Pet Owners


Cute dog at the vet with a group of doctors and assistants

What is a veterinary specialist?

Just as your physician may suggest that you see a specialist to further investigate a problem or receive special treatment, your veterinarian may suggest that your pet see a veterinary specialist. Veterinarians who wish to specialize must fulfill requirements established under the guidance of the American Veterinary Medical Association. These requirements include graduation from veterinary school, an internship or private practice experience, a 2-3 year advanced training program (residency), and passage of a rigorous examination given by other specialists. When all requirements have been fulfilled, the veterinarian is recognized as a Diplomate (“board-certified”) in his/her specialty. Board-certified veterinarians treat pets both in private practice and at academic institutions.

When does a pet need to be taken to a veterinary specialist?

Pet owners typically come to a veterinary specialist for treatment upon the suggestion of their veterinarian, although in some cases clients may “self-refer”. Reasons for referral to a specialist may include seeking the best possible care for their pet, pursuing resources for an advanced diagnostic work-up, hospitalization, therapy or aftercare not immediately available by the referring veterinarian.

The comfort and well-being of the pet is a top priority in specialty practices, just like it has always been at other forms of veterinary practices. Allowing the experience of specialty veterinarians to act in union with your referring veterinarian helps to ensure that your pet receives compassionate health care of the highest quality available. Multiple veterinary specialists within each clinic collaborate to provide state-of-the-art care, most commonly in an around-the-clock hospital setting.

What specialties do VSPA-Member clinics offer?

Member hospitals offer specialties in the areas of anesthesia, behavior, cardiology, critical care medicine, dentistry, dermatology, emergency medicine, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, radiation oncology, radiology and surgery. The specialists operate clinical practices and accept cases on a referral basis from primary care practitioners. You may learn more about each veterinary specialty under the Pet Owners Section entitled Articles.

How does the referral process work?

Similar to the process in human medicine, after an examination and discussion with the owner, a primary care practitioners¬†will determine whether the appropriate resources are available on-site or whether the pet’s needs would be best met by referral to a veterinary specialist. The general practitioner will arrange for an appointment with the referral clinic. Often, the referring veterinarian communicates with the receiving veterinarian prior to the referral by providing a summary of the case including pertinent points from the history, physical examination, tests performed, radiographs and medications.

How could I learn more about a referral for my own pet?

If you would like a referral to a VSPA member hospital, click on the VSPA Directory to determine if a VSPA clinic is located near you. You may use the contact information provided to learn more about the specific referral process in your area. To locate other veterinary specialty practices, ask your private practitioner for further information.