The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons specifies what further training, exams and qualifications a veterinary surgeon must have to call themselves a Specialist in a certain subject.

To become a Specialist, a vet has to train and study, usually for 3-5 years, directly under other Specialists, focussing 100% of their time on their area of expertise. This period is usually called a Residency. After that they have to fulfil certain criteria to be able to take the Specialist’ examination. Once they have passed these examinations they can call themselves Diplomates in their Speciality and they can apply to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to be registered as a RCVS recognised Specialist in their field.

To maintain their status as a Specialist they need to resubmit their credentials every 5 years to show that they are still active in their field of expertise.

All animals can be cared for by a Veterinary Specialist, from horses, dogs and cats to farm animals, camelids, birds, fish and wildlife etc.

You can find a complete list of the veterinary specialist subjects available in the UK here.

Just as in medical care for people there are different levels of veterinary care. Your own veterinary surgeon may suggest that your animal would benefit from a consultation with a Specialist either for a second opinion, further investigations, treatment or surgery.

Your own veterinary surgeon will help guide you as to which area of expertise is needed for your animal and may also provide you with a list of names of Specialists. You can also search for Specialists yourself on

This can normally only be arranged through your own veterinary surgeon, who can guide you as to which Specialist to see and will also provide the Specialist with the full medical history of your animal.

Your own veterinary surgeon will give you advice regarding which Specialist is most appropriate for your animal to see. This is usually the Specialist that will deal with the most urgent or most prominent problem. However, it is possible that your animal may need to see another Specialist(s) for an additional problem(s). Specialists are used to working in collaboration. Actually, there are a lot of Specialists that work behind the scenes and you may never meet them despite the fact they are very important in looking after your animal’s health, such as Pathologists, Diagnostic imagers and Anaesthetists to name but a few.

An appointment is made for the Specialist to see your animal. The location depends very much on each situation. Most Specialists work in Specialists’ facilities, others will visit you at home, on a farm etc.

During the initial consultation you will be asked a lot of questions and your animal will be examined. Based on all that information, the Specialist will discuss all the options, including  pros and cons, with you and you then decide how you want to proceed. This may involve further tests, treatment or surgery and in those cases your animal is likely to be admitted. In some cases, it may be perfectly right to decide not to do anything or to take a ‘wait and see’ approach. 

This depends very much on the Specialist’s advice and your decision. 

If further tests, treatment or surgery is going to be carried out, this usually means that your animal will be admitted. And if all goes well the animal will return to you or your own veterinary surgery at the earliest opportunity and your animal will go back under the care of your own veterinary surgeon. 

The Specialist will provide your veterinary surgeon with a full report on your animal.

In some cases, the Specialist will continue to provide advice to your veterinary surgeon after your animal has been discharged or may still be involved in ongoing treatment, depending on the nature of the initial problem and the facilities of your own veterinary surgeon.

This varies depending on what your animal needs and likely costs will be discussed with you after the initial consultation. Because of the need for special equipment, intensive care etc. the costs are likely to be higher than at a first opinion veterinary surgery.

You can also ask about costs when you make the appointment, however it may be difficult to be very specific before the Specialist has seen your animal.