How to Find the Best Orthopedic Veterinarian

Dog with cast on leg in veterinary office
Dog with cast on leg in veterinary office (Image: Monkey Business Images Ltd/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

Orthopedic veterinarians diagnose and treat problems involving an animal's musculoskeletal system -- anything involving the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons. For your pet to remain active and pain-free, all of these systems must work together in harmony. When a pet suffers an injury or develops a degenerative disease affecting these structures, good orthopedic care can get him on the proper road to recovery.

Start With Your Veterinarian

There's a good chance your search for a good orthopedic veterinarian will begin and end with your own veterinarian. Many practicing veterinarians can perform orthopedic procedures. Depending upon the nature and severity of the injury, the prescribed course of treatment and your pet's prognosis, you may not need to search any further than your pet's regular doctor. If, however, either you or your veterinarian think that your pet requires more advanced care than your own vet is able or qualified to administer, you may need to expand your search for a veterinary orthopedic specialist.

Get a Veterinary Referral

Your pet's veterinarian already works with or is aware of orthopedic veterinarians in your area. He will be familiar with the qualifications, abilities and even the bedside manner of these individuals. He will have had personal interactions with them at conferences, or he will have heard feedback and comments from other clients who have used these specialists in the past. Ask your own veterinarian for his recommendation based upon his personal experiences, then follow up with your own due diligence by checking the orthopedic veterinarian's qualifications and client reviews.

Ask the Board

If your pet requires orthopedic surgery, contact the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Setting the standard for the highest level of excellence in veterinary surgery, the ACVS has more than 1,700 certified veterinarians. More than 60 percent of these veterinarians work in private or specialty clinics and accept referrals from a pet's primary care veterinarian. The remainder are involved in education and research. The ACVS provides referrals of qualified surgeons to pet owners.

Go to College

Many well-known veterinary colleges, such as the University of California Davis College of Veterinary Medicine, provide specialty treatments for pets upon referral from a primary care veterinarian. Generally, the pet owner can make the first phone call to the university's animal clinic and schedule an appointment, and treatments typically cost the same as if the procedure was performed by a veterinarian in private practice.

What to Pack

If your pet will receive treatment from a specialty veterinarian or university animal hospital, you will need to bring several items to your appointment. The orthopedic veterinarian will need all available information on your pet's injury as well as any diagnostic tests such as X-rays, blood tests or ultrasound readings. You will need to provide the orthopedic veterinarian with a list of all medications and supplements your pet is taking, and you will want to bring food for your pet if he is on a specialized diet. Finally, if you have received a referral from your primary care veterinarian, you will need a copy of the referral.

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