A small 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 in surgery consists of at least a 1-year internship and a 3-year residency program that meets the exacting standards set by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). The ACVS has set criteria for specific training and caseload requirements in a variety of surgical procedures. Additionally, residents must participate in research that is published in a scientific journal and must pass a rigorous examination testing their surgical knowledge and clinical competency.
Veterinary surgery specialists are referred to as “Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons” (abbreviated DACVS or DACVS-SA [Small Animal]) 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 who has graduated from veterinary school. Additionally, a veterinarian who has taken a course in a certain procedure and may hold a paper certificate to that effect is not a veterinary surgery specialist. The ACVS is the only recognized surgical specialty organization by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) American Board of Veterinary Specialties.
Small animal veterinary surgeons who have become board certified by the ACVS have been exposed to and trained in a wide variety of surgical procedures, as well as specialty training in anesthesia, diagnostic imaging, internal medicine/critical care, and clinical and anatomic pathology. Board-certified veterinary surgeons have been trained to perform advanced surgical procedures of the abdominal organs and gastrointestinal tract, head and neck procedures, minimally invasive surgery (arthroscopy, laparoscopy, and thoracoscopy), spinal surgery, orthopedics, thoracic surgery, urogenital surgery, and reconstructive procedures of the skin. Their training has prepared them for all phases of the surgical management of our small animal patients. Most small animal veterinary surgeons treat primarily dogs and cats, though many have experience with other companion animals, such as birds, rodents, ferrets, rabbits, and reptiles.
Primary care veterinarians have received surgical training in veterinary school sufficient for routine procedures. Board-certified veterinary surgeons have dedicated their careers to training for advanced surgical procedures and work closely with primary care veterinarians, as well as with other specialists in internal medicine, anesthesia, radiology, critical care, cardiology, and oncology, to give their patients the best care. They often have access to specialized equipment and monitoring tools not available in most primary veterinary clinics, have 24-hour monitoring of your pet after surgery, and they work with technicians who understand the needs of animals undergoing surgery. Referral to a board-certified surgeon is recommended for advanced procedures or complicated conditions requiring specialized equipment and care.
Specialists in small animal surgery can be found both in private practices and veterinary teaching hospitals. For more information about finding a surgical specialist in your area, please refer to the Find a Veterinary Specialist tool.