Often your location will have a big influence: travelling with pets can be hard and often we need to take pets to the vet before or after work which doesn't leave much time. Check on candidate vets opening hours and see if these will fit with your work hours. What if your pet gets sick on the weekend. Many vets open Saturday or even on Sunday and public holidays for emergencies, and some vets will offer a 24 hour emergency service.
Getting advice from friends and family is a great way to get first hand subjective information about vets, but nothing beats visiting the practices you are considering to get a feel for them. Ideally, take your pet if this won't stress them too much! It won't be much fun dragging your dog into the vet clinic for the next 10 years! Most vets would be happy to give you a tour of their facilities (with adequate notice) which can tell you a lot about what goes on behind the scenes. Make it clear you are choosing a practice, which gives the vet clinic the opportunity to identify and meet your needs. Check the vets and staff seem friendly and helpful (though remember a vet practice can be very busy or even stressful if there are emergencies or major cases).
Remember all practices are different and some will have obvious strengths and weaknesses whereas others might take more investigation.
Checking the vet's website you are interested can be very helpful: it can give you useful background information; for example does the clinic have online pet care information on local problems or common emergencies. Do they just treat dogs and cats or do they treat other species also? There might even be video or photo tours of the practice.
If you have special needs: eg. your pet has a long term medical condition or you have an unusual breed or exotic pet, ask if there are any vets with a special interest in these areas. There may be a vet clinic which one or more vets with a lot of experience or interest.
Ask about the facilities in the practice: your local vets won't do CAT scans or MRI, but they should have the basics such as surgical facilities, x-ray, dental equipment and blood testing laboratory facilities. Some vets may have more advanced resources such as orthopedic surgical equipment, advanced anaesthetic safety equipment, digital radiology or
Ask also about the philosophy of the practice. The best vet clinics will focus on preventative care, patient safety, client education, your pets well-being and delivering high quality medicine and surgery. Some vets may be aiming to keep everything as cheap as possible, or just struggling to get to the end of another day. Clearly one vet can't be everything to all people, so be sure of what you are looking for in your vet
Check on opening hours and services: for example some vets may do house calls. There are also house call vet services, but unless they have a clinic they work from they may not have a lot of the basic equipment other vets use every day which can limit their services or even result in misdiagnosis.
All vets are required to have a 24 hour emergency arrangement, but in many cases they may refer the work to another practice. Make sure you check on this because it can be unnerving to have to call an unknown vet when you are most in need of a familiar and trusted service. In most large cities almost all the after hours is done by after hours emergency centres: one advantage of this is the vets may have special skills and equipment, and may provide overnight monitoring of critically ill patients. In smaller cities vets may do their own after hours or may refer to or share after hours with another clinic.
Prices will vary from practice to practice, but be aware that many practices will discount "shoppable" items like vaccinations or de-sexing, but may be much more expensive when it comes to treating an emergency like tick paralysis or a broken leg. Some practices may be cheaper because they have lower overheads: this can translate to not being able to treat these sorts of emergencies (or even offering emergency services). The best vet practices quality practices will pay better wages to attract the best vets and qualified vet nurses, and invest thousands of dollars more a year in training ever staff member to ensure they can give the best vet care to your pet. When you choose a practice based on price alone, you won't always find out what has been skimped on! What you really want is value: high quality services at a fair price.
Once you choose a vet, it is best to register your details, and maybe take your pet in to be weighed. Give them a treat or reward during and after to establish a positive association. A great place to start with a young dog is with puppy preschool. If you have an older pet who is scared of the vet, friendly staff or even an animal behaviorist can help make them feel more comfortable. You can arrange to transfer your pets prior history from your old vet so it will be on hand in the event of an emergency.
Its worth taking the time to choose the right vet, but its often not useful to chop and change: it can be stressful for you and your pet and you will never develop a personal relationship with any vet. Finding the best vet for your pet can be hard work but its a great feeling when you do.