Second Opinions With Specialists: No Obligation Beyond the Consultation

Photo Credit: Shirley Zindler ©

I’m a huge fan of second opinions, whether for ourselves or for our four-legged family members. And, in my mind, no better source for second opinions than doctors who have expanded their education within a particular specialty. In the world of veterinary medicine there’s quite the roster of specialists to choose from including: internists, surgeons, dermatologists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, neurologists, and the list goes on and on.

Resistance to consulting with a specialist

Why are some people reluctant to consult with a veterinary specialist when there’s clear need for a second opinion? In some cases, it boils down to the hassle factor. It can be time consuming and a bit of a shlep to get to the specialist who may be located in another city or even another state.

Resistance to getting a second opinion from a specialist may also stem from the belief that, once one sets foot inside the specialty hospital, there will be no going back to the family veterinarian. Additionally, whatever happens with the specialist will be uber expensive because of all the testing, procedures, and possibly even surgery. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. There is absolutely ZERO obligation or commitment to the specialist beyond the consultation.

What can be gained from the consultation alone?

All by itself, a consultation with a specialist has the potential to provide a wealth of benefits including a better understanding of:

– Whether or not you’ve been on the right track in terms of diagnosing and/or treating your pet’s problem.

– The disease your pet has.

– All of the diagnostic options.

– All of the treatment options.

– Why your pet is not improving as expected or getting worse.

– Your pet’s prognosis.

Here’s the bottom line. If your gut is telling you, “Maybe I should get a second opinion,” I strongly encourage you to obtain a consultation with a veterinary specialist. Even if the news about your pet isn’t good, guaranteed you will walk away with greater peace of mind.

Have you ever taken one of your pets to a specialist for a second opinion? If so, did it prove to be helpful?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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12 Comments on “Second Opinions With Specialists: No Obligation Beyond the Consultation

  1. I am a huge fan of second opinions. No vet- regardless of how good they are- can possibly be aware of every new disease, treatment, holistic alternative, etc. that occurs in many individual specialties. Those who are specialists in the fields that my dogs experience concerns with (and 5 of my six adopted dogs are special needs animals) are such an invaluable source of assistance, support and back-up not only to me and the dogs, but also to my veterinary general practitioner. I will say that I am extremely fortunate to now have a vet who is not at all challenged by a second opinion or the use of specialists. Instead, he looks at them as partners in my animals’ care and the source of increasing his own knowledge in some very specific fields of practice.
    I came to use the second opinion option many years ago when another vet had diagnosed my young Boston Terrier with a tumor in her right eye following a long-term treatment of that eye for what was originally thought to be a corneal ulcer. He wanted me to leave her that day to have the eye removed that same afternoon. I chose to see another practice who, with the inclusion of all 5 staff vets, determined that there was indeed no tumor present. I am so very grateful to have had the option to have that second opinion which allowed Gizzie to have the use of both eyes until she passed away over 10 years later. The original diagnosis had been correct, and suggested treatment that was more aggressive cured the problem.
    As I am my animals’ one true advocate, second opinions have become a second-nature inclusion in their medical care when I feel I would be more comfortable knowing that someone in that field is able to confirm (or correct) a diagnosis.

  2. Yes, we previously had an internal medicine vet at our 24 hour emergency clinic which is run in connection with Iowa State University Veterinary School. Our first Cavalier King Charles had cancer on the top of her head which was pushing on her brain and her eye. The internal med dr told us that her eyeball could be pushed out. That helped us make the decision to have her put down. She had seizures early in her life which we have no doubt were caused by vaccination.

    Our 2nd Cav had a very small seizure at less than a year of age. We made an appointment and took her to the same internal medicine specialist. My belief being that a seizure called for more than a normal vet. Then later she was having urinary infections and the normal vet was not getting them cured. We took her to the internal med vet and he found a yeast infection that the regular vet had not found.

    Thanks to your book, when she was spade I said she will not stay overnight at the vet’s office with no one in attendance. We brought her home with a cone and belly band on and took her back in the morning for the vet to recheck her stitches.

    Also I want to say she is now 4 1/2 years old. The only vaccination she has ever had was when she was 5 months old which was when we purchased her. We just had another titer test done and it showed adequate immunity. Also her rabies was done with the no mercury shot. She is now a very healthy girl.

  3. Yes, I have used a specialist several times. Always gained much more information than a regular vet. I feel one can keep throwing money at the problem and get little help for the pet, or go to the specialist and spend less in the long run. I’ve only had one vet who was offended I used a specialist, oh well, its all about the pet, not the vet’s ego. That was the same vet who told me my dog had cancer, when he did not. My husband wishes we could use our Internal Med. Vet as our regular vet. I know a person who between two vets, spent over $2.000 on her poor dog in a years time. I had advised she use the IMS. The dog died, she never knew a diagnosis. I agree with Dr. Kay’s reasons people have for not using a specialist.

  4. I get a second opinion if my dog has a serious illness. So when my Dalmatian had a problem with her leg and the vets couldn’t decide whether it was cancer or an infection that would require very expensive, (unaffordable), antibiotics, I asked that her x-rays be send to the local teaching college to be read.
    The vets pooh-poohed that idea, saying that the radiologist couldn’t diagnose soft tissue issues from an x-ray. I asked them to humour me, it was my money. Turns out it was a torn ACL and the radiologist diagnosed it in less than 10 minutes.
    Another time my dog was having repeated seizures (petite mal). The vets wanted me to take her to the teaching college to see what exactly it was; a neurological problem or epilepsy.
    That’s when advice from a friend turned out to be invaluable. She had always told me that before having an expensive test done, ask what the treatment would be for each diagnosis. In this case the treatment would be the same no matter what it was, so I didn’t do the testing.
    For myself, when I was diagnosed with cancer I got two and three opinions on most everything, including the pathology work.
    The problem I ran into and that I hear from other people with cancer, as well as people with sick dogs, is that there is a tendency to feel guilty by asking for another opinion. The first oncologist that I went to was downright snotty about it.
    One of my surgeons was delighted and turned to his intern saying “This is the patient of the future, they are going to be involved in decision making, a part of the team, it’s fantastic.”
    Not everyone feels that way. When a friend told her vet she wanted a second opinion she was told “Fine, get a new vet while you’re out looking”.
    Others (and I do live in the South) just don’t have the nerve to even ask for a second opinion for fear that it would hurt their vets feelings.
    So, maybe vets could help out by suggesting a second opinion.

  5. I had visited an eye specialist for my German Sheperd. It was a husband/wife office and both doctors were great. The exams we very similar to my own at the optomitrist. The treatment for glocoma was done with caring hands. While he did have to ear a muzzle during his treatment, it was worth it.

  6. Dr Kay ,
    I msg’d you awhile back about my 14 yr old Toy Poodle. I took him to a neurologist as my Vet & you suggested. It was in a different town but workable. We decided to take her suggestion and have bloodwork performed. Since Dec 15th we have spent $2000. The specialist suggested a $5200. MRI to find out if he has a brain tumor. We said no because even if he did have the brain tumor an operation is not possible because of his Heart Murmur. Im glad we took him and we’re still seeing her every 2 months for blood tests for the Phenobarbital. This little dog has Dementia so the specialist put him on Trazasone (sp) to help him sleep at night because we have lost a lot of sleep and for hrs we’ve watched him run around for hrs,I mean hrs appx. 8-10 hrs at a time. He’s never been “normal” he’s never played like other dogs or ever been affectionate in any way. He sort of lives in his own little world. But we keep hanging in there , we just keep him comfortable, it’s sad.

  7. I took my Toby to a specialist on the advice of my vet. The trip to the city was traumatic and the time spent in the waiting room was also traumatic as it seemed to take forever and I didn’t know what they were doing to my dog. End result was a plan doing less than what Toby needed, so I went back to my vet and said if that is all the specialist can do then you are capable of that surgery. So my vet did the surgery and instead of doing less than was needed, he was able to get the entire anal growth even inside and my dog did just fine and recovered very well.

  8. I have consulted various specialists several times regarding my cats for various symptoms. The specials are extremely knowledgeable, have much more sophisticated technology available, and are more experienced in their areas than my cats regular doctors. I feel the results were more than worth the fees that I paid and feel fortunate to have specialists near where we reside.

  9. In the grand scheme of things, I think I am lucky but mostly because my animals are healthy.

    I can’t say I’ve ever visited a specialist where I was not pressured or manipulated to spend ka-ching money on exams, tests, and meds. Some vets play on people’s emotions to pressure-sell expensive services for reasons other than the best interests of the pet. I’ve seen that too many times now. And this is why I avoid specialists whenever reasonably possible.

    My advice to myself is: If I’m going to visit a specialist or an ER, try to leave my emotion out, do my research, and pre-determine what I can afford and under what conditions. That’s very hard to do when a loved dog is sick or you’re primed with incorrect information.

  10. You know how much I wish (now) that I had done this common sense advice several weeks ago. It might not have made a difference…but it also might have made the difference that kept my dog alive….thanks for posting it for others…I will never let myself go lacking a second opinion again.

  11. I have used veterinary specialists many times, I never regretted a dime on spent on their fees. Research is constantly updating information. If you go to a specialist for yourself then your pets deserve the same care.

  12. There’s a vetmed teaching hospital close by, so finding a specialist for my dogs has never been a problem. One of my shelties had a skin problem that the usual diagnostics did not identify. The vets who see my dogs in the local practice are very open to getting a 2nd (or 3rd) opinion. In this case a dermatologist at the hospital examined my dog, did further skin scrapings, etc.. I was frustrated that the problem remained a mystery (and eventually cleared by itself), but because it turned out to be “an interesting case” I wasn’t charged for the extra visits or lab work.

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