Mar 31 2016

From the pet owner’s mouth: What an AAHA-accredited practice means to me

“Never say never” is the expression. However, in this instance, I will say it: I would never take my pets to a nonaccredited veterinary practice.

I’ve been around the veterinary industry for over 20 years, writing and broadcasting about companion animals. I’ve presented at all the major U.S. veterinary conferences on numerous occasions, and have spoken at veterinary conferences and shelter events around the world. I’m also a certified animal behavior consultant. Still, I’m not a veterinarian. At the end of the day, I am just another pet owner, albeit an educated one.

The truth is, not all veterinary practices are equal. If you want the very best for your pet, there’s truly only one way to know your veterinary hospital is a cut above the rest: AAHA accreditation.

Even the savviest pet owners can’t possibly know which anesthetic cocktail is being delivered or the type of continuing education the credentialed veterinary technicians at a particular practice receive, how efficiently vaccines are being stored or whether appropriate pain management based on AAHA’s guidelines is offered behind the scenes.

AAHA accreditation—a designation earned by only 15 percent of veterinary hospitals in the U.S. and Canada—assures pet owners that these and a gazillion other standards (over 900, actually) are being met or exceeded.

I am not suggesting nonaccredited veterinary hospitals cannot excel. In fact, many do. However, there’s no way for clients to know their pets are receiving the best care without AAHA accreditation.

Established in 1933 by leaders in the veterinary profession, AAHA was created to follow the human medicine accreditation model for those going above and beyond the legal requirements. However, even all these years later, AAHA is the only available hospital accreditation in veterinary medicine.

To become accredited, comprehensive evaluations by AAHA veterinary specialists are performed to assess each practice on AAHA’s standards of excellence. It is expected that the standards include specific equipment and medical protocols; however, even recordkeeping and an appropriate greeting on the telephone are included. Accreditation isn’t only for the doctors, either—it’s for the entire staff.

Of course, veterinary medicine is always changing. To ensure AAHA practices are maintaining relevance, practices are reevaluated every three years.

Here’s how strongly I feel about AAHA accreditation:

I currently serve as the board vice president of Tree House Humane Society, a cat-only shelter in Chicago. The Tree House’s novel idea to maintain cats in a house setting was appealing when a Chicago brownstone apartment building was converted to a cat shelter in 1971.

Today, that brownstone—never meant as a cat shelter—is about 100 years old. It’s clear we require a new facility, which includes a veterinary hospital. You bet I am an unwavering advocate for our new hospital to receive AAHA accreditation. And I’m not alone—our board president, Colleen Currigan, DVM and president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), agrees.

Of course, money is tight at any animal welfare organization, and unlike a private business, a board of directors is deciding on the spending of donor dollars. Still, Currgian and I both agree AAHA accreditation is well worth the initial investment. I’m confident that in the future, more animal shelter hospitals will also seek accreditation. While shelter medicine is different, it is no less important that these animals receive the best possible care.

Our cat, Roxy, loves visiting Currigan at AAHA-accredited Cat Hospital of Chicago and our dogs, Ethel and Hazel, routinely drag me in the door of AAHA-accredited Blum Animal Hospital (former owner, Sheldon Rubin, DVM, was named AAHA’s 2003 Practitioner of the Year).

If you want the best, and want to be assured of the very best for your pets, look for the AAHA logo on your veterinary hospital’s website and their front door, or visit the AAHA hospital locator at

Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior consultant, co-editor of “Decoding Your Dog,” authored by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and the host of two national radio shows, including Steve Dale’s Pet World on WGN radio in Chicago, Illinois. His blog is

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