© Duhayer/Royal Canin

All veterinarians are trained to treat diseases of small animals, even those who work in rural areas, but growing urbanisation has led some to specialise in dogs and cats either as generalists or specialists.

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As in human medicine, the role of veterinarians is to ensure the animals
under their care are healthy wherever they live.


Many general practitioners work in small animal medicine. Their clients include individual owners and breeders. As in human medicine, their role is to ensure the animals under their care are healthy. They have three main focus areas:

• Preventative medicine: routine vaccinations, worming treatments, anti-parasite treatments and nutritional advice. This includes some surgical interventions, such as teeth scaling and neutering. They also monitor gestation and give advice to ensure that whelping occurs in optimal conditions.

• Cure: all medical and surgical interventions associated with disease or injury. This entails large investments in expensive equipment.

• Advice: veterinarians increasingly provide advice and recommendations in terms of behavioural management, training, diet, choice of breed and other matters. Owners are looking for someone who can help them understand their dog, based on the overriding concern for its well-being.

General veterinary medicine is accordingly a vast field, which is why veterinarians rarely work alone. A practice is a small business with employees (receptionists, nurses, practice manager, veterinary assistants) and sometimes several partners.

Kennel veterinarians

© Hermeline/Diffomédia

In some countries, as kennels grow bigger they need dedicated veterinarians to look after their dogs and ensure living and breeding conditions are optimal. This extends to the arrangement of buildings, hygiene (ventilation, surface area per dog) and the distribution of food to different groups of animals (breeding stock, lactating and gestating females, and puppies).

To gain the best results, the veterinarian should work on site, drawing up precise reports and providing breeders with recommendations on how best to care for their dogs.


Just as in human medicine, research and technical advances have led to the emergence of various fields and some veterinarians prefer to specialise in one particular field.


This discipline is focused on detecting heart abnormalities by means of clinical examination and the use of sophisticated equipment, such as X-ray machines, sonographs and electrocardiographs.


Neurological vets specialise in disorders of the nervous system, the brain, spinal cord and nerves. They use diagnostic tools including x-ray machines and electromyographs.


This essentially involves treating skin diseases, some of which can be diagnosed immediately while others need further tests including lab analysis of samples or biopsies.


Dogs require ophthalmic care in the case of disease or injury of the eye. This field includes examination for congenital disorders and surgery for cataracts.


© Duhayer/Royal Canin

Bone surgery is becoming increasingly sophisticated and many fractures and abnormalities that were formerly untreatable are now routinely treated.


It is not uncommon for a dog to break a bone in an accident. The extent of surgery and the care required depend on the severity of the fracture. This field includes surgery on dysplasia, degenerative disorders, sporting injuries and congenital conditions. Surgery is becoming increasingly sophisticated and many fractures and abnormalities that were formerly untreatable are now routinely treated.

Most specialisations demand very expensive equipment, which is why general practitioners often refer dogs to specialists when they require specific care.


© Duhayer/Royal Canin

Receptionists have a major influence on the image of the practice, as they deal directly with clients, so they need to be able to weigh up a given situation and act accordingly. Receptionists serve as a “filter” between the veterinarian and the client, fielding phone calls, whether it is a simple request for information or an emergency. They also handle client files and may send out vaccination reminders.

Veterinary nurses

The Veterinarian’s job is greatly facilitated by the assistance of a veterinary nurse. In many countries this is a separate profession that demands a similarly high level of training as nurses in human medicine.

Invaluable assistance in the practice…

Veterinary nurses monitor the stock of drugs and other materials within the practice, placing orders for replacement stock as needed. They help during examinations and procedures in the consulting room and with dispensing medicines. They are responsible for monitoring the hospital kennels, and providing day-to-day care for patients under the veterinarian’s supervision.

... and in the operating room

Nurses assist during surgery, and with pre- and post-operative care. They sterilise and set out instruments and prepare the animals. During operations they are responsible for ensuring anaesthesia goes smoothly. They may also assist the veterinary surgeon by handing the right instrument at the right moment and swabbing any bleeding. They monitor animals as they come round after surgery and clean the surgical wound, applying a bandage if necessary. Nurses are dedicated professionals who are responsible for much of the care dogs receive when they visit the veterinarian.

Qualifying as a veterinarian

Whatever the country, qualifying as a veterinarian is never easy. Training is long and laborious, and places are often scarce, which produces ferocious competition.

Veterinarians need to be all-round scientists. Alongside the main subject area – anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, biophysics, zoology, pathology, pharmacology and nutrition – trainee veterinarians study an array of specialist fields, including animal husbandry, inspection of animal foodstuffs, hygiene, bacteriology and virology, meat inspection as well as core veterinary skills such as medicine and surgery on a range of species, infectious and parasitic diseases, and more.

The veterinary profession has changed enormously over the past two decades, in part because the relationship between dogs and humans has changed, but also because veterinarians have skills that can be used in other fields.

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