The Perseus Foundation

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Visiting a Board-Certified Veterinary Specialist and the Triad of Care.


Whether you have decided to seek out a board-certified veterinary specialist on your own or your primary care veterinarian has referred you to one, think of your visit to a veterinary specialist as an extension of your family veterinarian. Together, your primary care veterinarian, the board-certified veterinary specialist, and you as the animal owner will communicate and work together to make up the ideal triad of care for your animal.

Board-certified veterinary specialists have specific education and hands-on experience with more complicated diseases and treatments over and above that of most general practice veterinarians. In addition, a veterinary specialist may have diagnostic equipment not generally used by your primary care veterinarian. Here’s what to expect before, during, and after your visit to a board-certified veterinary specialist.


Before your visit:


  • Most specialty hospitals will formally request a copy of your animal’s relevant medical records, including laboratory data, imaging studies (radiographs, ultrasound evaluations, CT and MRI scans), electrocardiogram recordings, and your veterinarian’s medical notes. If your veterinarian has referred you to a specialist, they may send the records automatically without you prompting them, but play it safe and verify that records have been sent. It is always appropriate for you to have a copy of your animal’s records, as well. You will need to specifically ask your veterinarian’s staff for these documents. It is critical to understand that medical records are not the same as invoices you receive when you check out.
  • Along with a legible copy of your animal’s medical records, bring a list of all current medications, as well as any the animal was recently receiving.
  • Due to the variety of testing and treatment options available, many specialty hospitals will recommend a nighttime fasting of your animal. This request is routine and rarely puts any animal at risk. Talk to the specialty staff and your primary care veterinarian if you are worried about fasting your animal.
  • Arrive early for the appointment with your veterinary specialist. There will be paperwork to complete, which can take 15 minutes or more. The front desk staff will give you specific instructions on how early to arrive when the appointment is scheduled. Some clinics now have their initial paperwork available online prior to the appointment. If time allows, complete the online forms in advance of your visit.
  • If your primary care veterinarian did not refer you to the specialist, be sure to keep him or her updated on your plans to see a veterinary specialist. This opens up the first communication between your veterinarian and the veterinary specialist.
  • Feel free to have an honest conversation with your primary care veterinarian if you have concerns that you may offend your veterinarian by seeking another opinion or referral. You are the advocate for your animal and should seek the treatment you feel is optimal for your animal’s health. Most veterinarians receive routine requests for complete medical records and most have referred cases with other patients, so this is not something they take personally.

At the visit

  • Upon your initial visit to a board-certified veterinary specialist, an extensive history will be obtained focusing on your animal’s past medical history, along with a review of testing that your primary care veterinarian has performed. The animal’s response and your satisfaction with the therapies tried so far will also be discussed.
  • The veterinary specialist will perform a complete and thorough physical examination of your animal; based upon these initial findings, additional diagnostic testing and treatment options will be discussed.

After the visit

  • Many owners wonder if the care of their animal will continue with the veterinary specialist or return to their primary care veterinarian. It helps to remember that the specialist’s expertise complements that of your veterinarian. You, your veterinarian and the veterinary specialist ideally form the triad of care for the animal. Moving forward, you will decide together the desired plan of treatment and continuity of care for your animal.
  • Remember, veterinary specialists do not handle routine veterinary care, such as vaccines, annual wellness exams, or general routine surgeries. The specialist will refer you back to your primary care veterinarian for all non-specialty matters or when a health problem is finally resolved.
  • Most veterinary specialists are zealous about making sure your primary care veterinarian receives both written and phone call reports in a timely manner following the animal’s most recent specialist visit. Many specialists automatically send these reports and records, but you can always request that they do so if it this isn’t the case.The number of visits to the veterinary specialist will depend on the type of treatment. Additionally, a veterinary specialist may recognize another problem in your animal that could be part of the initial problem or completely unrelated. This discovery could lead to a referral to another veterinarian in an additional specialty.

The mutual communication and cooperation amongst your primary care veterinarian, your board-certified veterinary specialist, and yourself is key to the smooth and effective handling of your animal’s care. The health and care of your animal is the number one goal of everyone involved.


 Content by Laci Schaible, DVM, CVJ and edited by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and  American College of Veterinary Surgeons