In March of 2009, Teresa and I found out that our daughter, Vetstreet pet-behavior expert Mikkel Becker, was pregnant, meaning we were going to be grandparents. After the tearful phone calls, the notifying of other family members and, yes, posting to social media, we helped Mikkel with the single most important item on her to-do list: Finding a pediatrician we would trust with this precious life.

Do you think we starting smiling-and-dialing though the list of Eastern Washington pediatricians to find the one who charged the least? Of course not! That’s absurd even to contemplate, but that’s how many people choose a doctor for a different family member: a pet.

Mikkel went through a thoughtful process of finding the best pediatrician's office, through recommendations from other new mothers, and asking at church and in other groups. She looked at online reviews and comments and also asked other health-care professionals (like M.D.s and dentists) for the inside word. Finally, she visited several pediatrician's offices to get a feeling for the team.

She selected Palouse Pediatrics in the college town of Pullman, Wash., and from the first visit she knew she’d found the right place, where the state-of-the-art met state-of-the-heart. Mikkel wanted competency, confidence, compassion and convenience. Regarding cost, she wanted the best value: Benefits divided by price, with benefits both perceived and received.

How does this story relate to choosing a family doctor for your pet?

I’m a veterinary insider, “America’s Veterinarian,” and I’ve been in hundreds of veterinary hospitals in my career. I have owned all or part of eight veterinary hospitals, and I still practice at two practices in Northern Idaho. I can tell you unequivocally:

  • Not all practices are equal. Some are incredible, others good, some OK, others deplorable.
  • It’s very difficult to compare based on prices.

Let’s say you call about teeth-cleaning for a dog. Clinic A might do pre-surgical blood tests, take digital dental radiographs, use pain meds before, during and after the procedure, use the very latest in gas anesthesia, monitor blood pressure and blood oxygen levels during the dental, have a nurse anesthetist, put sealants on the teeth, and use a laser to wipe across the gums so that it doesn’t swell as much. Clinic B, on the other hand, might not run blood tests (just assuming/hoping that the liver and kidneys can safely metabolize the anesthetic), use an older, less safe injectable anesthesia, do the procedure solo without monitoring, and not worry about the pet being in pain or discomfort. The first might be worth every penny of $500 while the other doesn’t even give effectiveness, safety and value even at $250.

Good medicine isn’t cheap, and cheap medicine isn’t good. You simply can’t have the latest technologies and training, the best-trained veterinary team, be able to emphasize safety and comfort for the patient, and make a modest living if you’re not charging fees commensurate with the value you’re providing pet owners and the pets you’re pledging to heal and protect.

Think of it this way: Like a pediatrician, veterinarians have to protect the best interests of a living being who can’t speak or advocate for himself or herself. In a real sense, we’re pediatricians for a pet’s entire life.

In choosing a veterinarian to care for your pets, follow the same steps that Mikkel used to find a pediatrician. And never, ever pick on price: Let value be your guide.