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Veterinary Referral: When Should I Ask for a Second Opinion?

Reviewed by Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM on Monday, May 5, 2014
Posted March 31, 2014 in A Vet's Life

So, your pet is experiencing a rather complicated issue and while you really like and trust your veterinarian, you are wondering if bringing some additional expertise and experience to bear on the problem might be in order. Or, after a number of treatment attempts, your pet is still not responding as hoped or planned.  

Your veterinarian is by no means giving up, but now you are becoming a bit uneasy about “trying something different.”  What do you do now?  Are you wrong to want to pursue a second opinion or a referral? Are you a bit worried about hurting your veterinarian’s feelings? By seeking another opinion are you, in essence, implying that your veterinarian is “in over his or her head?”  

Absolutely not!

When might I get a second veterinary opinion?
Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, your pet doesn’t respond to treatment and an accurate diagnosis of the problem is proving elusive. In this case, there is nothing wrong with asking for a second opinion. There is an accepted etiquette and possibly a few rules involved in the process, but, in my opinion, second opinions or referrals are sometimes completely appropriate.

I am, very happily so, the quintessential general practitioner—a “jack of all trades,” yet a master of none. Having been in practice for almost 30 years, I think I’m pretty good at what I do. But sometimes I encounter some very challenging cases.  When I encounter difficult cases, involving a specialist can help me and my client get to the bottom of the issue. Sometimes, when I can tell my client is beginning to have doubts, I’ll actually recommend that a second opinion be sought even though I am totally confident and comfortable that I am on the right track.

Second opinions: veterinary specialists versus other general practitioners
When I recommend a second opinion, which is usually the case, I always advise that my clients see an appropriate specialist for the problem at hand. Potential specialists include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Surgeons
  • Internist
  • Neurologist
  • Dermatologist
  • Ophthalmologist
  • Oncologist
  • Dentist
  • Behavior specialist  

Occasionally, my client will ask for a second opinion, and I have no problem with accommodating. However, I typically recommend that you visit a specialist rather than another general practitioner.

I don’t think it is necessarily productive to make a lateral move from one G.P. to another. If the case is a challenging one, the chances

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Jeff has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a licensed veterinarian as well as a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

Opinions expressed are those of the writer:

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.