You’re right smack in the middle of a holiday weekend when you notice something about your rabbit is off. She’s hunched over, not eating, and grinding her teeth. Your guinea pig starts sneezing uncontrollably. A nasty discharge starts oozing from your chinchilla’s nose or eyes. Either/or, they're all bad and equally scary. Of course, this kind of thing always seems to happen over a long weekend, right? The question is: what are you gonna do? Finding a vet during an emergency is hard. We always recommend that you have one established before you need 'em.
STEP 1: Go To Trusted Resources
1. ASK OTHER PET PARENTS
You may just find the absolute best veterinarian through word-of-mouth from other pet parents. You probably already belong to a Facebook or another social media page dedicated to rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, or other small animals. Post a message asking other pet parents in your area to share recommendations.
Ask questions of those pet parents who offer suggestions: What do they like about the vet? What don’t they like? How long have they been going to the vet? If they’re a former client, why did they leave?
2. CONSULT THE HOUSE RABBIT SOCIETY
The House Rabbit Society (HRS) features a page listing those vets both in the United States and internationally who work with rabbits. While the HRS doesn’t specifically endorse the vets on the list, many have been added due to experienced rescuers’ and pet parents’ recommendations.
3. CONSULT THE ASSOCIATION OF EXOTIC MAMMAL VETERINARIANS
Another great resource for finding exotic vets is the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (AEMA). Click here to go to the website. Put in your address, distance of up to 100 miles, and voila! You’ll have a list of the exotic vets within so many miles of your home.
4. CONTACT LOCAL VETS
Call local veterinarians, a tip from the HRS, to find out to which veterinarian that vet sends serious rabbit, guinea pig, or chinchilla cases. Make a list of all the names you are given for the next step in your research.
5. CHECK THE PHONE BOOK
Open the Yellow Pages and make a list of the exotic vets in your region.
STEP 2: Prepare Your Questions
By now, you should have a list of potential veterinarians. Before you call anyone, write down a list of questions to ask each vet, such as:
- How long have you worked with exotics?
- Do you attend continuing education?
- How many rabbits/guinea pigs/chinchillas do you see in a typical week?
- How many rabbits/guinea pigs/chinchillas do you alter a typical month?
- Do you recommend that a rabbit fast prior to surgery? (The answer should be a resounding NO!)
- What is your standard protocol for treating (choose an illness common with your small pet; such as GI stasis with rabbits).
This, of course, is just a partial list. Add questions that are relevant to you and your pet.
Step Three: Call Your Top Vets
Pick the top four or five vets on your list and call each one. Ask the vet the questions you’ve prepared and, if you have any other questions, ask them, too. Your ultimate goal is to find a vet in whom you feel confident and with whom you feel comfortable.
Step Four: Choose A Vet
Choose a vet from those to whom you have spoken. (Or, if you aren’t confident with any of them, go back and call a few more.) Base your choice on such factors as experience, knowledge, and your comfort level with the vet. If the best vet is 25 or 30 miles away, drive the distance. It will certainly be worth the time and the effort when your pet needs veterinary care.
Step Five: Build A Relationship
Your pet’s health and wellbeing is your top priority. Building a relationship with your vet is just as important. You’ll typically find it easier to make an appointment in an emergency or at the last minute when you have a relationship with your vet. Here are a few other simple things you can do to build that all-important relationship:
1. MAKE A WELLNESS APPOINTMENT
Make an appointment for an initial wellness visit. Collect all of the previous veterinary records you have for your pet to provide to the new veterinary practice. Write down your pet’s medical history, including dates of illnesses, injuries, treatment, and so on, if you do not have veterinary records.
2. BE HONEST
Talk openly with your vet. If you feed your rabbit a little too many pellets, for example, just say so. If you can’t afford a particular treatment, tell him. Your vet can only help you and your pet if he has the right information.
Answer all of his questions the best you can and listen carefully to the responses. If you have questions, ask.
3. BE RESPECTFUL
Show up to appointments on time or a few minutes early, if possible. Follow the instructions the vet gives you as closely as you can and keep your vet informed of any changes in your pet’s health or care.
Now you can breathe a sigh of relief. Add the vet’s phone number to your speed dial. And, all that’s left to do is sit back and enjoy your time with your beloved friend.