When you take your pet along to the vet, your first call will be a local clinic that is a general purpose practice, in a way comparable to your GP’s surgery in terms of the general purpose services that the clinic offers. However, unlike most GP surgeries, the average veterinary clinic provides a much greater range of services designed to cover all of the run of the mill usual issues that domestic pets may face, offering services such as consultations, vaccinations, dental procedures, diagnostic imaging such as x-rays, and surgical procedures as well.
However, despite the fact that your local clinic is equipped to perform diagnostic services and surgeries as well, at some point, your pet may need to be referred to a veterinary specialist in a certain field, if their health problems are complex or unusual, or they require the help of a surgery equipped to deal with certain issues or emergencies, or need to have a consultation with a specialist in a particular area.
This means that your pet will generally have to go to another clinic that will often function as a hospital and treatment centre only, rather than a walk-in clinic, and these may be private clinics, attached to university veterinary schools, or even research centres where new procedures are planned and tried out.
There are a huge range of different veterinary specialisms available, and every local clinic will have a relationship with several of these, each of which will have their own unique area of interest and qualification. In this article, we will outline the services and specialisms of five of the most common of these, and what they do.
The vast majority of local vet clinics offer basic dental services for pets, which will generally include anaesthetised deep cleaning, trimming the teeth of animals such as rabbits whose teeth grow constantly, and simple extractions of teeth that are already loose.
However, as anyone who has ever lost a tooth or had one removed at the dentist will know, the roots of the teeth themselves can be long and very strong, making their removal both challenging and rather difficult! This means that in some cases, pets with poor dentition, abscesses, or that need large extractions will need to attend a specialist veterinary dentist, who has both the tools and knowledge to deal with the problem effectively.
Many clinics provide their own care 24 hours a day, offering an on call service to their clients, opening the practice up especially in the case of an emergency.
However, plenty of clinics use an out of hours service to cover their clients outside of practice hours, and these take place in fully equipped veterinary hospitals that are fully staffed and work 24 hours a day, every day of the year. These clinics have a full team of vets and support staff on duty at all times, and are set up and ready to perform surgeries at a moment’s notice.
If your pet has a serious accident such as being hit by a car, you may be referred to an emergency care specialist, which is equipped to take care of your pet and their treatment immediately when time is of the essence, and also, which will have a range of experienced trauma surgeons available to deal with complex or challenging issues.
Surgical specialists are clinicians who work solely in the surgical side of veterinary medicine, covering challenging and complex cases that general practices are not equipped or experienced in taking care of.
These clinics and vets tend to have access to a wider range of surgical tools and implements, as well as consultants that are experienced in carrying out more unusual procedures, or that are competent at designing a treatment plan for issues that general vets may not be able to manage.
Cardiac specialists work with the heart, which is of course a major organ that can potentially go wrong in a huge variety of different ways! Cardiac specialists may be used to perform operations on the heart that are particularly unusual or complex, or to try out experimental procedures on pets that would otherwise have no chance of survival.
Your own vet may also wish to have a cardiac specialist give a second opinion on their cases, or ask the specialist to review x-rays and other diagnostic tools to confirm a diagnosis, or make alternative suggestions.
Orthopaedic specialists work with the bones, and this is the specialist that your vet may contact if they need help with a complex break, bone development issue or other complicated or serious injury or disease of the skeletal system.
Probably the most famous orthopaedic specialist vet in the UK is Noel Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick referrals, who shot to international fame for being the first surgeon to build and fuse prosthetic limbs to a cat, which we have covered in more detail within this article.