The Importance of Veterinary Second Opinions

Published: November 09, 2015
Share this:

When I talk to owners who are concerned about the level of veterinary care their pet is receiving, I’ll often ask “Have you gotten a second opinion?” Most owners have not. Second opinions are an incredibly valuable and underutilized resource in veterinary medicine.

Second opinions can either be initiated by a primary care veterinarian or by an owner. If your veterinarian is recommending that your pet see another doctor for continued care, do not see it as a sign of weakness! No doctor can stay on top of all the different aspects of the medical and surgical care of numerous species. Good vets acknowledge when they are reaching the limits of their expertise and skill; bad vets do not.

In most cases, a primary care veterinarian will recommend that your pet see a board-certified specialist. Your vet has probably referred many cases to the specialists in your area and should know which doctor is in the best position to help your pet. Veterinary specialists have undergone all the same training as primary care veterinarians (usually four years in college followed by four years of veterinary school), but they have continued their education with a year-long internship followed by a residency program in their field of choice. Most residencies take around three years to complete, and during this time the doctors treat patients, perform research, and then have to pass a rigorous test to be acknowledged as a board-certified specialist.

But what if you think your pet could benefit from seeing a specialist and your primary care veterinarian hasn’t brought the subject up? This is when you need to be your pet’s advocate and initiate the conversation yourself. Don’t be worried about offending your vet. Any doctor who reacts poorly to an owner who is willing to go the extra mile to ensure their pet’s wellbeing isn’t worth worrying about (or returning to).

If you are extremely uncomfortable with the thought of having this conversation with your primary care veterinarian, you can make the appointment directly with the specialist. You don’t need to have a referral from your primary care veterinarian to see a specialist. Involving your “regular vet” is best since he or she can provide important information about your pet’s history and care, but as long as you provide a full copy of your pet’s medical records to the specialist, it is not obligatory.

A new website makes finding nearby veterinary specialists easier than it has ever been. includes listings for board-certified internal medicine specialists, surgeons, cardiologists, neurologists, and oncologists and is searchable by location and whether the doctor focuses on large or small animals. If you are looking for other types of specialists, this website won’t help, but here are a few links that will:

Dr. Jennifer Coates