Why a Specialist’s Opinion is Not Just a “Second Opinion”

By Karin Cannizzo, DVM
Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

We all want the best for our pets and when they are ill or injured we want to know we are doing all we can.  As a veterinary internist, I specialize in advanced medical care for pets and I see pets every day who have been struggling with their illness.

Many pet owners are reluctant to inquire about a specialist because they so highly value their primary care veterinarian that they do not want to offend them, but out of concern for their pet will see another veterinarian on the “sly”.   This is a true “second opinion,” and it usually does not provide the insight that your pet needs.     Why?  Because most veterinarians are very good at their jobs and a second opinion often finds the same roadblocks as the first.

So why is a specialist’s opinion not just a “second opinion?”

By the nature of our training and expertise, specialists provide a further opinion.  The prior evaluations by your primary care veterinarian are an important part of our work.   We review your pet’s history, signs and prior evaluations to try to provide guidance in the next steps.  We will talk about whether these next steps will be diagnostic tests or treatment options.   Some of these next steps may be available through your veterinarian; many are best performed by specialists.

Most of my new patients are referred by their primary care doctor.  But, many others come to us only after the first “second opinion” as either your worry continues or the second veterinarian recommends a specialist.

“But why didn’t my veterinarian refer me sooner?”

Some veterinarians may hesitate to recommend referral as they are unsure how the recommendation will be received.  We became veterinarians because we love and value the animals in our lives, and this includes our patients.  We never want someone to think we are giving up on a difficult case by having your pet cared for by someone else.   This may mirror your own fears that your veterinarian may think you have given up on them if you ask for a specialist’s opinion.  This is outdated thinking on both parts.  When your pet is struggling, who better than you and your veterinarian to recognize that more help is needed?

With the advancement of veterinary medicine, just like human medicine, your primary care veterinarian can no longer expected to provide the all the care needed for every condition.

If you are thinking about a “second opinion” for your pet, change your thinking and ask your veterinarian about a referral to a specialist.