Referring Non-Traditional Species


Depending on the problem encountered, referral may be in the patient’s best interest as the general practitioner or emergency clinic may lack the necessary expertise, equipment, or medication. Referral may also be indicated when you have an inconclusive diagnosis or when the client requests a second opinion.


Plan ahead

Identify and build relationships with specialists in your region before they are needed.

Veterinarians with a strong interest in zoological medicine may also be found on the following websites:

There are also telemedicine services that may help in a pinch or when your practice is located in an isolated region:

Responsibilities of the referring veterinarian and the specialist

Referrals work best when both the referring veterinarian (RDVM) and the specialist strive for excellent communication while fostering a team approach to patient care. This level of communication should always be provided even in cases of client self referral. Detailed guidelines for the referral process may be found on the American Animal Hospital Association’s website.

Referring veterinarian

Prepare the client by providing realistic expectations. Make sure the owner is clear about the purpose of the receiving veterinarians’ consultation, their advanced credentials, qualifications and expertise as well as their initial fees.

The RDVM should refer the patient in a timely manner, providing legible notes with a written or typed summary note. Inform the receiving veterinarian whenever your patient returns for the referred problem regardless of whether the visit is expected or unexpected.


The receiving veterinarian or specialist should provide guidance to the RDVM regarding how their fees should be discussed with clients prior to referral. Provide the RDVM with information to be conveyed to the client at the time of referral through a brochure or access to your website.

The specialist should update the RDVM by phone or fax during the patient’s hospitalization. Patient services should be limited to the problem for which the animal was referred. Additional services should be provided only when they are in the best interest of the patient. A detailed written and/or verbal summary and follow-up care recommendations should also be provided at discharge. The specialist should also be available for follow-up after the patient’s discharge including after-hours.



American Animal Hospital Association. AAHA Referral guidelines. Available at . Accessed on May 18, 2011.

Shields A. Preparation of a special species ER. Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine 13(3):111-117, 2004.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Referring non-traditional species. May 18, 2011. LafeberVet Web site. Available at