What Is A Board Certified Veterinary Surgeon?

A board certified veterinary surgeon is a licensed veterinarian whom has obtained intensive, additional surgical training and has passed the board examination administered by the American College of Veterinary Surgery. A veterinary surgeon can offer special assistance in the following kinds of cases:

  • Traumatic injuries: fractures, ligament and tendon injuries, skin wounds, burns and lacerations
  • Emergency Surgeries: gastric and intestinal foreign body removal, correction of gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV), caesarean section, pyometra surgery (infection in the uterus), and splenectomy
  • Developmental Orthopedic conditions: hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), angular limb deformities
  • Orthopedic surgeries: arthroscopy, cruciate ligament injury surgery (TPLO), correction of medial patellar luxation, fracture repair, ligament/tendon repair 
  • Soft tissue surgeries to treat: laryngeal paralysis, brachycephalic airway syndrome, tumors (cancers) on or within the body, correction of congenital conditions (e.g. ectopic ureters)

While your general practitioner veterinarian can diagnose and treat many health problems, certain diseases and conditions require the care of a doctor who has had specialized surgical training in order to provide the very best outcome for your pet. Your veterinary surgeon will work closely with your general practitioner veterinarian, as well other board certified specialists in veterinary internal medicine, oncology, neurology, and radiology when necessary based on your pet’s specific condition.

Why Does My Pet Need A Veterinary Surgeon?

Just as your own primary care physician may feel the need to refer you to the care of a specialist from time to time, your general practitioner veterinarian may feel your pet needs the additional expertise of a board certified surgeon for certain procedures and surgeries.

At VCA VSNC, our surgeons have access to specialized diagnostic and surgical equipment, the latest and safest anesthesia monitoring equipment, physical therapy and rehabilitation capabilities, and other critical care services that a general practitioner may not have access to. All of these specialized services may be necessary for the optimal care and recovery of your pet.

You can be assured that a veterinarian who knows when to refer you and your pet to a veterinary surgeon is one that is caring and committed to ensuring that your pet receives the highest standard of care for his or her problem.

Will My Regular Veterinarian Still Be Involved?

In many surgical cases, your regular veterinarian will still supervise your pet's overall veterinary health care, especially if your pet is continuing to cope with a disease or chronic condition. Your general practitioner veterinarian may oversee many aspects of your pet's pre-op and post-op care, just as in human medicine. Recovery periods can be prolonged in some surgical cases, particularly in orthopedic and neurologic surgery, and it is very important to follow your veterinary team's recommendations concerning at-home recovery guidelines for your pet, follow up care and appointments, as well as any rehabilitation that has been prescribed.

Did You Know?

Just as in humans, a pet's recovery from veterinary surgery can go more smoothly or even result in a better outcome with the addition of rehabilitation options. VCA VSNC offers rehabilitation services such as underwater treadmill, physical therapy, massage therapy, cold laser, shockwave therapy and acupuncture as an adjunct to surgical care.

If you think that your pet may benefit by consultation with a board certified veterinary surgeon, talk to your general practitioner veterinarian, or find a board certified veterinary surgeon near you today.

Frequently Asked Questions

One of the most common causes of rear limb lameness in dogs is a tear or rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament. Similar to the anterior cruciate ligament in people, this ligament provides stabilization within the stifle joint (the “knee”). When this ligament is injured, it is painful to the animal and causes degenerative changes and arthritis. In most cases, surgical stabilization is recommended to minimize abnormal wear and tear in the joint. The TPLO or Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy is one of the most common surgeries performed to restore the biomechanics of the stifle. 

Your veterinary specialist will discuss in greater detail the specifics of this surgery and the importance of exercise restriction and physical therapy during the recovery period. 

The term elbow dysplasia refers to a group developmental degenerative diseases of the elbow joint that can occur in medium to large breed dogs. Dogs with elbow dysplasia typically show signs of lameness before reaching one year of age, although in some cases lameness may not become apparent until middle age.

At VCA VSNC, we use Computed Tomography (CT) to definitively diagnose elbow dysplasia and to determine the best treatment options. For young dogs with this condition, surgical and medical intervention is often the treatment of choice. If you think your dog is experiencing problems in his or her elbow joint, be sure to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian.

Hip dysplasia is a hereditary, developmental disease that affects the coxofemoral (hip) joints of dogs. Certain breeds are more likely to be affected than others and the prevalence of the condition in large and giant breeds is well documented. Small breed dogs and cats can also be affected but this is much less common. 

The coxofemoral joint is a ball and socket joint. With hip dysplasia, the coxofemoral joint is lax and the ball of the joint comes out of the socket in varying degrees. This abnormal motion within the joint creates inflammation and damages the cartilage of the joint and osteoarthritis develops. All puppies should be evaluated for laxity in the hip joint since signs of the disease may not appear until after the dog matures. Hip pain, stiffness, abnormal gait patterns, an audible 'clicking' sound while walking, and a reluctance to exercise are all possible signs of hip dysplasia.

The disease is usually diagnosed using sedated palpation (manual manipulation) of the coxofemoral joints and radiographs (x-rays). There are multiple surgical treatment options available depending on the patient’s age, response to medical therapy and severity of the disease. 

Many owners are increasingly seeking specialized care for their pets, just as they do with other family members, in order to secure the very best outcome. If your pet is facing surgery, here are some questions you may wish to ask your general practitioner veterinarian:  

How often have you performed this type of surgery?

Does the surgery require any special equipment?

Is it available?

Does my pet's surgery require a specialist?

What should I expect the outcome of the surgery to be?

What follow up care is necessary?

Source: The American College of Veterinary Surgeons

Veterinarians who want to become board certified in small animal surgery must seek additional training to become a specialist and earn this prestigious credentialing. Specialty status is granted by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). A veterinarian who has received this specialty status will list the initials, 'DACVS,' after his or her DVM degree. Or, the veterinarian may indicate that he or she is a 'Diplomate' of the ACVS. The word 'Diplomate' means the veterinarian has achieved the following:  

1. Obtained a degree in veterinary medicine from a university certified by the American Veterinary Medical Association following completion of undergraduate requirements

2. Completed a one year general internship, plus an additional three to four years of advanced training in a residency at an ACVS approved veterinary teaching hospital where the veterinarian will have trained with some of the best surgeons in the field and obtained hands on experience

3. Completed the credentialing application process established by the ACVS, including publication of research results

4. Passed a rigorous examination

Once these requirements have been met, the veterinarian is then awarded Diplomate status by the ACVS and is recognized as a board certified specialist in veterinary surgery. When your pet needs the care of a veterinary surgeon, you can be assured that years of additional training and education will be applied to the care of your pet so that he or she can enjoy the highest quality of life possible.

Cruciate ligament stabilization (TPLO's and other traditional methods)

Management of hip dysplasia

Orthopedic conditions of the shoulder and elbow

Fractures and ligamentous injuries



Spinal problems/herniated discs

Wound management and skin reconstruction

Congenital abnormalities

Urinary obstructions

Tumor/cancer removal

Limb amputation

The diagnosis of cancer in dogs and cats is a common occurrence. At VCA VSNC, our medical and surgical oncologists work together to provide the best care for your pet. VCA VSNC is a VCA Pet Cancer Center and is on the forefront of safe and effective cancer therapies. If your pet has any lump or bump, talk to your veterinarian to have it evaluated. Early diagnosis and treatment is imperative for improved outcomes in pet cancer therapy.  

Three orthopedic surgeries that are commonly performed in pets are triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO), total hip replacement (THR), and cruciate ligament repair (TPLO).

In the TPO procedure, the bones of the pelvis are cut apart and rotated to more correct positions. In THR procedures, a dog's diseased hip joints are replaced with prosthetic ones. TPO's and THR's are two commonly used surgical techniques for the treatment of canine hip dysplasia (CHD), an inherited and potentially painful disease that affects the hip joints of millions of dogs. Cruciate ligament disease can occur in both dogs and cats, who usually tear or rupture this ligament while exercising, playing, or simply landing incorrectly after a jump. The ligament will not heal without surgery. Surgery helps to stabilize the pet's knee joint and prevent further wear on the joint and associated structures. An increasingly common surgical technique to correct this situation is called the Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy or TPLO.

Surgery is a major medical procedure and is often associated with pain in both animals and humans. You can be assured that your veterinary team'"your pet's general practitioner veterinarian, veterinary surgeon, and any other veterinary specialists involved in your pet's care'"will prescribe pain management options to help keep your pet as comfortable as possible before, during, and after surgery. If you are concerned about pain management for your pet, simply ask your veterinarian.