How to Find a Veterinary Surgeon for your Pet (part 1)

If you are starving for Thai food or tapas, how do you choose a restaurant?

If you are looking for a car with great gas mileage, where do you turn?

If your cat or your dog needs surgery, who should you trust?

You can probably think of a few ways to answer the first two questions. The third question is probably more difficult to answer. Fortunately, this blog can help.

When your pet needs surgery, you have a choice: you can use your family vet, or you can enroll the help of a surgery specialist. If your vet recommends a surgery specialist, how should you decide? You probably shouldn’t pick a surgeon the way you choose a restaurant or a car dealer. After all, we are talking about your beloved pet.

What is a surgeon?

In the US, a surgeon is someone who only performs surgery. Technically, and I realize this is slightly controversial and extremely confusing, the only person who can claim to be a surgeon is somebody who is board-certified in surgery. In the US, a veterinary surgeon has undergone additional training after college (4 years) and vet school (4 years) in order to become a specialist. This training consists of a minimum of a 1-year internship followed by a 3-year residency.

So that’s at least 12 years of training! Then they need to pass the difficult exam of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS).

Here are some suggestions to help you find the right person to perform surgery on your pet.

1. Ask your vet

Can your veterinarian perform the surgery? Or should a surgeon do it? Assuming a surgeon should do it, which surgeons has your vet had a good experience with? What kind of results has your vet heard about? What was their complication rate? Were previous clients happy with their decision? Feel free to ask questions.

2. Ask other pet owners

Your vet should be able to put you in touch with other pet owners who have experience with the prospective surgeon– with their permission of course. They would be an ideal source of information since they have already lived what you will go through.

3. Ask friends and family

Similarly, if you know of friends and family members who have used a surgeon for their pet, ask for feedback.

4. Beware of social media

Don’t trust Yelp and other social media ratings blindly. The Internet can be a great resource for useful information, but it can also be a cesspool of complaints. Remember, far more people will post about negative experiences than positive ones. Also beware of people who have more opinions than experience.

5. Visit www.acvs.org

The American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) offers an online directory that lists all board-certified surgeons. And by the way, this is a great way to make sure that your surgeon truly has the credentials claimed. You can search by location (worldwide) or by name. There is some basic information about each surgeon, and usually a link to the clinic’s web site.

We will go over 5 more ways to find a surgeon next time – plus a bonus 11th way!

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile veterinary surgeon and award-winning author who’d like to share his adventures in practice along with information about veterinary medicine that can really help your pets. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!