Choosing a Veterinarian
Carol Raczyhowski

(Reprinted with permission from Pygmy Goat WORLD magazine)

One of your most important goat-raising tools is a good veterinarian. Choosing a doctor is a big decision - one you need to make before you really need one..

The easiest way to locate a suitable veterinarian is by recommendation from one or more experienced goat breeders in your area. Feed store employees can direct you the right way, too. Not all large animal vets take interest in goats, but if you have one nearby, you are very lucky. If there are no other enthusiasts to point you in the right direction, here are some suggestions that may help you locate a veterinarian who will meet your needs.

Location is a practical consideration. Make a list of veterinarians in your area and start the elimination process.

Experience. One of the first questions to ask whether or not he/she has any practical experience with small ruminants in general, and goats specifically. The ideal is a vet with interest and experience in goats, but any hands-on experience with sheep or llamas will be beneficial.This is an important consideration because there are many differences between ruminants and small companion animals. For example, calcium deficiency in dogs creates muscle spasms, but in the small ruminant it results in limp muscles - the exact opposite. Small animal veterinarians may not be aware of these differences or have reference literature on hand in an emergency. Some veterinarians are quite frank in saying that they don't treat livestock. Maybe they are interested in learning, or maybe not. You can't force them to. They are honest about their education and interests and deserve respect for their forthrightness. After all, you wouldn't go to a gynecologist for foot problems. Veterinarians are no different - their interest lies in certain fields. Try to find one that works with small ruminants.

As a novice, I did not have a Pygmy goat veterinarian. When my favorite doe went into labor and had a very difficult presentation I called my horse veterinarian. He said he had never worked on a Pygmy goat before and was not pleased to do so now. But, it was an emergency situation. He finally got the kids delivered but damaged the doe with his large hands. So, another asset to place on your wish list is a veterinarian with small hands.

Willingness to treat goats is another prerequisite. Some veterinarians just don't want to treat small ruminants. Find a veterinarian who wants to treat goats and to work with you. A good vet may not know a great deal about goats but is eager to learn and work with you. Your herd's health program and treatments are a joint effort. You and your vet are a team. A veterinarian with this outlook is a definite asset. Personal and professional attitude are both important. One of my veterinarian's associates was on call one evening when I had an emergency. When I questioned his diagnosis, he informed me He was the vet, not me. That should have been my first clue. I lost my pregnant to his inaccurate drug dosage.

Will you be assured of dealing with your specific veterinarian at any time, or will you see an associate you don't know? Find out when your veterinarian works. Does he/she do farm calls? Is he/she difficult to reach? Is he/she available after hours or on days off? If not, who takes the calls then? The ideal is to rely on one or two veterinarians you trust. But if you choose a clinic with multiple doctors, at times you may have to deal with someone you don't really care for. A sick goat won't wait for the right veterinarian to come on duty in an emergency.

Set up a get-acquainted interview with prospective veterinarians. You can meet the vets, see their facilities, etc. Take a list of questions that will help you decide if he/she is the right choice for you. In addition to the questions raised here, ask others that are important to you. Are all services paid for in cash when service is rendered? Are their charges similar to other vets in the area? How long has the vet been in practice? Can they recommend a herd health program based on your needs? Are they familiar with vaccination and parasite treatments for goats? These and other questions are clues to what the vet knows and how willing they are to learn if they don't.

When you have finally found a great veterinarian, rest assured that when you need him/her the most, he/she will be at a convention learning new skills. The best vet in the world needs some down time, so be prepared, if you can, with alternatives.

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