Posts Tagged ‘veterinary dermatology’

When to Visit a Veterinary Dermatologist

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

This is the second in a series of blog posts intended to help you determine when your four-legged family member might benefit from a visit with a veterinary specialist. Last week we visited the world of veterinary ophthalmology. This week, the focus is dermatology.

Veterinarians who specialize in dermatology devote their professional lives to diseases of the skin and ears. Itchy, scaly, bald, and greasy are just a few of their favorite adjectives. When should your pet be evaluated by a board certified veterinary dermatologist? I strongly encourage you to consider this when:

  • Your pet’s skin disease is not getting better or is getting worse despite multiple visits with your family veterinarian.
  • Your pet has chronic or recurrent ear infections. The external ear canals are simply an extension of the skin. So it makes sense that veterinarians who specialize in skin disease are also experts at diagnosing and treating ear disease.
  • You want to determine what your pet is allergic to with hopes of desensitization therapy and/or elimination of the offending environmental allergens (dust mites, pollens, molds, etc.). The most accurate way to do this is via skin testing, a technique performed by veterinary dermatologists. While simpler to perform, blood testing to detect allergen sensitivities produces far less reliable results. During the skin testing process, very small amounts of allergens are injected within the superficial layers of the skin to determine which ones induce a significant reaction. This procedure is pain-free, but sedation may be needed for patients who are wiggly or impatient.
  • Your pet has been diagnosed with an unusual type of skin disease, particularly one with which your family veterinarian has limited experience. By the way, it’s perfectly okay to ask your family vet how many cases he or she has treated in the past.
  • Your pet has a chronic condition such as allergic dermatitis or pyoderma (skin infection). The specialist will be aware of cutting edge therapies for such diseases.
  • You simply want to be more certain about the advice you’ve received from your family veterinarian.
  • You are unhappy with the side effects of medication prescribed for your dog’s skin disease. For example, cortisone (prednisone) is often used to treat itchy skin. Common side effects of this medication in dogs include muscle weakness and increased thirst, urination, appetite, and panting.

To find a board certified veterinary dermatologist in your community or learn more about this specialty, visit the American College of Veterinary Dermatology.

Have you and your pet ever visited a veterinary dermatologist? What was the reason and what was the outcome?

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.


What is a Veterinary Specialist?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

I participate in a list serve for veterinarians who specialize in internal medicine. The list serve “topic de jour” concerns veterinarians who are general practitioners (also known as family veterinarians), yet bill themselves as “specialists” in specific venues such as surgery, dentistry, or cardiology.  The responses have been strongly disapproving, and here is the reason why:  The American Veterinary Medical Association dictates that the term “specialist” be reserved only for veterinarians who have completed all of the requirements to become a “diplomate” within a specialty organization. What must a veterinarian do to become an official specialist/diplomate? Trust me, it is a long and arduous process! After graduating from veterinary school, wannabee specialists must complete a minimum three-year internship and residency training program, author publications in peer reviewed journals, and pass some insanely rigorous examinations specific to the specialty they are pursuing.  (Note that the requirements differ for those who become specialists in complementary/alternative medicine fields of veterinary medicine such as homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, and Chinese herbs.) If one is successful in completing this rigorous and extensive training they achieve “board certification” status and are deemed to be “specialists” or “diplomates” within their chosen specialty.  This is much like the process physicians go through to become specialists.

The world of veterinary specialists has grown by leaps and bounds.  Much like Starbucks®, if there’s not already a group of specialists in your community, there likely will be soon!  Veterinary specialists are found in university teaching hospitals and in some private practices.  They often “cohabitate,” sharing specialty staffing, equipment and laboratory services with specialists in different areas of expertise.  When this is the case, you, the lucky client, end up with access to multiple specialists under one roof.  Not only is this convenient, it also focuses a lot of brainpower and experience on your pet- group discussions about patients (medical rounds) typically occur daily in such specialty hospital settings.

When might you need the services of a veterinary specialist? Just as your family physician refers patients to specialists, your family veterinarian should be considering referral in the following three situations:

  1. A second opinion is desired by you or your veterinarian.  Yes, you definitely have the right to request a second opinion.  I know it can be tough telling your vet you would like a second opinion, but as your beloved pet’s medical advocate, you are obligated to do so just as soon a your “gut” starts suggesting that a second opinion makes sense. I encourage you to read the chapter called, “A Second Opinion is Always Okay” in Speaking for Spot- it will provide you with plenty of helpful coaching about how to tactfully broach the subject with your veterinarian! Hopefully your vet has established relationships with local specialists- the kind she would trust to take good care of her own dog should the need arise. Not all family veterinarians are keen on “letting go” of their patients, so self-referral might be your only way to seek out the help of a specialist.
  2. Help is needed to figure out what is wrong with your pet. Specialists have advanced diagnostic tools (ultrasound, endoscopy, CT imaging, MRI scans, etc.) and have developed the skills to use them. Additionally, because of their extensive experience with challenging cases, specialists often have the ability to hone in on a diagnosis in the most direct and expedient manner.
  3. Your vet doesn’t specialize in the disease your pet has or the therapy he needs.  Just as with our own health issues, treatment is ideally managed by someone who works with that particular disease issue day in, and day out, and regularly pursues continuing education pertaining to that disease.

How can you tell if a particular veterinarian is truly a specialist?  Simply examine the initials following his or her name. See the list of specialties and their corresponding initials below. For example, if you look at the initials following my signature (ACVIM), you can tell that I am a specialist in The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. To learn more about any of these areas of specialization, pay a visit to the websites.  Those listed below are within the United States, but you will find comparable organizations in many other countries or continents.

Have you ever taken your pet to a veterinary specialist?  Have you ever wanted to do so, but had trouble getting “buy in” from your family veterinarian?  If so, please share your experience.  I’d love to hear from you.

Diplomate, ACVIM Internal medicine (
Diplomate, ACVIM, Cardiology Cardiology (
Diplomate, ACVIM, Oncology Oncology (
Diplomate, ACVIM, Neurology Neurology (
Diplomate, ACVS Surgery  (
Diplomate, ACVD Dermatology (
Diplomate, ACVR Radiology (
Diplomate, ACVO Ophthalmology (
Diplomate, AVECC Emergency and critical care (
Diplomate, ACVA Anesthesiology (
Diplomate DACVB Behavior (
Diplomate, ACVN Nutrition (
Diplomate, AVDC Dentistry (
Diplomate, ACT Theriogenology (
CVA Veterinary acupuncture (
TCVM Chinese veterinary medicine (
AVH Homeopathy ( or (
ACVA Chiropractic (
CCRP Canine rehabilitation (

Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, ACVIM
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. 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 is available at, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.