Seeing your pet sick is hard enough, but what happens if your veterinarian seems to be stumped as well? Increasingly, veterinarians and pet owners are turning to the skills and special talents of the veterinary specialist. More than 25 different specialties are available, helping pets with everything from cancer to broken legs. In fact, there are more than 8,000 veterinary specialists across the US providing rare treatment and diagnostic abilities.
For most pets, the family veterinarian is the one and only doctor that they will need for their entire lives. But, for some pets, their cases, and sometimes their lives are dependent on the knowledge inside the Veterinary Specialist.
It has been said that a veterinarian is actually several human doctors rolled up into one individual, guiding our pets from birth all the way to grave. But new advances in medicine have helped to breed a new type of veterinarian. Like their human counterparts, these veterinary specialists focus on specific areas of interest and, in turn, help pets and owners with their expertise and concentrated knowledge.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) first recognized the American College of Veterinary Pathologists and the American Board of Veterinary Public Health back in 1950. Since the early recognition of these specialists, the number of specialist organizations, also known as boards or colleges, has grown to more than 25 individual specialties. For Cocker Spaniels and Persian cats with heart problems, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine has veterinary cardiologists ready to help. If your Labrador Retriever ruptures his cruciate ligament during Frisbee toss, you might appreciate the skills of a surgeon from the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. The AVMA reports that more than 8,000 veterinary specialists are currently practicing and helping those pets with special needs. Similar specialization has occurred in Europe and Canada as more and more pet owners appreciate the depth of the specialist’s knowledge.
The road to specialization begins soon after or even during a veterinarian’s medical training at his or her veterinary school. A strong interest in a specific field of study arises and many newly graduated veterinarians find themselves searching out internships and advanced training centers for their specialty. These internships can be extremely competitive with more than 40 applicants for each position. After successful entrance into one of these programs, the new intern will be exposed to many different aspects of medicine and surgery within their concentrated area of interest. After one year, interns can then start competing for residencies at universities and other institutions. Each new resident will spend 2-3 years studying their chosen specialty and only after this time will they consider sitting for an intensive examination, or “boards”. If the resident is one of the lucky 30-60% to pass the board examination, he or she is then considered to be “board-certified”. All in all, from undergraduate work to board certification, most specialists will devote more than 12 years to their schooling.
As pet owners continue to develop a strong bond with their pets, the need for veterinary specialists will continue to grow and expand. Prior to recent times, pet owners who desired the expert knowledge of specialists were often forced to travel to the veterinary colleges. These trips were often stressful on the pets and difficult for the owners as well. Now, specialty centers can be found in almost every major metropolitan area and many large cities might actually have several veterinary specialists within each discipline. And, with specialists nearby who are known by the general practitioner veterinarian, pet owners can seek out more advanced medical protocols and quite possibly add years to their pet’s life. Oradell Animal Hospital in Oradell, NJ has more than xx specialists on staff for their patients. The Center for Specialized Veterinary Care in Westbury, NY has also staffed their hospital with doctors representing more than x different specialties. And these clinics are just two of many specialty practices across North America.
Beyond their knowledge, many of these specialists also bring new advanced tools and protocols for the treatment of injuries and diseases. It is not uncommon for a dog to undergo an MRI procedure or for cats to receive a kidney transplant (by the way, the donor cat goes home to live with you too!). Pet owners can now choose hip replacement surgery for pets with hip dysplasia, find a reproductive specialist to help determine why your show quality Pomeranian is infertile, and even help find the best diet for your herding dog. In Orlando, FL, veterinary dentists are even restoring the broken canine teeth of police dogs injured on the job!
No one wants to imagine their dog or cat developing a major injury or illness, but it is comforting to know that your veterinarian likely has a list of highly educated and dedicated individuals available to help your pet. And, in most cases, the specialist will send you and your pet right back to your family veterinarian as soon as your pet is feeling better. If you would like to know more about specialties within veterinary medicine, visit www.avma.org and click on veterinary specialties. This will take you to a list of all specialties and even provide links, addresses, and phone numbers for the various colleges. Also, a visit to www.MyVNN.com will give you a chance to see a video showing a specialty clinic in action.