called a competitor and was told to come right in to that local clinic. He liked what he saw in that office, and called to have all the records transferred on the spot.

    What a shame that had to happen. My dad has been through diabetes, hip replacements and lots of other expensive journeys with his now former vet to ensure good health for the dogs he adores.

    Not only is my dad gone, but so are all of the recommendations he used to give as well.

  6. I once left a veterinary practice because the woman DVM who examined my 10 year old cat had fingernails so long she was unable to pick up a pen to make notes on the chart, much less examine his ears, etc. I just left my dog’s vet this year because they sent me a letter saying I owed them money. Never, ever, in 5 years had I ever left their practice without stopping at the desk and paying my bill–even when the bill was huge because the animal was seriously ill. When I showed them the check was cancelled the same day I wrote it—I got an “OK them”. No apology or anything. I never went back. I will not have my word questioned.

  7. after working in several animal hospitals, with about 10 or so different vets, only 1 was someone who truly cared and would do anything to help. most of the men know everything and pretend to listen, most of the women are too nice and not in the good way. i like my current vet enough to stay with 5 old dogs, but the staff is annoyingly nice. they ask me if i have the same address and phone # everytime. with as much $ as i spend there, they should know better. i have also never seen a vet call animal control or the police for a pet being severly matted dog or one that is clearly being mistreated. it is such a shame alot of them are bull shitters and just want your $. as a dog trainer its funny how most vets animals are poorly behaved as well. none of the dr’s ive worked with havent even taken a simple obedience class. and they never want to tell you that they are really scared of your dog, thats why it goes in the back for the vet techs to do all the work. this is a great article! and owners dont lie about how truly terrible your dog might act when handled, it might save someone some bites or stitches and some serious frustrations.

  8. I walked out of a vet office once before my appointment was called, and I never went back, even after the vet called me and pleaded with me. As my older Sheltie and I were waiting for her appointment, there was a lot of barking from the back cage room. One of the desk attendants jumped up, went back to that room, banged on a cage, and yelled, “Shut up or I’ll kill you.” My dog leaped into my lap, I gathered her up and walked out.

    The head of the clinic called me to apologize, saying, “That was her own dog that she reprimanded; she brings it to the clinic every day, and it barks a lot.” I answered, “Well, fine, but you’ll conduct your inhumane clinic without us.”

  9. I have left 2 practices: one when the vet pushed hard to spay my standard poodle puppy at 4 months, and the second when I had made an appointment for a 3 year rabies shot and thought I had also had a somewhat productive discussion on overvaccination, only to find when I went to pay my bill that the vet had administered a one year shot. Her response — “Oh well, you can get a 3 year shot next year.” (Not even an “Oops, I’m sorry.” And yes, I know that the 1 and 3 year shots are the same, save essentially for labelling…)

    My current vet practice gives the shots I request (Dodds’ protocol), sends out for titers to the lab of my choice, isn’t phased by rawfeeding, and doesn’t lecture me on my neutering preferences.

  10. Excellent point, Stacy!! As a trainer and behavior consultant, I have seen the results of some egregious recommendations by veterinarians! Scruff shaking?? Alpha rolls??? I am vibrating with the horror of it ~

  11. And please don’t take a veterinarian’s “training” or “behavior” advice unless you are CERTAIN they have done their own independent studies and experiences with training and behavior. Vets are not trainers or behavior experts UNLESS they have studied this as a tangent to their veterinary studies. There are Veterinary Behaviorists, they have done a lot of independent studies on behavior and learning theory. “Regular” veterinarians have not. Be sure and ask your vet what independent training and behavior studies they’ve had/done when they decide to offer their training advice!

  12. Nancy: I have a question about the recommendation to only do distemper/parvo every three years. At what age do you switch from annually to every third year? I am in Memphis,TN, a VERY highly endemic area for both viruses and we spend substantial rescue dollars treating these illnesses because so many pets are not properly vaccinated. This is more from neglect and poor education than failed vaccines, but what is your recommendation in an area like this for our puppies and dogs?

  13. I am going through this now. It is wrenching. One of the vets at the practice made a pretty egregious mistake and also messed up the vax for my puppy. I am having a hard time trusting any vet now and may switch practices. I recently heard she is no longer there but I still don’t feel confident in their abilities any longer.

    It has been one year since that dog died and I still do not want to go through their doors.

  14. I had to ‘divorce’ a veterinary practice with which I had had a relationship for about 20 yrs. At the time I chose to leave, there were three vets there – the owner and two others. One of the others practiced both mainstream and alternative medicine; the other was very much mainstream-by-the-book. I used and was happy with all three doctors.

    I discovered that the by-the book-vet had told the front desk not to book any appts with me unless it was an emergency. He did not like alternative approaches and apparently resented the fact that I sometimes chose those approaches over his own. I was shocked when I learned he had done this and felt strongly that it was unprofessional. I was more shocked when I spoke with the owner and found that she was aware of his action and was OK with it. I had known her for many years and had even worked with her briefly during my education as a vet tech so was extremely disappointed that she would just let me (with more than 6 dogs and five cats) walk away.

    But walk away I did, and I have been extrermely happy with my ‘new’ vet of nearly 15 yrs. I had heard many wonderful things about his practice, and scheduled an interview with him just to determine if we could work together. I explained my choices and expressed that I would always take responsibility for them. We have worked very well together (he is not alternative and does not have any alternative vets on his staff, but he is open minded and has referred to alternative practitioners) through many wonderful and tragic events over the years and I always recommend him to my students and clients.

    By the way – many of the ‘alternatives’ that got me in trouble at the previous practice have become much more ‘mainstream’ today – acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, titering and feeding a raw diet. I can only assume that the mainstream doc – now owner of his own practice – has many, many clients who believe in and use these approaches in their veterinary and pet care. I bet he’s not so quick to refuse to see these clients now…

  15. I couldn’t agree more, Nancy. I had to shop for a new vet and I did just that. I made appointments with other vets for the last appointment of the day. I told them I wouldn’t be bringing a pet, but instead wanted to sit down with the vet, as well as see the facility, to see if we were a match. I told them, when making the appointment that I was shopping for a new veterinarian.

    Sadly, I have to say, most were very rigid in their thinking, didn’t like the fact that I asked questions, and all but two insisted on annual vaccinations.

    I have a terrific vet now, and couldn’t be happier that we can work together toward a common goal.

  16. Here’s another reason: Your vet becomes a political activist.

    If your vet provides commentary on breed standards, your dog’s docked tail, they are sharing a political belief, not a professional one. Veterinarians perform elective surgeries every day for the convenience of the owner – spays, neuters, cat declawing, benign lump removal, etc.

    Vets receive no training in breed standards and have little knowledge of the complex histories and challenges facing purebred gene pools. This is not a veterinarian’s area of expertise, and when they trespass on the breeder’s territory, it’s a warning sign.

  17. One vet who was a wonderful vet – retired and sold his practice to another vet. My dog disliked the replacement vet! So, I switched my cats and dogs to my ferret’s vet. She was wonderful! However, she moved to another office that was an hour away. I continued taking the cats and dog to the other vet at that office. He was very experienced, having been a vet almost as long as I have been on earth. He was open to suggestions, kept up with current protocols and the like.

    The older vet HAD a great staff. He added a second vet who was strictly old school, annual shots, etc. At the same time, the staff was changing. Almost every time I called, the staff hung up on the relay call (I am deaf). When they did answer, they were very rude. I reported this problem to the office manage and to the older vet. Nothing changed. AND, the 20-minute drive had doubled to 40-minute drive with traffic.I explained to the vet that I was not happy with the staff’s attitude.

    My animals now go to a wonderful vet clinic that is about 3-5 minute drive from the house.

  18. “Have you ever had to divorce your veterinarian?”

    I divorced a doctor that both my husband and I liked and relied on for years. I divorced another doctor — and he called me at home and trying to cajole me into coming back (both of these were in regard to breast cancer, sometime too important to mess around with). It wasn’t especially easy, but when it’s over, it’s over. As soon as you recognize that, it really is time to move on. That feeling changes your relationship with the doctor anyway.

    I’m currently flitting between vets, trying to find a good fit in a “limited market” of practitioners where we currently live. I think it is helpful to remember that “business is business” (of course they want you stay!) and you need to make the best possible choice for your pet, no matter how many cute reminder postcards they may send you, or fond memories of admiring or fussing over your dog. Dr. Nancy’s post pinpoints all the reasons why!

  19. I have divorced two vets because of the mistakes in the areas you listed. “Divorced” is the right word. Both divorces were an emotional roller coaster that left me feeling tremendous loss and grief. I stuck with them for decades before I let myself realize the problems. But the worst part of the divorces has been the difficulty I now have trusting any vet.

  20. Thank you for this article Nancy,
    I am asking permission to send this article to a vet I recently visited and who had a case of paternalistic even though she was a she : Maternalistic : )?
    She gave my dog an injection before I realized what she was doing and only gave me the name of the medicine without any explanation. She told my I was wrong about my pet even though she had never seen him before. (As an aside, I took my dog to another vet a few days later and he disagreed with her diagnosis without me saying a word about my interaction.)

    I would like to send her your article so it is not from another “disgruntled” customer/patient. I have not expressed my displeasure to her yet. This would be so helpful to explain to her why I will not come back and why I will not recommend her again as I had done in the past.

  21. I live at least 65 minutes from the very best vet I have ever used. I would recommend Dr. Pribble (Gentle Dr.) in Las Vegas NV to anyone. It is so hard to find a vet you can connect to and who actually listens.

  22. I left the arrogant do-it-yourselfer whose botched surgery required two additional surgeries (that I had to pay for) and wound up with one who was also incompetent, this time in diagnosis. Finding a good vet in a small town is harder than you’d think. People choose their vet because he goes to their church sometimes! I wound up with one whose biggest fault is not being available when there’s an urgency, so I stay on the books at the VCA / E.R. 30 minutes away as a back-up. I wish there were a veterinary specialty for geriatrics, because geriatric dogs need a vet with a wider knowledge base (in my sad experience)

  23. Many years ago my veterinarian was going through a difficult personal period — divorce due to his falling in love with someone not his wife. Not only did he seem distracted at times (understandable), but he would have relief vets in (he owned the practice) with no notice to his clients.

    I had moved with him from another practice when he went out on his own because I felt he was an outstanding veterinarian. I probably would have stuck with him through his rough period, except for the relief vet issue.

    See, he was a good 40 to 60 minutes away, and I passed at least a dozen practices to get to his. If I wanted to see a veterinarian I did not know, I could have stopped at any one of those. I asked him and his staff to call me for a reschedule if he was bringing in a relief vet. After the fifth or sixth time I showed up only to find he wasn’t there, I found another veterinarian.

    That “new” veterinarian has been my “primary care veterinarian” for 25 years and counting!