A Consultation With A Veterinary Specialist – What to Expect

I recognize the very fact that a pet needs to see me, as a specialist, is very stressful for a family. Pet parents are often nervous, worried, and possibly even frustrated about a consultation with a veterinary specialist. Sometimes they’re downright scared! Believe me, I understand these emotions. I’ve been through them as a pet parent myself. Please trust me when I say every board-certified specialist understands the fear families experience when they’re told their pet needs to see one of us. And because we recognize a family’s anxiety, we try to make visits to our respective hospitals as stress-free as possible. So below are some things for you to know and understand before your pet’s appointment with a veterinary specialist.

The consultation with a veterinary specialist actually begins before your pet arrives at the hospital

As soon as your pet’s primary care doctor recommends (or you request) a referral to a veterinary specialist, please remember to do the following:

  1. Contact the specialist’s hospital as soon as possible to schedule your pet’s consultation. Specialists are frequently tremendously busy with jammed (and typically over-booked) schedules, and just like human specialists, accommodation for a same-day consultation is often not feasible.
  2. Make sure you ask the specialist’s client services representative if you should withhold food from your pet prior to the consultation. A 12-hour food fast is often requested so certain blood tests can be performed at the time of consultation if needed. Fresh water should typically always be available to a pet. A lot of pet parents seem to have a big problem with fasting their pets. They think it’s mean. They can’t stand the begging. But remember this! If you have blood tests performed, you are instructed to fast by your doctor. The same is true for your pet. If I’m going to ask your pet to have blood collected for a specific test and I’m going to ask you to spend money on that test, I need to trust the test result. Improper fasting skews results, making them inaccurate and unusable. So the test will then need to be repeated, your pet with have to have more blood collected, and you will have to spend more money. I recognize some pets simply can’t be fasted for 12-hours for a variety of reasons, for example age (puppies and kittens), breed (i.e.: toy breeds with a history of low blood sugar) and current medical condition (i.e.: diabetes mellitus). If you are concerned about fasting your pet, please request your family veterinarian speak with the specialist as soon as possible.
  3. Please remember that legally a veterinary specialist (or her/his team) can’t make any medical recommendations/suggestions to you over before your consultation. So if you have a question about your pet’s health before your pet’s examination with a specialist (even if the question is about the condition for which your pet was referred to the specialist), you need speak with your family veterinarian. Alternatively your pet’s primary care doctor can contact the specialist directly.
  4. Please make sure your family veterinarian sends your pet’s complete medical records to the specialist as soon as possible. I also suggest you request a copy for yourself (and bring it with you to your pet’s specialist consultation). As specialists, we are sticklers for details. We’re anal-retentive. We thrive in a world of minutia. So we want to review everything, line-by-line – doctor’s notes, laboratory test results, radiographs (x-rays). A printout of services rendered by your primary care doctor is not a medical record. If complete medical records are not provided before your pet’s consultation, valuable time will be lost trying to track them down. This prolongs your pet’s time at the hospital since specialist still needs to thoroughly review your pet’s records. And this delay may inevitably affect the amount of time the specialist can spend with your pet and your family because s/he will inevitably have other patients waiting for (an on-time) evaluation too.
  5. A video of your pet’s medical issue can be invaluable! For example, vomiting, regurgitation, and post-tussive retching (vomiting after a lot of coughing) can be challenging to describe with words, but a video can be a really powerful aid for differentiating these entirely different processes. If your pet is lame, manifests a persistent abnormal behavior like star-gazing, urinates/defecates with an abnormal posture or breathes differently, please capture a video and bring it with you to the consultation to show the specialist.
  6. Please remember to bring all of your pet’s medications, vitamins and supplements to your pet’s consultation. Remember we’re anal-retentive, and we want to see and review everything!

A consultation with a veterinary specialist will be significantly longer compared to a preventative health examination with your family veterinarian

Most consultations with a specialist last at least 60 minutes. Yes, they are much longer than a preventative health examination. The specialist will spend a lot of time asking you questions and completely examining your pet. Often you will need to admit your pet to the hospital for the day so certain tests like ultrasound examinations can be performed; you will typically return later the same day to discharge your pet.

Your pet and your family will likely meet a lot of (friendly, compassionate, caring, well-trained) people

As soon as you walk through the door of specialist’s office, a receptionist or client services team member will greet your pet and your family. They will ask you to complete some simple paperwork about your pet so your fur baby can officially and legally become a patient of the hospital. You will meet highly trained veterinary technicians/nurses (RVT, CVT, LVT, VN) that work with your pet’s specialist. Some of these nurses are specialists in their own right, technicians who have completed additional clinical training and passed rigorous board-certifying examinations to be Veterinary Technical Specialists (VTS). Please answer all of a technician’s questions as thoroughly as possible. When s/he asks, “What medications is your pet currently taking?” please don’t answer with “That info is in the medical records you have.” That answer isn’t useful at all. The simple fact is often what is written in a medical record is quite different than what a pet parent is administering to a pet at home, so please be helpful by providing complete and detailed answers to all questions asked of you!

Everything that happens during your pet’s consultation with a veterinary specialist will be shared with your family veterinarian

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, specialists believe in the “triad of care.” We partner with families and primary care veterinarians to make sure furred kids get the best possible healthcare. As part of that partnership, we always send copies of our medical records and diagnostic test results to family veterinarians. We work as team, and team functions best if all involved have the same information.

Wishing you wet nose kisses,



    • Thanks for the kind words! I really appreciate it, and hope you’ll share the post with other pet parents so they know pets can have specialists too!

    • Thanks for reading it! I hope you will consider sharing it with other pet parents so they, too, will know that pets can have specialists too!

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