Obtaining a Veterinary Second Opinion for Your Dog

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

Second opinions and referrals often cause great anxiety to pet owners, regardless of whether they are suggested by the veterinarian or considered by the pet owner. Sometimes, despite every effort, things do not go as planned and the attending clinician – the veterinarian treating the pet – suggests that a second opinion with another veterinarian might be in the best interests of the patient.

In other cases, clients become frustrated with their pet’s progress or get the advice of a friend or neighbor to get a second opinion, but may be uncomfortable about discussing this with their regular veterinarian. In most cases, veterinarians simply want what is best for the pet and will not feel threatened or offended. In fact, most veterinarians can help you choose the best veterinarian for a second opinion based on your pet'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. A referral typically 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.

How is a referral or second opinion scheduled?

As your veterinarian, we share your concern about what is best for your pet. If you feel you would like a second opinion or a referral, please feel free to discuss it with us and together we can decide what is best for your pet. It is important that the specialist or second opinion veterinarian has all the facts and your pet's relevant medical history. Once you have discussed obtaining a second opinion or referral with us, we may be able to help coordinate the appointment for you and ensure the full medical history, including any laboratory or diagnostic records, are forwarded in time for your appointment.

Depending on the specialist, they may schedule appointments through your primary care practice or directly with you the pet owner. Regardless of their scheduling preference, they will need medical records from your primary care veterinarian.

What about cost?

Referral to a specialist is generally more expensive than a general practice veterinarian. If your pet is insured, the cost is usually covered by the insurance company. It is your responsibility to check with your pet health insurer and to make any appropriate 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 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 would come to your veterinarian's practice for consults or procedures (most often these are surgical specialists).

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