“In my opinion, any time you’re talking about a surgical procedure that has some complexity to it, the least you should do—at least, what I would do—is talk to a surgeon,” says Dr. Robbins. “The ‘second opinion’ is the basis of specialized medicine in humans, and it’s the best way for you to be an advocate for your dog. You always want to know if there’s something new or better that could be done to manage your dog’s condition and give him a better quality of life.”
Here are some of the more popular specialties, and the conditions that they address.
Acupuncture. Vets are certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) and can treat arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems, plus skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.
Behavior. Diplomates are certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) and treat behavioral issues, such as aggression or anxiety, that are often tied to a dog’s overall health.
Canine and Feline Medicine. Diplomates are certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), which offers certification for general practitioners who focus on dogs and cats. (ABVP also certifies equine, dairy, avian and other practices.)
Chiropractic. Vets are certified by Animal Chiropractic Certification Commission (ACCC) and treat various types of muscle, nerve and joint pain as well as digestive and other internal medicine problems.
Dentistry. Diplomates are certified by the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) and treat conditions involving the teeth and mouth.
Internal medicine. Diplomates are certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) in small or large animal internal medicine, cardiology, oncology or neurology, and treat internal medicine disorders, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and neurological problems.
Ophthalmology. Diplomates are certified by the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) and treat diseases and injuries involving the eye.
Radiology. Diplomates are certified by the American College of Veterinary Radiology (ACVR) and provide imaging services or cancer treatment (radiation oncologists).
Physical Rehabilitation. Vets are certified by the Canine Rehabilitation Institute and provide physical rehabilitation after accidents or surgery.
Second Opinion Etiquette
Going for a second opinion? Nancy Kay, DVM, Diplomate, ACVIM, and author of Speaking for Spot tells us how to serve our dogs’ best interests as well as maintain harmony with his health care team.
If your primary-care veterinarian didn’t provide the referral, be sure to let her know what you’re doing. (Plus, how else will the specialist have access to your dog’s medical records?) Avoid the impulse to “sneak out” for a second opinion for fear of hurting your vet’s feelings. Unless she’s fresh out of school, this won’t be the first time a client has requested another opinion, and it won’t be the last. Remember, your vet’s foremost concern should be your dog’s health, not her own feelings. This is part of the oath we all take when we enter the profession.
Arrive early for the appointment with the specialist. There will be paperwork to complete, which can be a 10- to 15-minute process, or even longer if the receptionist is busy.
Have a legible copy of your dog’s recent and relevant medical records, including all laboratory data, imaging studies (x-rays, ultrasound evaluations, CT and MRI scans), ECGs (electrocardiogram tracings) and doctor’s notes. It really helps when this material is arranged in chronological order. Icing on the cake is a legible summary prepared by your family vet. Remember, a stack of invoices is not a substitute for your dog’s medical record.
Bring all of your dog’s current and recent medications so the specialist can read the actual prescription labels. Just like human doctors, vets often have lousy handwriting, so details from a printed label are usually more reliable.
As tempting as it may be to tell the specialist everything your family vet has told you, hold back and give her a chance to draw her own conclusions by asking her own questions.
Martha Schindler Connors writes about health, fitness and nutrition and is a former senior editor at Natural Health. In her free time, she volunteers with Pointer Rescue (pointerrescue.org). martha-connors.com