Veterinarian working on animals teeth with mouth X-ray in foreground
Although not as many specialists exist in veterinary medicine as in human medicine, the number and the kinds of certified veterinary experts grow every year.

Current companion-animal specialties include such "system" areas of expertise as cardiology, dentistry, dermatology and oncology. There are also "species" specialists, such as those veterinarians certified as experts on bird health. Behavior specialists are becoming more common as well. These veterinarians help people and their pets work through such problems as house-soiling or separation anxiety with the aid of medication and behavior-modification techniques.

"System" specialties usually require additional study in a two- to five-year residency program, followed by a rigorous examination. These certifications are handled by a board such as the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, which is why certified specialists are sometimes referred to as "boarded" or "board-certified."

For veterinarians already in practice, the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners also offers specialty certifications, including those in feline and avian practice. The certifications also require passing a difficult examination.

Many urban centers support independent specialists or specialty practices. But in less populated areas, you're more likely to find a full complement of specialists at the closest university with a school or college of veterinary medicine.

The relationship between your pet's regular veterinarian and a specialist is one of cooperation and trust. Your veterinarian will consult with or refer you to a specialist, knowing that when the situation he sent you there for is resolved, you will be sent back to his practice. Without this understanding, your regular veterinarian would be understandably reluctant to refer a client he will not get back.

If your veterinarian is reluctant to refer you to a specialist, remember that the final decision in your pet's care is always yours. Keep the lines of communication open with your veterinarian if you can, but realize your pet's care is your responsibility, and seek a second opinion or specialist on your own.