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What is a Veterinary Pathologist?


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Most people find the prospect of having a biopsy or bloodwork done somewhat daunting. It can leave you stressed for weeks, hoping the results are something positive. It can be the same when you have a pet in this situation. Fortunately, the study of veterinary pathology has positive outcomes. Not only can they test your pet for a life-threatening disease such as cancer, but the tests performed on animals can help brighten the future for disease prevention and treatment in animal species.

What kind of education and training does a veterinary pathologist undergo?

Veterinary pathologists study the tissues, organs, and fluids of animal bodies. There are two different categories of pathologists: veterinary anatomic pathologists and veterinary clinical pathologists. Anatomical pathologists study organs, tissues, and body parts in animals and make diagnoses and clinical pathologists diagnose diseases and illnesses based on lab results of bodily fluids such as urine or saliva.

To become a veterinary pathologist, one must go through years of extensive education. Students must graduate with a full veterinary medicine degree before entering a pathology residency program. Once entered, there are two phases of the residency. The first requires students to study and pass a certification exam. This certification is usually done through the American College of Veterinary Pathology (ACVP). If it is not completed here, the student must prove they have passed their phase one exit exam elsewhere before they can go on to phase two. The phase one certification signifies that the student is able to practice pathology.

Phase two is another program that the student completes in order to get their full degree and certification with the ACVP. Once completed, the student is registered with the ACVP as a licensed pathologist and can begin practicing in the real world.

There are five residency programs listed in the ACVP that are accepted for certificates. Veterinary pathologists make anywhere between $40,000 to $80,000 a year once they become licensed. They must also continue to take courses throughout their career to keep their certification and stay licensed.

Benefits of seeing a veterinary pathologist

So as a pet owner, why would you need a veterinary pathologist? Usually, they are needed if your pet needs a biopsy or urine test. Once these samples are taken, they can help find and diagnose issues such as diabetes, cancer, liver disease, and much more.

Outside the veterinary world, pathologists work in laboratories and universities searching for cures and causes of diseases. They use state of the art equipment to look deep into cells and find out how they react to certain treatments and how cells grow and change when diseases start to form.

With this research, pathologists can make breakthrough discoveries on how to prevent diseases, catch them early, and most importantly, treat them.

Some of the research veterinary pathologists do is post-mortem, meaning the animal is no longer alive. This can be done to discover why an animal has passed and what they should have done to treat it before death. This sometimes must be used in animal cruelty investigations for a case.

This career is definitely a fast-paced one, and much of the animal care world relies on it.

Issues or treatments handled by a veterinary pathologist

As mentioned earlier, there are two different categories of veterinary pathologists. Anatomical pathologists will study and diagnose animals based on tissues and organs. This could be used for cancer biopsies or liver disease tests. Clinical pathologists use urine and blood samples to look for diseases such as diabetes. Pathology is not only used to help with life-threatening diseases; they can also find out why certain animals are infertile, or more likely to develop muscle disorders and other genetic issues.

Pathologists also work in universities, teaching students the methods of finding animal diseases. They will use actual samples, usually from already deceased specimens. They spend a lot of time researching, whether it be in a university, lab, or veterinary clinic.

All of this research is critical in fighting disease. It can take years to learn, recognize, and treat a disease; research usually costs millions of dollars. Fortunately, a lot of individuals, companies, and universities will invest in specific research projects and donate money or fund grants for the research.

Luckily, most pathologists are trained to examine all species. Not only will they help dogs and cats, but just about every animal you can think of. There is even a specialty in avian pathology! When doing post-mortem research, common animals used are horses, rats, and pigs. With this extensive training on all species, they can see how illnesses form in different ways or how some species may or may not ever have a certain condition. 

Qualifying the specialist 

It is most likely you will not see a pathologist at work. They tend to be behind the scenes; however, if as a pet owner you must speak with one, there are a few questions you should ask. Some of them could be:

  • How long will it take to get results back?
  • What can you tell me about the disease that my pet is being tested for?
  • Is there any known cure?
  • How will the disease progress if my pet does have it?

As a standard, most results should return within two to three weeks. It takes three days for cases to be filed and registered, and then the testing and diagnosing follows.

Pathologists must continue to attend training, courses, and seminars to keep their license. If you would like to research more into their credentials, you can look online at the American College of Veterinary Pathology website. They have the full list of registered and certified veterinary pathologists. They update it regularly to show which pathologists are active, non-active, retired, or no longer in practice.

Without veterinary pathology, animal scientists would not be able to have break-through discoveries and advancements in the animal health world. It is pathologists who discovered a cure for heartworm disease, helped understand and better treat infertility in breeding animals, and much more.

Pathologists do very important work, and they could help save your pet’s life!

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