What is Veterinary Internal Medicine?

Sometimes your pet may become ill with more than something that can be treated with an antibiotic. If you notice that they’re suffering from an illness that won’t disappear, even with treatment, your pet may need further care. Some reasons why your pet may need more specific care could be vomiting, decreased appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, obesity, coughing, respiratory issues, lethargy or depression, trouble swallowing, painful or difficult urination or defecting, swollen joints, dehydration, seizures, loss of consciousness, collapse or any chronic illness.

Being Proactive

Being proactive is one way for prevention of a more severe illness or to catch a severe problem before it becomes worse. Keeping your pet healthy is your responsibility from the moment you become their owner. Some diseases and conditions that can be prevented are gum disease, obesity, and heartworm disease. Some of the things you can do as preventive medicine are the following:

  1. An annual or bi-annual wellness exam
  2. Yearly or as needed vaccinations
  3. Parasite prevention year round
  4. As needed dental cleanings
  5. Weight management regimens

But even with preventive care, sometimes your pet can become ill and will need to see a veterinary internal medicine specialist.

What is an Internal Veterinary Specialist?

An internal veterinary specialist is a doctor who complements the care of your primary veterinarian. Your vet could refer you to the specialist if treating your pet’s health problem or the diagnosis would require specialized equipment or a type of expertise your vet doesn’t have. A veterinarian who specializes in internal medicine has completed training in an Advanced Internal Medicine that goes beyond veterinary college. This type of training includes a one-year internship small animal internship. This gives the vet a chance to hone all the skills learned in veterinary school. A 3-year residency program is to establish a productive clinical research, improve procedural skills and refine their approach to therapeutic and diagnostic plans. Plus, most times it includes master studies, passing rigorous examinations and publishing scientific articles. This is all to meet the criteria which are established by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
What an internal veterinary specialist does is to collect and then match all the information they can about your pet’s history, lab results, clinical signs, specialized testing and imaging studies. Then working closely together with your family vet, they give a second opinion on difficult cases. Plus, if needed, the veterinary specialist provides therapies, specialized hospitalization and perform diagnostic procedures with may be too complicated for a regular vet to execute.

Small Animal Veterinary Internal Medicine

The coverage of small animal internal medicine has many subdivisions. If your pet has a problem with their the organ systems, they may need to see a veterinary internal medicine specialist. These veterinarians can specialize in:

  • Hepatology, which covers liver and pancreatic disease
  • Gastroenterology, which covers esophageal, intestinal and stomach disease
  • Endocrinology, which covers hormonal disorders
  • Nephrology, which covers kidney disease
  • Urology, which covers urinary tract disease
  • Infectious diseases
  • Respiratory medicine, which includes the nose, airway and lung disease
  • Immunology and hematology which covers immune and blood-related disease
A veterinary specialist treats a large variety of diseases which affect the internal organs. These organs include the liver, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, lungs, bone marrow, and endocrine glands. The diseases which affect the systems in your pet are:

  •       diabetes, hypothyroidism, and hyperthyroidism
  •       tick-borne and fungal diseases which are infectious
  •       a hematological disease like anemia
  •       chronic hepatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease
  •       acute or chronic kidney failure
  •       bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia
  •       fever of an unknown origin

The routine procedures that are performed by a veterinary internist include high-resolution ultrasonography of the cervical, thoracic and abdomen. Fine-needle aspiration of the upper and lower gastroenterostomy, placement of feeding tubes, rhinoscopy, and foreign body retrieval. They also perform bronchoscopy and bronchoalveolar lavage, bone marrow aspiration, core biopsy, joint taps, and laparoscopic liver biopsies.

Sometimes a health problem can include any of these procedures which can be advanced, effective and even non-invasive depending on what is wrong with your pet. These would include endoscopy which is a foreign body removal, surgery or pet laser therapy which is for pain management. Also, there are dental cleanings to avoid plaque forming and medication for the treatment of diseases.

What to Expect During a Veterinary Internal Medicine Visit

There will be a thorough physical examination performed by the veterinary internist along with some minimally invasive diagnostic tests. Laboratory tests are a significant part of the medical evaluations. They’re used to determine the functionality of your pet’s systems and internal organs. The vet will be looking for signs of infection or inflammation which could be present. Some of the tests could require anesthesia so an overnight stay may be needed. This field is one of the most challenging in veterinary medicine. This type of veterinarian needs to listen to their clients, consider the pet’s entire medical history, and ask questions. They also have to diagnosis your pet’s symptoms when your pet can’t say what’s wrong. To excel in this field, the vet has to have intelligence and patience through years of study and experience.

The cost of an internal veterinary specialist

Needless to say, the cost of internal veterinary specialist can be expensive. The demand for specialized care for pets has risen since owners have become aware of the board-certified specialists. Because this type of vet has to go through additional training, works in a more sophisticated setting, with better and specialized equipment and a staff who is trained to run it, the cost if higher.

Some pet owners look to health insurance to help pay the fees. With pet health insurance, you can see any vet you want. There isn’t any in network or out of network doctors. You would pay the full cost of the visit and treatment and then submit the claim to the pet insurance company to be reimbursed. There are different companies and policies which different deductibles, copays, caps, and exclusions. This can limit the number of payouts by the year, by the incident or the length of your pet’s life.

One thing to remember is that a pre-existing condition won’t be covered by a pet insurance company. For instance, if your pet had been diagnosed with cancer, they won’t be covered for treatment if the policy is bought after the diagnosis.

Many insurance policies may cover between 70% to 90% of whatever treatment your pet needs after the deductible. Each insurance company handles chronic conditions differently, and you’ll have to check to see whichever one you chose handles theirs.

Deciding to enlist a veterinary internal medicine specialist to help with your pet’s health is a personal decision. For many pet owners, it comes down to the quality of life their pet has left, along with the quality of care.