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If you have a pet, then you need a vet. Don’t wait until your new family member needs shots, is ill or has been hit by a car to frantically search for a veterinarian. As soon as you bring your new pet home, or move to a new area, finding a good vet should be high on your to-do list. Follow these steps to find the perfect doctor for your pet.

Ask around. Checking with local friends or family members is a good place to start. You can also get recommendations from your dog trainer or groomer, local pet sitters, or a reputable animal shelter in your area. It’s a good idea to ask people who are familiar with or own your type of pet—for instance, if you have cat, ask friends who also have cats for recommendations.

Look for a vet with expertise in your type of pet. Some breeds, such as English bulldogs or German shepherds, have specialized needs or are prone to unusual health issues. Or maybe you own an exotic animal such as a snake or rare bird. If your pet falls into this category, make sure you find a vet who is well-versed in the breed. You can even find specialized veterinary practices, such as offices for cats only.

Check credentials. Your vet should have proof of graduation from an accredited veterinary college. Membership in the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is another good yardstick—this means the veterinary office meets AAHA standards for facility, equipment and care. Visit the AAHA website to find accredited vets in your area.

Visit the offices. Once you have some potential vets in mind, ask if you can tour the office and meet the veterinarians. Pay attention to how clean and up-to-date the facilities are, and how helpful and friendly the staff is. It’s also important for both you and your pet to have a good rapport with the vet. Do they explain things clearly, answer questions thoughtfully and put your pet at ease?

Payments. Find out what types of payment the vet accepts, standard fees (such as how much it costs for an office visit) and any discounts (such as for multiple pets or if you’ve adopted a rescue animal). Be sure you understand your payment responsibilities. Also ask if the vet offers any type of flexible payment options or in-house preventive plans and what pet insurance plans they work with.

Plan for emergencies. Ideally, your regular vet will offer emergency or 24-hour care at their location. If not, ask them to recommend a local 24-hour veterinary office you can use in case of emergency. Then be sure to put both vets’ contact information and addresses into your smartphone and/or car GPS system. You don’t want to be looking up addresses at 2 a.m. while wrestling an injured animal into your car.

Rieva Lesonsky is an entrepreneur, best-selling author and self-educated health nut. Follow her @Rieva.

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