What is a Veterinary Specialist?

After 4 months of ignoring my upset stomach (which I will spare you of the details) I decided to seek the advice of my primary care physician. He was an older doctor with years of experience in family medicine, that had the unique quality of enjoying listening to his patients and providing excellent evidence based choices. After an hour-long consultation he offered me many suggestion to help resolve my current clinical signs. What stood out most at that time was his strong recommendation to have a consultation with a SPECIALIST that dealt with diarrhea. Based on my persistant clinical signs and family history of colitis he felt I required the expertise of a specialist. I always knew that medical specialists existed but thought that you needed to be in a hospital setting to require their services.

Just as you have your own primary care physician, your pet has its own primary care VETERINARIAN, known as the general practitioner. And like my doctor referred me to the care of a specialist, your general practitioner may feel your pet needs the aid of a veterinary specialist in the diagnosis and/or treatment of a particularly complicated medical or surgical problem.

What is a veterinary specialist?

While your general practitioner veterinarian can handle many aspects of your pet’s care, there is sometimes a need for the attention of a specialist. Veterinary specialists can bring a greater understanding and have may have knowledge of the unusual, the uncommon, or rare diseases or clinical situations in dogs and cats. Veterinary specialists often have access to specialized diagnostic or treatment tools that a general practitioner veterinarian may not have in their practice.

To become a veterinary general practitioner, one must complete an undergraduate degree and four years of veterinary studies. In addition, a veterinary specialist, similar to their human medical counterparts, must complete a year long internship followed by a three to four year residency in a specialized field. Not only has a veterinary specialist completed additional training in a specific area of veterinary medicine, but they must pass a rigorous set of examinations to achieve board certification from their respective specialty college. Currently, there are 22 recognized veterinary specialty organizations comprising 41 distinct specialties.

Why does my pet need a veterinary specialist?

The specialist’s expertise complements that of your veterinarian. It’s critical that you, your veterinarian and we as specialist communicate and work together to provide the best care for your pet. In many cases, your regular veterinarian will still supervise your pet’s veterinary care, especially if your pet is coping with multiple disease states or conditions. In other cases, the specialist will take over the majority of your pet’s medical care. It depends on your pet’s particular disease and health problem. We as veterinary specialists act as extensions of your general practitioners’ practice by
allowing them to increase the scope of medical options they can offer to
clients and patients.

Usually, your veterinarian will make a recommendation to
see a specialist. However, you can also request to see a specialist if you have
concerns regarding your pet’s health. We encourage you to discuss options with your family veterinarian.

You can be assured that a veterinarian who knows when to refer you and your pet for more specialized diagnostic work or treatment is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of medical care for his or her problem.

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