What is a veterinary surgeon, and why does my animal need to see one?

Veterinarians may specialize in various disciplines including:

  • surgery

  • internal medicine

  • radiology

  • anesthesiology

  • ophthalmology

  • dermatology

  • cardiology

  • oncology

  • neurology

  • emergency and critical care

  • sports medicine and rehabilitation

These specialties are recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS). The American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) is the AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organization™ for certification of veterinarians in large animal surgery and small animal surgery.

If your animal develops a problem or injury requiring advanced care and procedures, your primary care veterinarian or emergency room veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary surgeon.

Learn more about why animal owners should seek out veterinary surgeons below. Find questions to ask a veterinary surgeon here.



Advanced Training

A veterinary surgeon has undergone additional training after veterinary school . This training consists of a minimum of a one-year internship followed by a three-year residency program that meets guidelines established by ACVS.

Specialists are called a “Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons” or a “board-certified surgeon.”

See the pathway to certification that your veterinary surgeon followed to become an ACVS Diplomate.

Your Animal’s Healthcare Team

All veterinarians may perform surgery as part of their veterinary practice. Difficult cases, however, may be best managed by a board-certified veterinary surgeon, an ACVS Diplomates, working closely with the animal owner and the primary veterinarian before and after surgery. This team approach ensures continuity of care.

Most ACVS Diplomates work at large hospital or referral centers; therefore, in addition to having advanced surgical training, they also have access to state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and support staff that may not be available to your primary veterinarian.

Following surgery and any postoperative follow-up care, the primary veterinarian resumes ongoing care of the animal.

Why Seek a Veterinary Surgeon?

Animals deserve the very best care possible. Just as humans are treated by specialists for a variety of medical reasons, animals should be treated by veterinary specialists when advanced care is warranted. Surgery often warrants that care. ACVS Board-Certified Veterinary Surgeons can provide that care.

There are a variety of reasons to seek a veterinary surgeon:

Expertise and specialized training:

  • Primary veterinarians focus on the day-to-day needs of your animal. Veterinary surgeons spend years training specifically in surgical procedures.
  • Specialists are more likely to see complicated cases.
  • Specialists can provide you with state-of-the-art options and help you determine the best treatment for your animal.

Enhanced care. Surgeons are more likely to have access to:

  • Specialty equipment
  • Other veterinary specialists (your surgical team may include board-certified radiologists, anesthesiologists, and internal medicine specialists)
  • Technicians who understand the needs of animals undergoing surgery
  • Postoperative monitoring of your pet
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