By Dr. Marnie Ford and Dr. Mike King
The goal of the VSABC is to promote veterinary specialist medicine through educating the public and fellow veterinarians regarding the role and availability of these services. We also intend to foster effective partnerships with all veterinarians, support staff, and industry representatives.
Everyone routinely deals with specialists in human healthcare and is familiar with the concept of specialization. As in human medicine, veterinarians first achieve a general veterinary degree, after eight years of college-level study. Some veterinarians then continue with an additional 3-4 years of training and examination in a specific specialty. As with the human patient, a broad range of specialties are available to meet the needs of the veterinary patient.
Board-certified veterinary specialists are veterinarians who have passed the rigorous demands of training and testing mandated by American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS) which is recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). In an effort to promote awareness and spread information regarding the availability of specialty medicine in British Columbia, the Veterinary Specialists Association of British Columbia (VSABC) was formed (www.vsabc.info). Currently the AVMA recognizes 22 specialty organizations comprising 40 distinct specialties. Of these, 15 specialties are currently represented by the VSABC, including anesthesia, cardiology, dentistry, dermatology, emergency and critical care, feline practice, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, pathology, radiology and diagnostic imaging, large animal surgery, small animal surgery, and sports medicine and rehabilitation.
Every patient can benefit from the services offered by a veterinary specialist. This includes companion animals, horses, farm animals, birds, marine animals, and wildlife. In an effort to promote accessibility, specialists from almost every discipline are available at fixed major city locations or routinely visit neighbouring clinics. Some specialists will travel routinely between different clinics outside of the lower mainland including Vancouver Island on a bi-monthly or monthly basis or by invitation to more remote locations. All specialists are available to your veterinarian by telephone consultation for advice regarding case management and when indicated, review of lab testing, photographs, or digital recordings. When treatment for a patient extends past their scope of skill or knowledge, your specialist, through the close connections with their colleges and associations can help facilitate additional resources with other specialists both in Canada and in other countries.
By definition the limited focus of a specialist means they cannot and should not replace the service provided by the family veterinarian. There are situations however when referral of a patient, or consultation with a specialist is definitely appropriate. These include; when a diagnosis is proving difficult, a rare or complicated disease has been diagnosed, the patient is not responding to standard treatment, unfamiliarity or inexperience of your veterinarian with treating a particular condition, when a challenging or state-of-the-art diagnostic test or procedure is indicated, or intensive hospitalized care is required.
Veterinary specialists work together with your regular veterinarian as part of your pet’s total veterinary health care team. With the input of a veterinary specialist, your veterinarian will still oversee all aspects of your pets care.
The VSABC and its members are committed to:
Providing state of the art specialized health care for animals through the support of the veterinary general practitioners and the public of British Columbia
Promoting and educating the public and fellow veterinarians regarding the role and availability of veterinary specialty medicine
Fostering partnerships with all veterinarians, support staff and industry representatives.
There are a lot of similarities between veterinary specialists and human specialists. While more detailed information regarding each of the veterinary specialties available in British Columbia can be found on the VSABC website, as a brief introduction;
Cardiologists (heart specialists) are trained to detect, monitor and treat heart disease, to perform detailed diagnostic testing (ultrasound, electrocardiogram) and perform interventional procedures such as pacemaker placement.
Dentistry specialists have expertise to treat both emergency and prophylactic dental procedures, as well as reconstructive treatments such as orthodontics and root canals.
Dermatologists (skin specialists) have advanced training in the diagnosis, treatment, and long-term management of animals with allergic, infectious and cancerous disorders of the skin, hair, ears, and nails.
Specialists in Emergency and Critical Care are dedicated to treating urgent and life-threatening conditions. Similar to ER Doctors in human medicine, their focus is the most up-to-date techniques for diagnosis and treatment of emergency situations, as well as providing the best intensive care for the most critically ill veterinary patients.
Internal Medicine specialists (internists) have advanced knowledge in the diagnosis and treatment of both commonly seen, and more unusual disease processes affecting both large and small animals. They are also highly skilled and trained in endoscopic examinations, and other interventional and minimally invasive procedures.
Neurologists provide comprehensive medical and surgical treatment for patients with neurological disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Just as in human medicine, veterinary neurologists utilize advanced diagnostic technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scans to determine the best treatment options for their patients.
Oncologists (veterinary cancer specialists) are experts in cancer diagnosis and treatment using the latest available diagnostic tools and therapies (including chemotherapy and radiation therapy) to both treat the cancer, and improve quality of life. Just like in people, early detection, specialized care, and ongoing medical advances are helping to increase survival and cure rates in almost all the types of cancers that affect pets.
Ophthalmologists (eye specialists) are dedicated to the prevention and treatment of diseases of the eye and structures surrounding the eye in an effort to provide long term comfortable vision. Common ocular conditions treated by ophthalmologists include cataracts, glaucoma, eyelid abnormalities, retinal detachment, and corneal ulcers.
Radiologists are experts in interpreting radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, CT, MRI and scintigraphy in animals. Their skills help diagnose the cause of problems earlier, more accurately, and guide appropriate treatment recommendations.
Surgeons have advanced training in general, orthopedic, neurologic & oncologic surgery in both large and small animals. As well as common surgeries (such as abdominal procedures, wound closure and ligament & bone repair), like human surgeons specialist veterinary surgeons also frequently perform chest surgeries, minimally invasive procedures (arthroscopy and laparoscopy), and advanced orthopedics like hip replacements.
Specialists in veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation are focused on the structural, physiological, medical, and surgical needs of athletic animals, and the restoration of normal function after injury or illness.
Most veterinary specialists request a referral from the family veterinarian to understand the problem, and what treatments or diagnostics have been done so far. This ensures that appropriate initial recommendations are made, and that ongoing communication may be provided between the specialist and your regular veterinarian. The partnership between the specialist, general practitioner, and you results in the very best standard of care being made available to your pet.
Ask your family veterinarian if referral to a veterinary specialist is right for your pet.