Veterinary specialists

A 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 comprising 41 distinct specialties. Veterinarians can be specialists in behavior, ophthalmology (eye diseases), internal medicine, surgery, dentistry and many more areas. The specialty organizations are referred to as "colleges," but they're not schools or universities.

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

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

Here's a list of veterinary specialties recognized by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties, with very simple descriptions of what these specialists 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: veterinarians who focus on making sure animals feel less or no pain associated with veterinary procedures

Animal Welfare: veterinarians with specialized training and experience in animal welfare

Behavior: veterinarians with additional training in animal behavior

Dentistry: veterinarians who perform procedures on animals' teeth

Dermatology: veterinarians who study diseases and conditions of the skin

Emergency and Critical Care: the "ER docs" and intensive care specialists

Internal Medicine, which includes specialties in

  • Cardioloy: the study of diseases and conditions of the heart and circulatory system
  • Neurology: the study of diseases of the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system
  • Oncology: the study of tumors and cancer

Laboratory Animal Medicine: veterinarians working in research or in practice, making sure that laboratory animal species (rabbits, rats, mice, etc.) receive proper care.

Microbiology: veterinarians who study viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc.

Nutrition: veterinarians working to make sure that animals' diets meet their body's needs for nutrients

Ophthalmology: veterinarians studying diseases and conditions of the eye

Pathology: veterinarians studying disease in animals

Pharmacology: veterinarians studying how medications/drugs affect animals

Poultry Veterinarians: veterinarians who work with chickens, turkeys and/or ducks, usually in food production settings

Preventive Medicine: veterinarians who study how diseases are spread and how they can be prevented

Radiology: veterinarians who focus on the study of x-ray, ultrasound, computed tomography (often called CAT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other imaging procedures that allow us to see "inside" an animal's body

Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation: veterinarians who focus on returning animals to normal function after injury, lameness, illness or surgery

Surgery: veterinarians who specialize in performing surgery, which can also be split into 2 subcategories:

  • Orthopedics: these surgeons focus on bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, etc. of the body's skeletal system
  • Soft Tissue surgery: these surgeons focus more on the internal organs and non-bone tissues of the body

Theriogenology: veterinarians who specialize in animal reproduction

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

Veterinary Practitioners: veterinarians in clinical practice who have additional training and expertise in certain animal species

Zoological Medicine: veterinarians who work with zoo collection animals, free-living wildlife, aquatic species and companion zoological animals