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How Our Pets Benefit From the Expertise of Veterinary Ophthalmologists

With the successful treatment of so many eye disorders these days, our pets are lucky to have these veterinary specialists.

Veterinary Ophthalmologists
Veterinary ophthalmologists are working hard to ensure our pets continue to see their world. Photo: Alexas_Fotos

We are so lucky to have veterinary ophthalmologists — vets who specialize in eye disorders.

Eye emergencies in pets and serious eye disorders are unfortunately all too common. Treatment of painful and blinding eye disorders has improved so much because of advances made by board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists.

Time is of the essence when a pet has an acute eye problem. Get to your vet or an emergency hospital to assess the problem.

Once your pet is stabilized, it may be necessary to get an expert opinion and final diagnosis and treatment from a specialist. This can mean the difference between sight and blindness, between saving or losing an eye.

Veterinary Ophthalmologists

A veterinary ophthalmologist is a highly trained vet who has completed 4 years of veterinary school, 1 year or more of an internship or general practice, and 3–4 more years as a resident in ophthalmology. These resident programs are few, and the competition is steep.

After a minimum of 8 years of training, a candidate must pass rigorous ophthalmology boards.

Once this 4-day exam is successfully concluded, the person is admitted into the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists. These gifted doctors are highly trained and proficient at medical and surgical management of eye disorders.

Veterinary Ophthalmologists
Some treatment and surgery for our pets’ eyes can only be done by veterinary ophthalmologists. Photo: Weevinz

Why We Need These Eye Specialists

The specific interests and training of your hometown veterinarian will dictate what eye cases they may manage and which ones they will want to refer.

Your vet may feel completely comfortable treating certain eye problems, while others will require a specialist.

Some diagnoses, treatments and microsurgery can be done only by a veterinary ophthalmologist. Your vet will refer you to an ophthalmologist for a number of reasons.

Initial Diagnosis

Without the advanced equipment and expertise of a specialist, your vet may not be able to make an accurate diagnosis of a complicated eye problem.

Many times, I will refer a problem eye case that baffles me for the initial diagnosis. I may want verification of my own preliminary diagnosis and a treatment plan, or I may not be able to make a diagnosis at all without the ophthalmology consult.

Once a pet has been seen by an ophthalmologist, a diagnosis has been made and a treatment plan established, it’s likely your vet will feel comfortable monitoring the pet’s follow-up care.

The pet may need to see the veterinary ophthalmologist once or twice a year.


Amazing advances have been made in ophthalmic surgical techniques. Many of these procedures can be performed only by an expert with highly advanced equipment. More on that later.

Ophthalmic Drugs

Drugs to improve the outcome of many ophthalmic conditions are always improving and evolving.

Borrowing frequently from the human market, veterinary ophthalmologists are up to date on the newest and best ophthalmic medications.

Your Visit to a Veterinary Ophthalmologist

Think of the difference between your annual physical with your primary care doc versus a visit to your eye doctor.

You wouldn’t expect to see all the specialized instruments needed to examine your eyes in the middle of your regular doctor’s office. Walking into a veterinary ophthalmologist’s office is much the same.

Referrals to ophthalmologists are much more common now because so many more ocular conditions can be successfully treated by experts using advanced techniques and technology. The list of services is mind-boggling.

Just take a look at the procedures available at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Penn Vet Ophthalmology offers:

Advanced Ocular Imaging

Now it is possible to visualize retinal detachments in severely compromised eyes, intraocular tumors and all the anterior structures of the eye in greater detail.

Cataract and Corneal Surgery

State-of-the-art procedures include removal of cataracts by high-frequency ultrasound, placement of artificial lenses, microsurgical techniques to repair delicate corneas, thermokeratoplasty and cryotherapy.

Electro-Diagnostic Procedures

Veterinary ophthalmologists can evaluate pets for cataract surgery to make sure vision will be restored and diagnose retinal diseases that cause acute blindness (SARDS).

Other Procedures

  • Glaucoma surgery
  • Laser eye surgery
  • Gonioscopy, retinoscopy, skiascopy

These veterinary ophthalmologists love their job:

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Veterinary Ophthalmologists Are Helpful Colleagues

My patients are lucky to have a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist very close by, both geographically and as my resource.

My colleague will consult with me on cases over the phone, and I can call her in emergency situations to make sure I am doing all I can to stabilize a pet’s eye when in crisis.

When I was a young vet, the term “end-stage eye” came up all too often, meaning we had run out of medical or surgical options and had to surgically remove a pet’s eye. It is highly gratifying to see the major advances in the past 30 years that have led to more eyes saved and less vision lost.

Thank goodness for the dedicated vets who work hard to become veterinary ophthalmologists and use their talents to help our pets continue to see their world.

vet-cross60pThis pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Feb. 28, 2018.

If you have questions or concerns, call your vet, who is best equipped to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.