A large animal veterinary surgeon is a specialist in veterinary surgery whom, after graduation from veterinary school, has completed advanced training in order to become board certified. This training consists of, at a minimum, a 1-year internship followed by a 3-year residency that meets the criteria established by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). During the residency there are specific requirements in terms of caseload and exposure to a variety of surgical procedures. Additionally residents must perform clinical research that is published in scientific journals. Once these requirements have been fulfilled, the resident must pass a rigorous examination following the standards set forth by the ACVS.
Veterinary surgery specialists are referred to as “Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons” or “board-certified veterinary surgeons”. These designations should not be confused with the term “veterinary surgeon” used in some countries (for example the United Kingdom) to refer to any licensed veterinarian that has graduated from veterinary school. The ACVS is the only recognized surgical specialty organization by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) American Board of Veterinary Specialties.
Large animal surgery has two major components: equine (horse) surgery and farm animal (bovine, small ruminants, and South American camelids) surgery. Large animal surgery residents may focus their training in either equine surgery or large animal general surgery (with emphasis in farm animal surgery). Currently, surgeons with an emphasis in equine patients constitute two thirds of all large animal surgery Diplomates.
Some routine procedures, like castrations, can generally be performed by primary care veterinarians. Referral to a board-certified surgeon is recommended for any advanced procedures (arthroscopy, laparoscopy, respiratory tract surgery, abdominal surgery), for procedures requiring specialized equipment (laser surgery, fracture fixation, minimally invasive surgery), procedures requiring intensive monitoring or carrying more risk to the life of the patient (colic surgery, complex lacerations, joint infections, etc.) and for complex lameness examinations (complicated cases, cases that require advanced diagnostic imaging techniques or when a surgical treatment might be indicated).
Specialists in large animal surgery can be found both in private practice and veterinary teaching hospitals. For more information about finding a surgical specialist in your area, please refer to the Find a Veterinary Specialist tool.