Just as important as choosing the right Shih Tzu is choosing the right vet to care for him. I am a believer in doing your homework and taking the time to investigate your options. This way, you'll be making sure that your pet gets the best care possible.
1. Ask your breeder and other dog owners for recommendations, since no reputable breeder would use a vet that is unprofessional or incompetent. The breeder cares about his animals' health, and they cannot make money from sick animals. If a breeder's referral isn't possible, talk to fellow dog owners and get their opinions.
2. Look for a vet who specializes in small dogs. All veterinarians will have the basic knowledge required to treat serious conditions, but only a vet who is familiar with small dogs, especially Shih Tzu, will understand the very specific health needs of smaller, toy dogs. Don't be afraid to ask the vet about their experience with small dogs, since they get these questions all the time, and they know you are just looking out for your furry little friend. Like you, they love animals too, and want to set your mind at ease.
3. Choose a vet that is friendly, patient and with a good bedside manner, who is properly qualified and knowledgeable about your dog breed. Having a relationship with your vet means being able to voice your fears and concerns to them so they can help you understand that your Shih Tzu is getting the best care possible. When you find a vet you like, I recommend you stick with them! Over time, your vet and your dog will get to know each other personally and develop a trust.
4. Ensure that your vet's offices are clean and well-equipped with modern supplies. Just because a vet is expensive doesn't mean that they will have the most sanitary conditions or the most welcoming office. Safety and comfort are the two biggest consideration for you and your Shih Tzu, so ask for a guided tour. Everything should be spotless and modern. Many offices spend a lot of money on the front area to make it look like a doggy day spa, but in reality the heart of the operation is in the back: look at the surgery room, the kennels, and the supply room. I encourage you to judge for yourself if this is an environment where you would feel comfortable leaving your pet.
5. Find out about what Associations the vet belongs to, since a vet that will be a member of a small-dogs association, or better still a Shih-Tzu club, will have far more expertise in caring for your pet than another vet that is more generalized. Believe me, vets are people too, and they have preferences and specialties. You may never know about them unless you ask.
6. Your vet's location and hours of operation are also important factors when trying to choose the best care for your Shih Tzu. Is the vet close enough for you to get to in case of an emergency? What are the surgery hours for the vet? Are emergency after-hour contacts available? I find that these days, vets with longer working hours are a great find for people who work long hours and would have trouble getting to a 9 to 5 clinic.
7. What kind of costs are you looking at? You should find out about standard charges for visits, shots, surgeries, and optional procedures. Also have a look at the costs for recommended pet foods and medicines. You want a vet that deals in quality, but you also don't need to break the bank to get proper care for your Shih Tzu.
8. Find out about alternative therapies that your vet offers. Depending on whether or not you are a believer in alternative pet care (like Natural Pet Medicine), you will want to find a vet that shares your views, or perhaps you want to ensure that you have more than just the standard care options.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you be comfortable with your choice of vet. After looking at the offices, speaking to the people who work there, and following the tips described above, you'll have a great insight into whether this is the right vet for you and your dog.