The veterinary surgeon who your pet sees for vaccination and check-up exams is likely to be a general practitioner. These vets will have the equipment to diagnose and treat a wide number of encountered health issues. On occasion, your veterinarian might suggest seeking help from a specialist referral vet. This might be for a rare condition, specialised surgery or treatment, or because a bigger hospital has more diagnostic equipment, such as CT or MRI. But where do you go?

Referral vets might be certified as Specialists in a particular area such as nutrition, cardiology, or neurology. This means that they have completed an intensive residency, where they saw cases only within their specialty for a number of years. There are also a assessments and exams which they must pass to earn their certification. Some referral vets might work in a large hospital and will have specialised equipment at their disposal; such as an MRI machine or a hydrotherapy treadmill.

Others might be Advanced Practitioners, which is a slightly lower level of qualification than a Specialist. However, Advanced Practitioners are nevertheless considered experts in a particular field, such as orthopaedic surgery or small animal internal medicine. Neither is necessarily better for your pet than the other, it depends on their exact area of expertise.

How do I get a referral vet?

If your regular vet determines that your pet could benefit from a referral, they will send you to a specialist. Your primary vet will know the full history of your pet. Therefore they will be able to best match them to the referral that they need. The full medical history will be sent over so that the specialist vet has all the information they need to move forward with the case.

Will my primary vet know what progress is made with the referral vet?

Your vet should get an update from the referral vet regarding the progress of your pet’s health issue; as well as any diagnostics and recommended treatment. You can always ask for a copy of your pet’s record so that you can share it with your primary vet.

How long will I have to wait to get my referral vet appointment?

Some referrals will have to be done straight away in the case of an emergency situation. For medical issues that aren’t time-sensitive, your pet might have to wait a few days to a few months to be seen by a specialist.

Will my pet have to be admitted to the referral hospital for the consultation?

Many referral appointments will be very similar to visits with your primary veterinarian. The main difference will be that the referral vet will focus diagnostics and treatments on their area of specialty or expertise. If your pet is being referred for a special type of diagnostic, such as an MRI scan, it may be that you will be asked to leave your pet at the referral clinic for a few hours. You can speak to your primary vet to get more information. Or they can direct you to the best person to ask about what to expect on the day of referral. 

Why can’t I choose my own referral vet?

Your vet will know the history of your pet and will be able to select the best referral vet for your pet’s situation. However, if there are a few different options for referral, there will likely be an opportunity to discuss these with your vet and decide which works best for you and your pet.

You can certainly express your opinion and your vet will almost always ask what your feelings are. Your vet will of course factor in issues like distance and finances, if you tell them what your limits or requirements are; however, legally, the final decision rests with them.

What if I decide not to go with a referral?

If you end up deciding that a referral to a particular specialist vet is not for you, have a chat with your family vet. Your general practitioner vet will be able to review your pet’s case history and create another plan that will work best for you.

After the referral, can I switch to my referral vet for my regular checkup appointments?

Even if you love your referral vet, they will not be able to offer annual checkup appointments. Your pet’s regular general practitioner vet will be best suited to provide that level of care. The referring vet will see your pet for as long as it takes to diagnose and create a treatment plan; and potentially for occasional follow ups.

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