By Hillary Frank, DVM, Dipl. ABVP (avian)
If you have seen a medical or surgical specialist, you know how they made a difference in your level of care, often speeding the process of returning to health. You can also choose a veterinarian that is a specialist for your pet.
The amount of new information and knowledge regarding the medical field continues to increase dramatically. Your family physician no longer does most types of surgery, since a board certified surgeon has more experience and knowledge in this area, and a cardiologist can provide the best options for heart and blood vessel diseases.
In the past, your veterinarian treated the family horses and cows as well as the pet dogs and cats at the house. Like human medicine, some veterinarians have a special interest and choose to specialize in one type of medicine or surgery or one particular species type. Now there are specialists in many areas of veterinary medicine.
To become a veterinarian, it takes four years of undergraduate college followed by four more years of intensive training at an accredited veterinary college. Veterinarians that become specialists must then follow the requirements decided by each specialty board. Either a two-year residency at a university veterinary hospital or six years of specific clinical veterinary practice is required. Then, the veterinarian can submit an application for specialty certification, which includes two case reports suitable for publication, references, and documentation of extensive continuing education. If the board accepts the application, the veterinarian must then pass a two-day examination to be considered a specialist.
In the Phoenix area, we have many types of veterinary specialists. Some specialists have extra training in specific species groups, such as horses (equine), birds (avian), reptile/amphibian (snakes, lizards, tortoises and frogs), small exotic mammals (rabbits, rodents, ferrets), dogs (canine), and cats (feline) and are granted Diplomate status by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. ABVP is similar to Family Practice (ABFP) in human medicine and is based upon excellence in general clinical practice.
Neurologists treat brain or nervous system disorders. For pets with skin problems, dermatologists are available to help. Ophthalmologists treat pets for many eye diseases, like cataract removal and glaucoma treatment. Board certified surgeons are available for many types of surgeries, including complicated fracture repairs or skin grafts. Internal medicine specialists treat for disorders such as diabetes, cancer, or liver disease.
Should your pet see a specialist? If your pet has unusual or nonspecific signs or is not responding to treatment, a specialist can often find the problem more quickly and determine the most effective course of action. This can also be more cost effective in the long run. Also, a specialist will have a high level of skill and expertise to perform many different tests and procedures. Just like with your own health care team, your primary care veterinarian can work with the veterinary specialists to ensure your pet receives optimal care to keep happy and healthy.