What Is a Veterinary Specialist?

Vet Specialist
Vet Specialist

Depending on the complexity or specificity of your pet’s condition, a veterinarian may refer you to or seek the advice of a veterinary specialist. Veterinary specialists have a narrow area of focus and considerable experience in treating certain conditions, depending on their specialty.

When You’ll Need a Veterinary Specialist

Here is an example of a patient that needed a veterinary specialist. Penny, a 4-month-old Golden Retriever, was taken to her veterinarian for a wellness check up and vaccines. During the exam, her veterinarian heard a heart murmur. Due to the presence of the murmur, she was referred to a veterinary cardiologist, which is a type of veterinary specialist. At her specialty examination, an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) was performed and she was diagnosed with a birth defect that required corrective surgery. A veterinary surgeon consulted on her case and she was taken for surgery the following day under the guidance of a veterinary anesthesiologist. She responded positively to her surgery and recovered at home with follow-up instructions.

What It Takes to Be a Veterinary Specialist

Just like in human medicine, veterinarians have the option of completing advanced clinical training in one specific area of medicine. A veterinary specialist has completed veterinary school (typically 4 years), an internship (typically 1 year), and a residency training program (typically 2-3 years). After this training, they must pass a difficult board examination to receive their certification. There are 22 distinct veterinary specialty organizations that are recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Typically, if your pet has a condition that requires more advanced testing or treatment, your veterinarian will refer you to a veterinary specialist. They have access to specialized equipment, updates on the latest research on conditions that fall under their area of expertise, and the ability to synchronize treatment options with other specialists.

Essentially, vet specialists provide more options for the treatment of your pet. They will work with your veterinarian to deliver a comprehensive treatment plan for any potential condition or diagnosis.

Examples of veterinary specialty areas of medicine include:

  • Anesthesia
  • Behavior
  • Dentistry
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency and Critical Care
  • Internal Medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Nutrition
  • Ophthalmology
  • Pathology
  • Radiology
  • Surgery
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