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Vets explained

Vets explained

Things to think about when choosing a vet for your pet

Are all vets registered?

Yes. A vet, also known as a veterinary physician, is someone who is qualified to treat unwell or injured animals. In the United Kingdom, all qualified vets are registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

What to look for in a vet

Veterinary practices range from small surgeries to large hospitals. If you’re in an area with several to choose from, it might be a good idea to visit a few. Most will be happy to show you around at an agreed time.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) suggests you look for:

  • A clean, well-maintained practice with good-sized consulting and waiting areas
  • Approachable and friendly staff
  • Signs that the practice is well organised, e.g. clearly displayed consultation times

It’s also worth exploring the practicalities of making a visit.

  • How easy is it to get to the practice from your home? This is especially important for emergencies
  • Is there a car park? Are there parking spaces nearby?
  • Are there good bus links to the practice?
  • How far away is your nearest out of hours practice?

In short, you want to feel confident that the practice team will give your pet the best level of care.

Finding a vet

Personal referrals are a good place to start when looking for a vet, so ask friends and family where they take their pets.

You can check the RCVS database to find vets all over the UK. You could also search with The Good Vet and Pet Guide or Vet Help Direct.

All registered vets are highly trained, but some also specialise in certain areas such as nutritional, dermatological and behavioural treatments. You can usually search online by specialist areas and you can also talk to any vet about their particular areas of expertise.

Most private vets won’t have a catchment area like GP surgeries do, so you can pick the one that feels right for you regardless of where they are. Veterinary hospitals run by charities usually do have a catchment area, and sometimes offer a service to help you find out if you are in their area. They include:

How to register with a vet

Once you’ve found a vet you like, the next step is to register with them. You can visit the surgery in person, or some will let you register online. To do this, you’ll need to have all the right information to hand when you register.

This includes straightforward things like your name, home address, and phone number as well as details about your pet.

The exact pet information needed will change from vet to vet, but it’s quite common to be asked for the following:

  • Your pet’s name
  • Your pet’s breed
  • Whether your pet has been neutered
  • Your pet’s age
  • If your pet has insurance
  • If your pet has a microchip
  • When your pet was last vaccinated and given worming/flea treatments
  • Your previous vet’s details

Home visits

Some vets offer home visits, in case you can’t get to the surgery. There’s usually a call-out fee, so it’s worth finding out before you use this service.

Vet services

Vets treat animals in lots of different ways, from performing surgery to providing pets with medication. Some of the more common services are explained below.


Your vet will check your pet’s wellbeing and might ask you a few routine questions about their eating and drinking habits and general health.

A typical check-up might cover the following:

  • Weight and body condition to make sure your pet isn’t over or underweight
  • Dental care to see if your pet’s teeth need cleaning
  • A check for fleas, ticks, and worms
  • Vaccinations and when you need to book the next one
  • General health, including checking your pet’s heart, lungs and coat

You may also want to ask the vet a few questions relating to neutering or spaying if your pet hasn’t been treated for this.

Vaccinations and boosters

Vaccinations can prevent some pets, such as cats, dogs and rabbits, from being at risk from many infectious diseases. When to visit your vet for a vaccination depends on what kind of pet you have.

Cats are typically vaccinated between nine and 12 weeks of age. For dogs, it’s typically when they’re between eight and 10 weeks old.

Rabbits have traditionally been given a combined vaccine from five weeks of age followed by a separate single vaccine when they’re 10 weeks old. Nowadays, you can get a single vaccine for all three of the main fatal diseases as soon as your rabbit is five weeks old.

Your vet will explain when booster jabs are needed and which vaccinations you might want to think about for your pet.


Vets can microchip pets, including cats, dogs and rabbits, to help identify them if they’re ever lost or stolen. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and contains a unique code. It is injected under your pet’s skin and the treatment is quick and believed to be relatively painless. After a slight prick when the microchip is inserted, your pet shouldn’t feel the microchip once it’s in place.

The law states that all dogs in the UK have to be microchipped before they are eight weeks of age. Dogs are only exempt if a vet certifies it should not be done for health reasons.

After your dog is microchipped, owners must register with an authorised database that keeps details of each unique code and the related pet and owner details. It is your responsibility as the owner to keep these details up to date. If you don’t, you may face fines or criminal prosecutions.

Some vets and animal charities might offer free microchipping – just talk to your vet or nearest centre to find out more. If you need any more info, our guide on microchipping explains everything you need to know.


Other services from vets

Vets might offer a reminder scheme for booster jabs. This can take the form of leaflets, reminder cards, text messages or emails.

Your vet may also get in touch to warn you of disease risks in your area. This information is also available at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

If you think you need to see a vet urgently

  1. Don’t panic
  2. Call your vet. All vets should provide 24-hour services, so keep your vet’s emergency contact number handy.
  3. If you’re not registered yet or can’t get through, call one of your local animal hospitals.

Vet fees

Veterinary surgeries, like all businesses, charge for their services. These costs can vary depending on things like where the vet surgery is and the treatment your pet needs.

There are a few ways to help with fees. The RSPCA or SSPCA offer a low-cost vet care option. This is offered to pet owners who need help and includes services such as neuteringmicrochipping and vaccinations. Talk to your local centre to find out more.

Pet insurance may help with the cost of treatment – up to the limits laid out when you purchase insurance – if your pet is injured or becomes ill. Each policy will offer cover for different things, so it’s a good idea to do some research. Some providers will offer various levels of cover as well as the option for additional extras so you can choose the cover you think you’re most likely to need. Have a look at the guide to Sainsbury’s Bank vet fees cover for more information on what can be protected by insurance. This can include costs involved in physiotherapy or acupuncture if your vet recommends it.

Resolving any issues

According to the BVA, if you have any concerns about your vet or veterinary practice, you should talk to your vet to clear up any misunderstandings.

If the issue relates to your vet’s conduct, contact the RCVS.

To keep on your vet’s good side, think about:

  • Notifying the practice as soon as possible if you can’t make your appointment
  • Arriving for appointments in plenty of time
  • Taking your pet in an appropriate carrier when necessary

Tips on looking after your pets

To help you and your pets get the best out of each other, we’ve created a series of guides packed with tips and helpful information. They cover everything from heading off on holiday with your pets to making sure they’re happy in your home.

Our guide hub

Our guide hub

This is the gateway to all of our handy guides

Pets from A to Z

Pets from A to Z

Our glossary of terms to demystify pet insurance

Happy and healthy pets

Happy and healthy pets

Tips to keep your cats and dogs healthy

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