Shelter medicine receives full recognition as specialty, fish medicine receives provisional recognition

The 9-year-old veterinary specialty in shelter medicine received full recognition from the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS) in March, while a new specialty in fish medicine received provisional recognition.

Both specialties fall under the umbrella of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, which is an AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization.

In 2012, an Association of Shelter Veterinarians committee petitioned the ABVS to recognize shelter medicine as a specialty. The practice of shelter medicine became a provisionally recognized veterinary specialty (RVS) in 2014. To date, 35 diplomates have been credentialed.

“The mission of the Shelter Medicine Practice RVS is to improve animal and human health and wellbeing through education, discovery, and promotion of clinical excellence,” according to a letter from the organizing committee to the ABVS last year. “The specialty includes all aspects of veterinary practice important to the care and management of shelter animals, which requires a broad-based approach inclusive of community considerations and encompassing all aspects of healthcare.”

Veterinarian examining a dog
Shelter medicine practice specialists balance the health and wellbeing of individual animals and the larger population at animal shelters. (Courtesy of the ASPCA)

The letter states that, to control infectious disease and promote health and wellness in shelter populations, specialists in shelter medicine must have an advanced understanding of the following areas:

  • Design and operations of shelter facilities
  • Husbandry, including population-level housing, nutrition, sanitation, and behavioral care
  • Resource management and risk analysis
  • Epidemiology
  • Population management for companion animals
  • Immunology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Animal behavior
  • Public health
  • Veterinary forensics

According to the letter, “The need for guidance from Shelter Medicine specialists has become even more urgent in recent years as animal welfare organizations increasingly focus on animals with medical and/or behavioral challenges, and as trends for longer term housing of animals in shelters increase, creating populations with even greater risks for developing infectious disease, medical health concerns, problem behaviors, and compromised welfare.”

The American Association of Fish Veterinarians (AAFV), with support from the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association (WAVMA), is sponsoring the organizing committee for the provisionally recognized veterinary specialty in fish medicine.

“Fish comprise over 35,000 species in the world and are utilized in a variety of industries including aquaculture, exhibitions, laboratory research, as a natural resource, and as pets,” according to the one-page description of the specialty in fish medicine. “The veterinary medical knowledge pertaining to these industries and fish in general has grown significantly over the years and should be considered a distinct knowledge base from other recognized veterinary specialties (RVSs).”

The document continues by saying that the specialty “would target veterinarians working in all sectors of fish medicine: pet, zoo and aquaria, commercial aquaculture, academia, research, natural resource, and governmental agencies.”

The demand for fish veterinarians in all areas has risen significantly over the past 15 to 20 years, according to the summary, with increasing membership in both the AAFV and WAVMA.

After a minimum of four years but no more than 10 years under provisional recognition, the organizing committee for the specialty in fish medicine may submit a request for full recognition to the ABVS.

A version of this article appears in the June 2023 print issue of JAVMA.