Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Meet The Veterinary Specialists: The Surgeon

Pet Column for the week of October 4, 2004

Related information:

Services - Veterinary Profession

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Kim Marie Labak
Information Specialist

Editor's Note: As people have become more health-conscious, and bonds between humans and their pets have deepened, the demand for veterinary specialties such as dermatology, behavior, pathology, and surgery has risen. The following is part of a series exploring these specialties and the University of Illinois veterinarians who practice and teach them.

All veterinarians need to approach their jobs with a strong mix of hands-on skills and brains. But for some surgeries, your local veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified surgeon who has extensive training and performs more surgeries than does a general practitioner. Board-certified surgeons have graduated from an accredited veterinary college and completed four additional years of specialized training in the form of a 1-year internship and a 3-year residency.

Dr. Dianne Dunning, a surgeon at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, explains that general practitioners wear several hats and perform some surgeries very well, but for more serious problems that require a very specific procedure, a specialty surgery clinic can provide a higher standard of care and experience.

Board certification in veterinary surgery covers animal surgery in virtually all its forms, but many surgeons choose to pursue further training in specific species and types of surgery. Universities offer fellowships in areas such as orthopedic, oncologic, and neurologic surgery. Some surgeons even choose to focus on specific procedures, such as organ transplantation.

Dr. Dunning explains that surgeons are responsible not only for performing surgery, but also for overseeing peri-operative and post-operative care. Just as important as the surgery itself is peri-operative care: the diagnosis, assessment, and supportive care before and during surgery. Post-operative care involves intensive monitoring and assessment of a patient, bandaging, pain management, and rehabilitation (veterinary form of physical therapy). Specialty surgical clinics have special facilities for these aspects of care.

As in human medicine, post-operative veterinary rehabilitation has gained much attention recently. More surgeons are abandoning the philosophy of confining a dog in a kennel for weeks of bed rest and are instead using specialized equipment, massage, stretches, and exercises to help animals heal and regain their energy and strength after surgery.

Dr. Dunning points out that specialists cannot and do not work in isolation. Surgeons have close relationships with many other kinds of specialists. Surgeons must communicate with internists, dermatologists, cardiologists, radiologists, and orthopedists in case other health problems may impact or be impacted by surgery. Surgeons work directly with anesthesiologists and surgical technicians in the operating room.

Aside from their clinical work, surgical specialists provide continuing education to the veterinary community, including general practitioners and specialists in other areas, about new developments in surgical practice. Many veterinary surgeons also teach veterinary students and residents in a university setting.

For more information about veterinary surgery or other veterinary specialties, visit the American Veterinary Medical Association Web site at and click on "Veterinary Specialty Organizations."