Skip to main content

Dogs Have Different Types of Veterinary Specialists Too

In the field of human medicine, it's common practice for doctors to refer their patients to some type of specialists, and the same multi-tiered practice is now occurring in the veterinary field as there are now many different types of veterinary specialists for dogs to choose from. While your veterinarian is your go-to person when your dog needs a check-up or is feeling unwell, more and more veterinarians now turn their difficult and most challenging cases to veterinary specialists. When is it time for your dog to see a veterinary specialist, and most of all, who are these specialists and what do they do?


When to See A Veterinarian

Regular veterinarians undergo many years of training where they learn how to diagnose and treat several conditions and diseases affecting dogs, cats and possibly, other animals they specialize in (avian, exotics). Typically, a veterinarian will obtain an undergraduate degree at some University or College before entering veterinary school. Once in veterinary school, prospective veterinarians then undergo a 4-year program with several months spent being mentored by other vets.

Veterinarians are recognized by the title DVM following their name which stands for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Veterinarians graduating from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Vet) are recognized instead by the title VMD which stands for Veterinary Medical Doctorate. 

Your veterinarian is the first place to go when your dog needs a check-up, sustains some type of injury or when your dog is feeling unwell. Veterinarians therefore act in a similar fashion as a family practice physician.

[otw_is sidebar="otw-sidebar-1"]

Did you know? In medical circles there is a saying: "When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras." This saying comes from Dr. Theodore Woodward, professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who used it when instructing his medical interns.

What this means is that, upon noticing symptoms, one must go for the most simple diagnosis. So if say, a dog is itching, the dog is most likely to do so because of allergies rather than some rare skin worm infestation. However, when things seem to get quite challenging, it's often a sign that it time to see a specialist, who can be more familiar with seeing zebras, which may be less rare than thought as they get to see many complex cases.

"Although I agree with Dr. Woodward’s original premise, I have always felt it best to teach my students: "When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, zebras and any other cloven-hoofed animal that might be responsible for the sound.”~John Lewis VMD, DAVCD

When to See a Veterinary Specialist


A veterinary specialist is a veterinarian who has completed additional years of training in a specifically chosen field that is not included in the average vet school. These additional years of intensive training include a a 2-3 year residency in choice of specialty which is followed by a rigorous credentialing process, which, when passed, leads to board-certification.

When a veterinarian completes this rigorous training he becomes a "diplomat. " On top of using the title DVM or VMD, these specialists have extra letters which informs about their area of specialty. For example, Emily Moeller, DVM, DACVO is a veterinarian (DVM) and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (DACVO).

When does a dog need to see a veterinary specialist? In most cases, veterinarians will be the first to refer to one when they deal with complicated issues, but some dog owners can attest that it doesn't always go this way. Sometimes vets may be reluctant to provide this option because they may assume that distance or financial reasons will discourage owners from pursuing such option or they may truthfully feel that they are treating the dog correctly.

However, a dog who has had undergone several batteries of tests and who are not getting better despite repeated visits and treatments or a dog who needs a delicate type of surgery that requires a certain level of expertise, may benefit from a visit to a specialist.

At some point, it may be necessary for the dog owner to step in and ask if seeing a specialist may be a good idea or the owners may decide to seek a specialist on their own. Some specialists don't require a referral, but they will need your dog's medical history and records.

"With some exceptions, any time it takes more than three visits to solve a problem you should consider seeing a specialist to help suss it out. Sure, some issues are well-understood to require several follow-up visits (and your vet will usually tell you about this up front), but if you find yourself frustratingly fighting an increasingly difficult problem, it’s probably time to see a specialist." Dr. Patty Khuly 

dog pain goes away at the vet

Keep this List of Types of Veterinary Specialists Handy! 

Did you know? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) there are currently 40 veterinary specialties and more than 11,000 veterinarians have attained the title as board- certified diplomats by veterinary specialty organizations.

If you think your dog may benefit from some specialized care, being aware about these specialists can help you out.

Here is a list of several veterinary specialties, their associated abbreviations and descriptions of what these areas of specialty may entail.

  • DACVAA or Dip. ACVAA

These are board-certified Diplomates of The American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA). These veterinarians specialize in veterinary anesthesiology and pain management. Many of these specialists practice and teach in veterinary schools while others may work in hospitals or private specialty practices. Dogs who may benefit from seeing a veterinary anesthesiologist are dogs who are at a higher anesthetic risk either because of age, size or physical condition. Organs that require close attention when a dog is under are the dog's brain, lungs, heart, kidney and liver. Veterinary anesthesiologists are specifically trained to monitor, recognize and care for any complications that may arise as a result of anesthesia.

  • DACVB or Dip. ACVB

These are board-certified Diplomates of the American College of Behavior Specialists (ACVB). These veterinarians specialize in animal behavior including dogs, cats, horses and birds. What makes them stand out from the crowd? These specialists are able to diagnose and treat behavior problems in animals, whether stemming from a medical problem or being purely behavioral in nature. Since they are also veterinarians, these specialists are also licensed to prescribe drugs that are meant to be used along with behavior modification. While veterinarians, dog trainers and behavior consultants may provide help for behavior problems, their expertise doesn't generally reach the depth or breadth of that of a Veterinary Behaviorist. Aggression, anxiety, phobias, repetitive behaviors, inappropriate elimination and excessive vocalizations are just a few behavior problems these experts address.

  • DAVDC or Dip. AVDC

These are board-certified Diplomats of the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). These veterinarians specialize in veterinary dentistry. These veterinarians have made dental care their area of specialty, and as such, they provide expertise in delicate or unusual dental procedures such as root canals, crowns and certain types of surgical procedures such as correcting a malocclusion, performing a complicated extraction or removing a dog's oral tumor from the mouth.

  • DACVD or Dip. ACVD

These are board-certified Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology (ACVD) These veterinarians specialize in veterinary dermatology and the treatment of skin, ear, hair, nail, hoof, and mouth disorders. There are countless skin conditions affecting dogs and things can get complicated at times. Veterinary dermatologists have what it takes to properly diagnose and treat skin diseases whether caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or autoimmune conditions, hair loss, skin cancers, systemic disorders resulting in skin problems and more. These specialists have therefore made skin problems their area of specialty and since several skin problems in humans are similar to those found in animals, they also obtain training in comparative medicine along with training in internal medicine, immunology and allergy.

  • DACVO or Dip. ACVO

These are board-certified Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). These veterinarians specialize in veterinary ophthalmology. A veterinary ophthalmologist can work alongside your vet to diagnose and treat any eye disorders affecting your dog. Many eye disorders in dogs require prompt care and if they do not respond to initial therapy or if a dog's vision is deteriorating, a specialist may be needed. Veterinarians specializing in eye disorders can provide helpful insights in complex cases. They have special diagnostic machines and can carry out some complex surgeries such as cataract surgery, cherry eye surgery or enucleation (eye removal).

Scroll to Continue

Discover More

Dogs can attack out of frustration

Are Intact Male Dogs More Likely To be Attacked?

Whether intact male dogs are more likely to be attacked is something important to consider especially if you own an intact male dog or run a day care.

Screenshot 2022-11-29 200314

Scotland's "Suicide Bridge," Where Dogs Jump Off

As odd as it may sound, there is a bridge located in Scotland from which hundreds of dogs have jumped off, giving this bridge a bad rap.

Screenshot 2022-11-28 134639

Why Does My Dog Yawn When I Kiss Him?

If your dog yawns when you kiss him, you may be wondering what's up with this behavior. Discover why dogs yawn and what it means.

  • DACVN or Dip. ACVN

These are board-certified Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). These are veterinarians specializing in nutrition. A veterinary nutritionist can help you develop a customized diet for a dog, help market a specific product and tackle any conditions and disorders derived from a dietary problem. There's no denial that nutrition plays a primary role in a dog's state of health and veterinary nutritionists have what it takes to formulate commercial diets and supplements, home-made diets and help meet the nutritional needs of dogs of different ages, breeds and health statuses. You may find veterinary nutritionists working for vet schools, dog food companies and veterinary companies, although some of them run their own businesses.


These are board-certified Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Radiology (ACVR). These are veterinarians specializing in veterinary radiology. It's a known fact that there is currently a great expansion when it comes to veterinary diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy procedures. It can be quite difficult for regular veterinarians to keep up with all these advances in technology. Here comes the role of veterinary radiologists, specialists who use state-of-the art equipment and procedures meant to help in important diagnostics. Their practice is not limited to x-rays, these experts specialize in ultrasound, Ct scans, MRI's, nuclear medicine and radiation oncology. A veterinary radiologist also can see things that can be missed by the regular vet, so consulting with them for image interpretation is a big plus.

  • DACVS or Dip. ACVS

These are board-certified Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS).  As their title implies, these are veterinarians specializing in surgery. While all vets learn how to perform various surgical procedures in vet school, sometimes dogs may need advanced care and procedures that are not routinely performed by the average vet. This is when veterinary surgeons are needed. These specialists can deal with complicated cases that require advanced procedures, specialized equipment and intensive monitoring when there are particular risks for the pet.

Veterinary surgeons may further specialize in certain types of surgery. There are therefore Dip. ACVS in Small Animal orthopedic surgery or DACVS (Small Animal Orthopedic Surgery) specializing in surgical procedures involving joints, ligaments, tendons and bones and Dip. ACVS in soft tissue surgery or DACVS (Soft Tissue Surgery) specializing in surgical procedures involving non-bone tissues and tissues of internal organs.

  • DACT or Dip. ACT

These are board-certified Diplomats of the American College of Theriogenologists (ACT). These are veterinarians specializing in reproduction. These specialists focus on the physiology and pathology of reproductive systems and obstetrics. Breeders may consult with these specialists when their breeding stock develops conditions or diseases affecting their ability to reproduce. Many veterinary theriogenologists mostly work with livestock, but some also work with small animals including dogs and specialize in their reproductive diseases.

  • DACVIM or Dip. ACVIM

These board-certified veterinarians are Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM). These are veterinarians specializing in internal medicine, which broadly encompasses the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of several conditions and diseases.

Within this area of specialty are several sub-specialties such as Dip. ACVIM in Neurology or DACVIM (Neurology) veterinarians specializing in diseases of the brain, spinal cord and other nervous system disorders, Dip. ACVIM in Oncology or DACVIM (Oncology), veterinarians specializing in tumors and cancer, and Dip. ACVIM in Cardiology or DACVIM (cardiology), veterinarians specializing in the heart and circulatory system.


These are board-certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC). As the name implies, these are specialists in emergency care when every seconds counts. If a dog is suffering from a life threatening disease, these specialists will closely monitor the pet in an intensive care unit until the animal recovers. These specialists undergo intense training in emergency, surgery and critical care and are often found in an emergency practice or they may work alongside other vets in a hospital setting or they can be found teaching at a vet school. Dogs that may benefit from this this type of care include dogs sustaining traumas, dogs in shock needing a blood transfusion, dogs having trouble breathing, heart problems or neurological diseases.


These are board-certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists (ACVM). These specialists focus on Infectious Diseases.


These are board-certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP). These specialists focus on how medications affect animals.


These are board-certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine (ACVPM). These specialists focus on the detection, prevention, and control of diseases that affect food, animals and the general public.


These are board-certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (ACVSMR). These veterinarians specialize in rehabilitating dogs and horses from sport-related injuries. With many dog sports around nowadays, this field is expanding.


These are board -certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Toxicology (ACVT). These veterinarians specialize in how poisons and toxic products can affect animals.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice.


  • Embrace Pet Insurance, Ten Ways to Know If Your Pet Needs a Veterinary Specialist, retrieved from the web on August 6th, 2016
  •  American Veterinary Medical Association, AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties, retrieved from the web on August 6th, 2016
  • Veterinary Practice News, Keeping An Eye Out For Zebras, retrieved from the web on August 6th, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • A vet examines a dog in New York, Archivist1174 - Own work, Photo of New York State Assemblyman Dr. Stephen M. "Steve" Katz at the Bronx Veterinary Center.CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Tony Alter, Clean Bill Of Health, (CC BY 2.0) Flickr, Creative Commons

[otw_is sidebar="otw-sidebar-1"]

Related Articles