Quality Standards for Veterinary Medical Care

How to know if your veterinarian is doing the job right.



Why is there so little standardization between vets? The best ones do extensive prep work, blood testing, fine needle aspiration, etc. and have one person on the heart monitor, one anesthetist, with 3 kinds of anesthesia while others have only one assistant who answers the phone during surgeries. Wouldn’t it make sense to standardize veterinary surgery, like human surgeons are held to certain standards? Most people believe that one vet is as good as another but that just isn’t so.


Dr. Nichol:

You have raised some important issues. You are right. There is a great deal of variance in the quality of pet health care. But there are standards and you can learn which animal hospitals do the job right.


The state Boards of Veterinary Medicine are charged with inspections of veterinary medical facilities as well as investigating complaints against veterinarians. But while there are minimum standards, there is no day to day oversight. Since almost all animal hospitals are independent businesses the owner of the clinic, the veterinarian, can run his or her operation pretty much as he or she sees fit. Fortunately most of us do a competent job of it.


That leaves a lot to the integrity of the individual, but there is a much higher standard. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is a voluntary organization with the mission of setting the bar much higher. Member hospitals are given strict requirements just like human hospitals for equipment, personnel, medical records, cleanliness, reference texts, and medical and surgical procedures. Anesthetic safety is among the most stringent. Only about 15% of animal hospitals are members of AAHA. Membership in AAHA is voluntary, expensive, and is contingent upon passing inspections. If your veterinary hospital belongs, they probably do the job right.


Because of the cost of membership plus the expense of staff and equipment, fees are usually higher at higher quality animal hospitals. And we live in a free market society. I can say from experience that not every pet owner is willing to pay the cost of the very best care. Some of us see our pets as our children. Others see them as just animals. In keeping with differing consumer demands you will find animal hospitals that cater to each. To find one whose mission fits your feelings about your pets, ask for a tour of the facility. Ask if the hospital is a member of AAHA. Lastly, if it “feels” right develop a relationship with the staff so they know you when you call. Your observation that the best veterinarians do extensive diagnostic work and preparation for surgery is accurate.