Q: Our rescue dog’s eye problems have gotten worse over the past year, and our veterinarian says the only thing he can do is flush out her eyes and give her antibiotics. I love our vet but I’m really worried about the dog’s vision. What do you suggest we do?
A: Unless you’re really new to the world of pets, you’re probably familiar with the concept of specialists in veterinary medicine. Cardiologists, internists, surgeons, neurologists and more … Every major metropolitan area has lots to choose from. In your case, it sounds like it’s time to see an ophthalmologist.
All you have to do, as your pet’s No. 1 advocate, is ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Which is not so hard to do.
After all, your veterinarian wants your pet to get better, and there’s nothing untoward or offensive about asking who he recommends for specialized eye care. It’s not like you’re going to divorce him because you want a second opinion from another general practitioner.
Let’s say, however, that your veterinarian dissuades you from seeing a specialist, or elects not to recommend one for whatever reason. You should nonetheless keep in mind that your dog’s health is ultimately your responsibility and that there’s never anything wrong with getting a specialist’s opinion. What’s more, you don’t need a referral.
Given that we have so many to choose from, the tough part isn’t actually finding a specialist who will see her. Rather, it’s knowing when a pet’s condition demands the skills of a specialist.
While leading veterinary organizations have issued guidelines for when veterinarians should refer to specialists, they’re fuzzy on the exact circumstances in which a veterinarian should recognize his or her limitations and offer the services of an expert.
In most cases, however, it’s fairly simple to decide whether your pet needs a specialist. Here’s my rule of thumb:
a) Would you like a second opinion?
b) Is there a legal issue amiss?
c) Is this a nonroutine surgery?
d) Have you seen the vet more than three times for the same problem with no improvement?
e) Is specialized equipment required? (True for ophthalmologists almost always.)
f) Is there a heart issue? Cardiologists are always recommended for any cardiac issue.
g) Are X-rays or ultrasound involved? A radiologist’s weigh-in might be appropriate.
h) Is 24-hour monitoring required?
Now, just because specialists are available doesn’t mean you want their services or can afford them. But you should know they’re there for you, nonetheless.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.