In a followup to our last post, we will discuss below some of the different veterinary specialties and why we might refer to them.
To recap, many of our daily appointments consist of pets that are not feeling well for a variety of reasons. In many instances we can determine the problem and treat effectively by obtaining a thorough history, performing a comprehensive physical exam, perform in-office diagnostics or send lab work out to a reference laboratory, and dispensing appropriate medications or treatments.
However, in some instances, problems may be more complicated or require diagnostics beyond the scope of a general practice, and a veterinary specialist may be recommended.
Behaviorist: A veterinary behaviorist is sort of a mental health professional for dogs. For some dogs, anxiety is such a large issue that certain medications we prescribe are not enough to help and, unfortunately, some dogs will hurt themselves in their crates by chewing or scratching (think of it like a panic attack). In these extreme instances, utilizing a behaviorist can help narrow down certain triggers and they can also help prescribe different medications in conjunction with a training program to help resolve these issues. Behaviorists can also be invaluable in handling a pet with difficult aggression issues that may provide a safety concern if not handled appropriately.
Dentist: It’s safe to say that most of our veterinary patients have a varying degree of periodontal disease. A dental cleaning, complete with dental radiographs, and polishing/fluoride treatment, can be done with your primary veterinarian. Many extractions can also be done with your primary veterinarian. However, sometimes the pathology in the mouth is so severe that referral to a veterinary dentist is required. They are trained to perform root canals and other endodontic treatments, or even remove parts of a jaw if there are tumors or abnormalities within the jaw bones.
Dermatologist: Veterinary dermatologists are incredibly helpful in diagnosing a multitude of skin disorders that we see on a daily basis, including allergies. After trying many different types of therapies here at our clinic, sometimes the use of a dermatologist, who may have access to newer drug therapies or diagnostics, is the best way to help your pet find relief. They can also perform skin biopsies, intradermal skin allergy testing, and different skin cultures/cytologies, etc…
Ophthalmologist: Veterinary ophthalmologists examine and correct a variety of different ocular diseases – both within the eye and on the surface. Their expertise includes, but is not limited to, performing surgeries (such as cataract surgery or third eyelid/”cherry eye” correction), managing glaucoma and complicated corneal defects, treating inflammatory conditions of the eye, etc…They also have special equipment to look at ocular structures better than most general practices.
Radiologist: Sometimes our veterinary patients eat abnormal things, or have recurrent bouts of vomiting/diarrhea. Other times we may find something abnormal while we are palpating the abdomen during a routine physical exam. Radiographs (X-rays) are a useful tool for looking at the size and shape of organs and noting if anything appears abnormal.
However, if your pet ingested something soft and we are unable to see it on an X-ray, an abdominal ultrasound will look at the internal structure of organs and determine if this object is stuck. Ultrasounds can also find tumors on some organs that are not easily identifiable via X-ray, such as the adrenal glands. Radiologists also have additional training in reading X-rays, MRIs and CT scans which can help us pick up and find subtle changes that can help us with a diagnosis.
For cats with hyperthyroidism, a veterinarian in a specialty hospital with the capacity to handle radioactive material can also administer a highly regulated radioactive isotope that can treat hyperthyroidism in one injection (with several days in the hospital for monitoring afterwards) if it is indicated by your primary veterinarian. Sounds crazy, but it’s also the treatment of choice in people, as well.
Veterinary specialists are great resources for your pets when your primary care veterinarian thinks their expertise will be needed to help make your pet feel better, faster! We are fortunate to live in an area with numerous specialty-trained veterinarians to help us provide the best care for our pets.