Obtaining a Veterinary Second Opinion for your Cat

By Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

Second opinions and referrals often cause great anxiety to cat owners, regardless of whether the second opinion is suggested by the veterinarian or considered by the cat owner. Sometimes, despite every effort, things do not go as planned and the attending clinician - the veterinarian treating the pet – suggests that it might be beneficial to consider a referral for a second opinion with another doctor.

On the other hand, sometimes clients become frustrated with their pet's progress, or a friend or neighbor suggests that they seek a second opinion. In these instances, clients may feel uncomfortable about requesting a second opinion and may try to avoid letting their veterinarian know. In most cases, your veterinarian simply wants what is best for your pet and will not feel threatened or offended. In fact, most veterinarians can help you choose the most appropriate veterinarian for a second opinion based on your cat's condition.

What is the difference between a second opinion and a referral?

In general, terms, a second opinion refers to another equally credentialed veterinarian's opinion on a case and a referral refers to the transfer of a patient from a general practitioner to a specialist veterinarian.

What are the reasons for referral?

Pets can be referred to a specialist for a variety of reasons. They normally fall into two main groups:

1. The patient requires advanced diagnostic or surgical equipment or procedures not available at the general practitioner's facility.

2. The patient requires advanced expertise in a given condition or specialty or advanced experience with a particular species.

What do I do to schedule a referral or second opinion?

Your veterinarian and you share a common concern, which is what is best for your cat. If you feel you would like a second opinion or a referral, discuss it with your veterinarian and together decide what is most appropriate. It is important that the specialist or second opinion veterinarian have all the facts, including any relevant medical history. Once you have discussed obtaining a second opinion or referral with your veterinarian, they can help you coordinate the appointment for you and ensure that the relevant medical history including any laboratory or diagnostic records are forwarded in time for your appointment.

Specialists may differ in their scheduling procedures. Some specialists prefer to have appointments scheduled through your primary care veterinarian, while other specialists will have you call them directly to schedule the appointment. Regardless of scheduling, the specialist will need to review your pet’s medical records from your primary care veterinarian.

What about cost?

Referral to a specialist is generally more expensive than a general practice consult. If your pet is insured, your pet insurance company will usually cover the cost. It is your responsibility to check with your pet health insurer and make any necessary financial arrangements prior to your referral appointment.

"Referral to a specialist is generally more expensive than a general practice consult."

Most referral centers will try to give you an approximate estimate of the costs involved with your visit. It must be stressed that this can only be an approximate estimate of costs and not an accurate invoice.

Will I have to travel far to see a specialist?

This depends entirely upon the type of specialist opinion required and their location relative to your home. Referral to a specialist may involve a visit to a veterinary school and sometimes means traveling a considerable distance. Today more and more referral centers are being established, especially in urban and suburban areas. In some situations, there may be a traveling specialist that comes to your veterinarian's practice for consults or procedures (most often these are surgical specialists).

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