At San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, we’re often asked by our clients why their pet was referred to a specialist. What’s the difference in a specialist and a general (or primary) veterinarian? At SFVS, we believe that the partnership among you, your veterinarian and our medical team helps to ensure the most comprehensive care possible for your pet. Our team of doctors keeps both you and your pet’s general veterinarian updated on your pet’s condition. We recently came across two articles on the what’s, when’s and why’s of veterinary specialists. Below are excerpts and links to the full articles. As always, feel free to comment or send questions to us!
Veterinary specialists—experts in everything from anesthesia to zoological medicine—were all but unheard of when most of us were young (and romping with the dogs of our childhood). The first specialties were recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in the 1950s, when the association established the American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS) to serve as an umbrella organization for all AVMA-recognized specialty groups.
Today, the ABVS represents 39 distinct specialties, which are practiced by members of 20 specialty organizations, some of which encompass several disciplines (for example, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, or ACVIM, covers large and small animal internal medicine, plus oncology, cardiology and neurology). More than 9,000 U.S. veterinarians—roughly 9 percent of all vets in the country—are card-carrying members, or board-certified diplomates, of these organizations. To obtain diplomate status, a vet must complete postgraduate coursework and residency and pass a certification exam. In some cases, that means several years of additional training after vet school.
(Note: This post is from a general veterinarian’s perspective. The list of issues is the writer’s own opinion, not set-in-stone guidelines. You’ll see there are differing opinions in the comments section of the Dolittler blog.)
So where does that leave pet owners who really need to know when it’s best their pet see a specialist? Kind of in limbo, I would think, considering that every veterinarian has their own personal philosophy on this issue. And because this is my blog, I’ll offer you mine.
To that end, here are the top ten problems for which I recommend specialists:
#1 Any second opinion.
#2 Any lack of trust (a corollary to #1).
#3 Any legal matter.
#4 Any orthopedic surgery or thoracic surgery.
#5 Any exploratory surgery.
#6 Any time it takes more than a trio of visits to solve a problem.
#7 When better equipment is required.
#8 Any heart murmur.
#9 Every X-ray or ultrasound image.
#10 Every time critical care is required.