Vet Talk

To Yelp or Not to Yelp

Online reviewers may not have the same preferences as you

June 1, 2015 (published)

In the old days, before a beautician was a stylist, if you got a bad perm, you didn’t go back. You might have told a few good friends where not to go to avoid your Bride of Frankenstein look, but you didn’t feel the need to warn the entire metropolitan area of two-million-plus about your misfortune. However, times have changed and now if your mani-pedi doesn’t last, despite that weekend of heavy concrete work, your outrage can be broadcast with anonymity (unless you add in a selfie) as a “one star out of five” review.

That’ll show them.

Get a group of veterinarians together and you’ll get mixed reactions as to how much angst they have about online reviews. Some feverishly work to capture the coveted five-star reviews and sweat over the less favorable ones. Others maintain that they don’t care; in fact, they don’t even read the review sites. And still others pay some attention to what the reviewers say, but don’t fall on the sword over it. You can’t please all the people all the time, they say with a shrug, although they try.

But, gentle reader, you are probably wondering: When I have just moved into a new city or neighborhood and I’m looking for quality veterinary care for my pooch, where do I go? It’s a fair enough question. Much depends on how much trust you have in the reviews of people you don’t know. People, for example, who might think that the scrumptious pizza you devour whenever possible, is only “Meh,” to use a common dissing review term used by the very, very bored.

So how much does the anonymous pizza expert know about veterinary care? I honestly don’t know and, the fact is, neither do you. It’s a roll of the dice. Obviously, if you stumble upon a hospital unfortunate enough to garner 80-plus single stars, it might be best to go elsewhere. But whether a slew of five stars in a start-up is better than three and one-half or four stars in a practice that has been around for 10-plus years, that’s debatable. It’s tough to make everyone happy, 24/7/3,652 (in the case of a decade-old hospital).

You also need to sift through reviews carefully, because while you might think the sky is sky blue, there are those who believe it is actually smog-choked. Are you all talking about the same sky? Who should you (or I) believe? When surfing the sites you’ll need to judge for yourself if it’s really true that a client came in with a cat who was able to walk normally and left with the same cat all-but-paralyzed? Having been the veterinarian who actually saw that poor, moribund cat with sheet-white gums and end-stage renal failure who garnered the one-star review alleging same, I will tell you that kitty was not strutting about the exam table when I entered the room. In fact, he couldn’t so much as lift his wizened head off the urine-soaked towel he came in on and the client declined any treatment, leaving in a huff to seek acupuncture for her unfortunate feline.

Going back to the question of where to find your new veterinarian, you have some options. You could ask your current veterinarian for a recommendation. You might be surprised how far her reach is. The Veterinary Information Network (VIN), the parent of VetzInsight, is an online community of over 50,000 veterinary colleagues worldwide and can be used by your present doctor to help you find one or more in your new location. Oft-overlooked referral sources are the websites of the American Animal Hospital Association, American Association of Feline Practitioners, and American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Interested in complementary care for your animal companion? Then check out the websites of the Chi Institute, the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, and the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association for listings of their graduates. Don't forget the tried and true word of mouth: ask someone you actually have a relationship with, such as your co-worker, a neighbor, or friend. Getting a recommendation from a real, live person beats taking the word of the Pizza Nazi any day.

I’ve also counseled clients who are moving to far-flung reaches that you can check a prospective veterinarian by taking your dog or cat in for an exam or a nail trim. This should give you a general idea of how a practice operates. If you like the hospital’s vibe, you can return for additional services; if not, keep on truckin’. If nothing else, your pet will have some of the shortest nails ever.

Of course, if you’re happy with your veterinarian and the staff, no reason not to shout it from the rooftops or social media. However, it’s especially nice if you take a minute to say so in person. Some positive reinforcement, a smile and a handshake for a job well done can often make a good day better and a bad day easier to bear. Not much for talking? Send a handwritten note or e-mail, even if it’s a few lines. Good human contact is the stuff that tends to stay with us for a long time to come and is remembered on those days when nothing seems to go as it should, despite our best efforts.

No discussion of online reviews would be complete without addressing what to do when you are displeased with the services your pet (and you, by extension) have received. While it seems horrendously old-fashioned, the best approach is to man (or woman) up, arrange to meet with the hospital owner or business manager, and tell them how you feel. But a word to the wise: When you do go in, channel your higher self, please, and not Carrie or those creepy, nasty spirits at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  You might be angry, but it’s best to count to ten or use the non-alcoholic, non-substance self-soother of your choice before the meeting so that a rational and meaningful discussion can be held.

When push comes to shove, most veterinarians are people pleasers right down to their DNA. It’s a fact of life and one of our faults. We want to do a good job, make your pet as healthy as we can, and work with you, as you’ll allow, to try and make it so. It’s easy in a fit of pique to pick the single star, write your nastygram and hit “Send.”

But I’ll bet Mom reared you better than that.

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