There are many different situations where our pets may benefit from being treated by someone besides their regular vet. Pets with complex health conditions may need specialist care. Those with sore joints may benefit from physiotherapy to loosen and relax them. Or those recovering from a spinal injury may find hydrotherapy helpful in regaining the use of their legs.
Sometimes your vet may recommend these kinds of treatments. But there are also situations where you may want to seek out different advice or complementary treatments. It is quite normal for owners to request these kinds of things. But it is important to understand when (and why) you need to get your vet involved in the referral process.
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So what are the rules about referring your pet…
…to another vet?
If you want to get a second opinion on your pet’s condition from another vet who is a general practitioner, then you can make an appointment yourself. You don’t need your current vet’s permission to do this.
However, the new vet will need to request your pet’s medical history from your current vet. This is because they will need to know exactly what symptoms your pet has had in the past, what your vet’s findings have been, and what tests or treatments have been given. Your vet cannot refuse to release this history. But they may need to get your verbal or written permission to do so, for legal reasons.
In general, it is not a good idea for a pet to be treated by two different veterinary practices over the long term. This is because it can be difficult for both practices to be kept up to date. Once you have seen the other vet for an opinion, you should decide on whether you wish to stay with your new vet or go back to your regular one.
In most cases, it’s best to at least let your current vet know that you are seeking a second opinion. This can avoid a lot of confusion and complications later!
…to a specialist vet?
There are an increasing number of specialist vet practices – also called “referral” or “second opinion” practices – now open in the UK. These practices offer expert advice and treatment of a wide range of health conditions. But do not offer routine care such as vaccinations.
In order for your pet to see a specialist, they must first be seen by your regular vet. They will examine your pet, and then can make the arrangements for you to go to the specialist practice. You can ask your vet to refer you to a particular specialist, or to a particular practice, if you have a preference.
Your vet cannot refuse to refer you to a specialist unless doing so would be harmful to your pet. For example, they have difficulty breathing, and cannot tolerate a car ride where they could not receive oxygen. However, they do not have to refer you to the specialist you’ve asked for, if they believe that a different specialist or referral centre might be better for your pet. In most cases, this isn’t a problem, and you and your vet will jointly agree on the best place for your pet to go for more advanced diagnostics or treatment.
However, in some rare cases, a specialist may refuse to see a particular patient. For example, because it is outside their area of expertise.
…to a physiotherapist?
Veterinary physiotherapy is an established discipline that can be very useful for treating many kinds of joint and spine conditions. Your vet may recommend this as a treatment, but you can also ask them if you think it might be helpful for your pet.
Legally, your vet must be the one to refer you for physiotherapy. This is because it must be “prescribed” by a vet who has examined your pet and determined that physiotherapy will be useful for them. Although rare, there are some cases where physiotherapy might actually make a condition worse, so it is important to make sure it is right for your pet.
…to an alternative medicine practitioner?
There are many different alternative therapies available for pets, including homeopathy, chiropractic treatment, herbal medicine, and acupuncture. The exact rules for these can vary, but good alternative medicine practitioners will ask for a referral from your vet before your pet can start treatment.
This is needed for several reasons, such as to make sure that the treatment is not inappropriate (for example, certain spinal conditions could be made worse by chiropractic treatment) and also to make sure that it does not affect your pet’s conventional treatment (for example, certain herbal preparations can interact with common medicines).
You can request that your vet refers you to one of these practitioners. Vets can refuse a referral if they think it is inappropriate, but this is rare.
If you would like your pet to receive treatment from another practitioner, it is very important to be open about this with your regular vet. It is common practice for vets to refer their patients to other services, and you do not need to feel anxious about asking for this.
Keeping your vet involved in the referral process means that they are aware of all the treatment that your pet is receiving, and you can work together to make sure that your pet gets the best possible care.