I’m not the calm, logical pet owner you’d expect a veterinarian to be when my own pets’ health and wellness might be in question. I’m the pet owner who calls ASPCA Poison Control when Biggy steals a bag of Crispy M&M’s because I can’t figure out the EXACT chocolate content. I’m the spouse who freaks out when Delicate One has been squinting all afternoon and my husband didn’t think to tell me about it. I’m the vet who rushes Little Wolfman in for radiographs at 11pm when he stumbles and doesn’t stop hobbling after five or ten minutes. Yup, that’s me.

I don’t know why my mind jumps to “worst case scenario” with my own pets. My husband says that I have an “expect the worst and hope to be pleasantly surprised” attitude towards life. I don’t recommend it. It’s not the easiest lifestyle to sustain, or to get rid of.

Nonetheless, I LOVE having doctors who can be more objective than me when assessing my pets. New clients, I mean it when I say, “He’s excellent, he takes care of my own pets” as a way of introducing my colleague. And the dozen or so specialists my pets have seen over the years when they need care beyond what I can provide? I don’t know where we’d be without them.

When Little Wolfman had a couple of seizures and some mild bloodwork abnormalities, an internist worked him up for a portosystemic shunt and thankfully found nothing. A veterinary behaviorist helped me come up with a management plan for his fear-based aggression issues. When Delicate One fractured a forelimb while we were moving cross-country, three different orthopedic surgeons were involved in her care to ensure that she healed properly. When Biggy needed full-mouth dental radiographs and oral surgery, she visited a veterinary dentist. And when she needed repeated mast cell tumor excisions and eventually radiation therapy, she was cared for by several oncologists and soft tissue surgeons.

For those one-off situations, I want for my pets what I’d want for the rest of my family: top-notch care provided by passionate doctors with advanced training.  The most promising therapies available, maybe even enrolling in a clinical trial. And an educated, honest perspective that I could never ascertain without dedicated study.

Two dogs look up at their owner

Veterinary specialists are fantastic. They are internship and residency-trained; many are board-certified. They provide options and advanced care, and they use their expansive knowledge to provide realistic expectations for clients. Every time a pet or patient of mine visits a specialist, I learn something. And even if the pet owner isn’t “all in,” they still provide incredibly valuable information.

If you’re a pet owner and your primary care veterinarian recommends a specialty consult, please consider it. If referral is not practical for you, your primary care vet is not going to think any less of you. We might feel a little disappointed but we’ll still work together to provide the best care we can for your pet.

As for my troublesome trio, they’re all doing just fine—for now!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.

HL Picture


Heather Lucas, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner from the Midwest currently living in Southern Arizona. She shares her home with her husband, three dogs, and an assortment of pocket pets. Learning countless new things every day and building relationships with clients top the list of her favorite things about the veterinary profession.