If you are an Orange County pet owner, you don’t know how lucky you are. Orange County is a great place to be a pet. I’ve always felt this was a fabulous place to practice veterinary medicine. One of the reasons is the tremendous number of available veterinary resources and high standards of care.

In contrast to our human medical counterparts, veterinarians in general practice deal with a wide variety of cases. On any given day, I work as a dermatologist, ophthalmologist, dentist, ultrasonographer, surgeon and internist. A few times a week at my feline specialty practice, we think a patient could benefit from additional expertise and services, and we will refer the patient for treatments or procedures we cannot provide.

Major cities are known to be full of specialists, but proportionately, Orange County has more than other metropolitan areas. Dr. Tommy Walker, a local board-certified surgeon, told me that only Houston has a comparable number of veterinary specialists to the number in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

According to Dr. Peter Weinstein, director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 90 of Orange County’s 850 licensed vets are board-certified and serve a population of 3.1 million. In Los Angeles County, about 165 specialists out of 1,850 licensed vets serve a population three times larger – about 9.889 million.

I think of other specialists as part of my medical resource team. I consult with them and get regular progress reports on patients we share. Getting other opinions and perspectives helps me provide the best care. Let’s take a look at some of the specialists I work with and how they help me improve patient care.

Most pet owners probably know about after-hours and emergency care. I can send patients to several facilities, some of which have board-certified internal medicine, emergency and critical-care specialists on duty overnight. If I know that one of my patients is at a critical-care facility, I can call and get a status report late at night or on Sundays, when my clinic is closed.

  • I am able to have a local board-certified veterinary radiologist, Dr. Ann Reed, review my digital X-rays by sending them to her online. This gives me an easy way to obtain second opinions. Reed also comes to my practice to perform thoracic ultrasounds and echocardiograms. This offers my clients convenience when they don’t want to go to a different referral hospital for these tests, and it offers me the opportunity to see these tests performed, then speak directly to clients about the results.
  • I perform a lot of surgery at my clinic, but some patients have conditions that require more intensive procedures than I perform or who need 24-hour care and critical monitoring after surgery. I send these patients to the Southern California Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Irvine. I frequently work with Dr. Gayle Donner, a soft-tissue and cancer surgical specialist. I refer cats that have invasive cancers that she surgically removes, then she refers to one of the medical oncologists in her practice. While performing a surgery last summer, I ran into a condition with a pancreatic tumor that I hadn’t previously encountered. I called the specialty hospital and spoke to one of their surgeons by speakerphone while I operated. He walked me through a complicated procedure, and I was able to successfully complete the surgery.
  • Veterinary Cancer Group in Tustin has worked with many of our feline patients who needed oncological care. VCG treats all veterinary cancers and can perform radiation therapy for some cancers. This technology exists only at a few locations in the United States. Dr. Mona Rosenberg at VCG helped me develop a treatment protocol for my cat, Shaka, whom I’ve written about, and who is a four-year survivor of intestinal lymphoma.
  • I have patients who require upper- or lower-gastrointestinal tract endoscopy, rhinoscopy (scoping of the nose and back nasal passages) and bronchoscopy. When these procedures are needed, or if I want the clients to get a second opinion on an internal medicine condition, I refer them to Drs. Julie Stegeman and Tracey Rossi, the board-certified internal medicine specialists at Southern California Veterinary Specialty Hospital. They are great to work with, and since they are part of a large specialty center, they are able to consult with the other specialists in their group and provide 24-hour care.
  • I send my hyperthyroid feline patients for radioactive iodine treatment to Advanced Veterinary Medical Imaging in Tustin. In some parts of the country, cat owners must travel hundreds of miles for this service. Dr. Michael Broome does a fantastic job with the treatment. Bone, liver, kidney and thyroid scans/scintigraphy are also available at the facility. CT and MRI scans are performed here and at a few other specialty centers in the county.
  • Summer is an itchy time for many pets, and most conditions are easily handled by a primary-care veterinarian. But in some situations a dermatologic specialist is needed. The Animal Dermatology Clinic has a staff of board-certified veterinary dermatologists that works with complicated skin and ear conditions. When I was a senior veterinary student, I had an externship with Drs. Craig Griffin and Wayne Rosenkrantz, the clinic’s founders, and they taught me a lot about dermatology.
  • Conjunctivitis and corneal damage are common in pets, but when conditions require a second opinion or eye surgery, I send patients to the Eye Care for Animals. Its board-certified ophthalmologists perform procedures such as corneal grafts, cataract removal and cryotherapy to remove abnormal lashes that are irritating the eye and causing problems.
  • Pets can have seizures and develop neuromuscular diseases. When I am unable to make a diagnosis or find a good treatment protocol for neurologic issues, I refer to the Animal Back and Brain Center at Southern California Veterinary Specialty Hospital or the Veterinary Neurology Center. These board-certified neurologists are able to perform spinal taps, MRI and CT scans and back and brain surgeries. I am definitely not a brain or spinal surgeon, nor do I want to do spinal taps, so I am happy we have these specialists close by.
  • Although I am able to provide echocardiology at my practice, there are times when due to severity or timing, I need to send patients to a cardiologist. I’ve worked with board-certified veterinary cardiologists at SCVSH and at Advanced Veterinary Care Center in Tustin. Cardiology cases can be extremely challenging since many can only be managed, not cured. Just as in humans, heart disease is often not discovered until it is quite advanced.
  • Dentistry is a big part of my practice, but when a root canal or an advanced periodontal or orthodontic procedure is needed, I refer to our local board-certified veterinary dentists, Dr. Eric Van Nice at Animal Dental Services in Tustin and Southern California Veterinary Dental Specialties in Irvine.

Orange County has numerous other terrific board-certified veterinary specialists whom I have not mentioned. This list is hardly complete.

I wouldn’t be surprised if pets in Orange County have better access to medical specialists than we humans do! O.C. veterinarians have the ability to consult with numerous local specialists by phone and easily refer their patients for advanced care. Working with specialists can be costly and more expensive for pet owners than working with a primary veterinarian, so you should think about how far you are able and want to go with your pet’s treatment. I discuss this regularly with clients when deciding if referral is the right choice for them.

I feel very fortunate to be a feline practice specialist in Orange County and also fortunate to have so many great colleagues to work with. Our pets have great opportunities to benefit from our vast veterinary resources.

Written by Dr. Wexler-Mitchell of The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, CA
Copyright © 2012 The Cat Care Clinic