General veterinarians are well-known to the public.
People who have had an animal in their home have used their services.
Then there are also those who are called ‘specialists’ and their role is sometimes less well understood.
I have often seen pet owners who were totally unaware of their existence! It will not be possible to explain all the different veterinary specialties in this article. Fortunately, they will be discussed so that you can understand them better and know in what circumstances they can help you. Then, if one specialty intrigues you more than the others, let me know and I’ll do a dedicated article on it.
So, Dr. Frank, I have some questions for you about specialists, I hope you can help me.
To begin with, how many of these specialists are there?
In Quebec, there are about a hundred. In the United States alone, there are more than 10,000.
Just to make sure I understand, what does a specialist actually mean?
According to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association)1, it is a veterinarian who has completed additional training in a specific area of veterinary medicine and has passed an examination that evaluates his or her knowledge and skills in that specialty area.
In plain English, this means that once a veterinarian completes his or her veterinary course, he or she will complete an additional 3-6 years (internship and residency in general) and then take certification exams. Only after all this time will it be complete and officially recognized.
All of this may sound simple when you read it like that, but in reality, there is a great deal of difficulty in getting through this whole process. These successful people deserve all our admiration!
Dr. Franck, are there many of these types of specialties?
Depending on the country, the exact number varies.
We can say that there are about 20 that are recognized.
Here are some of them:
- Animal welfare
- Emergency and critical care
- Internal medicine, including cardiology, neurology, and oncology
- Laboratory animal medicine
- Poultry veterinarians
- Preventive medicine
- Sports medicine and rehabilitation
- Veterinary practitioners: Avian medicine, equine medicine, bovine medicine, feline medicine, canine/feline medicine, exotic pet mammal medicine, food animal medicine, dairy medicine, reptile and amphibian medicine, and swine health management
- Zoological medicine: veterinarians working with zoo collection animals, wildlife, aquatic species, and companion zoological animals.
So if I want to meet one of these specialists, where do I go?
Most of the time, they are grouped in veterinary centers.
The reason is simply that their practice is often complementary and this will increase the quality of care.
For example, if a dog arrives with an injury in the emergency room (so the emergency specialist will be there), he will then be admitted to the intensive care unit to evaluate an ophthalmological disorder (ophthalmologist). Then there will be abdominal surgery (surgeon) to check the source of potential bleeding.
Finally, he will go to internal medicine (internist) for another known concern for which he was already being followed.
Thank you, Dr. Franck, one last question for the road: when should I consider consulting a specialist?
An excellent question indeed.
Consider first that your local veterinarian is capable of doing most of the work that will be asked of him.
However, if despite his best efforts, your pet’s situation has not improved (i.e. a diagnosis that is more difficult to make, or a treatment that has not produced the expected results), if he knows the current problem but does not have the appropriate equipment, if his condition is critical or if he needs intensive care, then in all of these situations a specialist will be needed for you and your pet.
Budget accordingly, have an emergency fund for your furry friend, or buy insurance in advance (see my article here: What To Know About Pet Insurance: A Quick Guide) so that you are not restricted by this.
There you have it, I hope you are a little more enlightened about this option you have when misfortune strikes.
Tell me, I’m curious: have you ever had to deal with a specialist, and if so, what type of problem was it for?
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Francis Lagacé has been a member of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec since 2004. He practiced for 16 years in several veterinary clinics across Canada. He treated animals of all types, mainly cats, dogs and exotic animals (rabbits, rodents, ferrets, birds, reptiles). Since 2020 he has been working in the field of veterinary pharmacovigilance. You can find him on LinkedIn.