What do board-certified veterinary specialists do?

A board-certified veterinary specialist is a veterinarian who has completed additional training in a specific area of veterinary medicine and has passed an examination that evaluates their knowledge and skills in that specialty area. Currently, there are 22 AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations™ or RVSOs comprising 41 distinct specialties. Veterinarians can be specialists in many areas, including behavior, ophthalmology, internal medicine, surgery, dentistry, and more. The RVSOs are referred to as colleges, but they're not schools or universities.

A board-certified veterinary specialist's expertise complements that of your animal's primary care veterinarian. You may be referred to a board-certified veterinary specialist if diagnosing or treating your pet's health problem requires specialized equipment and/or expertise that your animal's primary care veterinarian does not have.

It's critical you, your veterinarian, and board-certified veterinary specialist communicate and work together to provide the best care for your pet.

Veterinary specialties

Here's a list of AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialty Organizations™ with very brief descriptions of what these specially trained veterinarians do. For more information about the specialties, click the link to go to the website of the specialty college responsible for certifying veterinarians in that specialty:

Anesthesia and analgesia: veterinary specialists who are experts at assessment and mitigation of anesthetic risks, delivery of anesthetic and analgesic drugs, maintaining and monitoring physiologic well-being of the anesthetized patient, and providing the highest levels of perioperative patient care including pain management.

Animal welfare: veterinary specialists with advanced training and experience in animal welfare.

Behavior: veterinary specialists with advanced knowledge of animal behavior and behavior modification.

Dentistry: veterinarians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of dental, oral, and maxillofacial diseases.

Dermatology: veterinary specialists with advanced training and expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of allergy and diseases affecting the skin, ears, nails and/or hooves of animals.

Emergency and critical care: veterinary specialists who work exclusively in both emergency rooms and intensive care units to care for animals that are often the "sickest of the sick".

Internal medicine, which includes specialties of:

  • Cardiology: veterinary specialists who diagnose and treat conditions of the heart and circulatory system.
  • Internal Medicine: veterinary specialists trained to manage complex medical problems or disease conditions affecting multiple body systems.
  • Neurology: veterinary specialists who diagnose and treat diseases of the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Oncology: veterinary specialists who diagnose and treat cancer.

Laboratory animal medicine: veterinary specialists working in research or in practice, making sure laboratory animal species (rabbits, rats, mice, etc.) receive proper care.

Microbiology: Veterinarians who specialize in research, teaching, and/or diagnosis of infectious diseases. Specialties include:

  • Virology
  • Immunology
  • Bacteriology/Mycology
  • Parasitology

Veterinary nutrition: veterinary specialists dedicated to the research and the clinical application of nutrition and diet in health and disease.

Ophthalmology: veterinary specialists who study diseases and conditions of the eye.

Pathology: veterinary specialists practicing microscopic and clinical pathology to protect and improve animal, human and environmental health to benefit society.

Pharmacology: veterinary specialists who study how medications/drugs affect animals.

Poultry: veterinary specialists who work with chickens, turkeys, ducks, and other fowl, usually in food production settings.

Preventive medicine: veterinary specialists improving animal, human, and environmental health through surveillance, recognition, outbreak investigation, and management of animal diseases; prevention and control of zoonotic diseases and foodborne illnesses; reduction of bites, injuries and other environmental and occupational human health hazards related to animals; promotion of food protection and wholesomeness; and promotion of humane animal care and the use of animals in animal-facilitated therapy.

Radiology: veterinary specialists who focus on the study of x-ray, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other imaging procedures that allow us to see "inside" an animal's body; radiation oncologists specialize in the treatment of cancer patients using radiotherapy.

Sports medicine and rehabilitation: veterinary specialists who focus on returning animals to normal function after injury, lameness, illness, or surgery.

Surgery: veterinarians who specialize in performing surgery. A certified surgeon will be certified in either small animal or large animal surgery. Within these groups, many surgeons will focus their work in a sub-category, but they are not limited to them:

  • Orthopedics: these surgeons focus on the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons that make up the body's skeletal system.
  • Soft Tissue surgery: these surgeons focus on the internal organs and non-bone tissues of the body.
  • Neurosurgery: these surgeons focus on the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system.

Theriogenology: veterinary specialists who diagnosis and manage conditions affecting animal reproduction.

Toxicology: veterinary specialists who study the effects of poisons and other toxic products on the body (and how to treat animals affected by these toxins).

Veterinary practitioners: veterinary specialists with extensive and advanced training in specific animal species and practice areas:

  • Avian Practice (birds)
  • Equine Practice (horses)
  • Beef Cattle Practice (cattle raised for meat)
  • Feline Practice (cats)
  • Canine and Feline Practice (dogs and cats)
  • Exotic Companion Mammal Practice (ferrets, rabbits, mice, rats and other small mammals often kept as pets)
  • Food Animal Practice (cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs)
  • Dairy Practice (cows that produce milk)
  • Reptile and Amphibian Practice (snakes, lizards, salamanders, turtles, etc.)
  • Shelter Practice (diverse population of animals in a shelter setting)
  • Swine Health Management (pigs)

Zoological medicine: veterinary specialists who work with zoo collection animals, free-living wildlife, aquatic species, and companion zoological animals.