What is Veterinary Ophthalmology? A Complete Guide to the Specialty of Animal Eyes

Do you know what veterinary ophthalmology is? If you’re a pet owner, then you’re probably familiar with this specialty. Veterinary ophthalmology is the branch of veterinary medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases in animals. This includes everything from common problems like cataracts and corneal ulcers to more rare conditions like glaucoma and cat-eye syndrome. In this article, we’ll take a look at what veterinary ophthalmology is all about and some of the most common problems that it deals with.

    The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmology is the American Veterinary Medical Association specialty board which sets the standards for advanced professionalism in veterinary ophthalmology.  The American Society of Veterinary Ophthalmology was organized in 1957 by a nucleus of clinicians interested in ophthalmology; only a few had advanced graduate training. Society membership grew rapidly in the next few years, including a sufficient number of persons with graduate training from medical and/or veterinary schools to make possible the establishment of a specialty board for certification in ophthalmology.

The Specialty of Veterinary Ophthalmology

In 1967, Dr. William G. Magrane called together an organizing committee for the proposed American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). The precedent for specialty colleges had been set by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in 1951, when the American College of Veterinary Pathologists was established. The first meeting of the proposed ACVO was held March 13, 1967 at the Animal Medical Center, New York City. Other members of the organizing committee were Drs. Roy Bellhorn, Seymour Roberts, Lionel Rubin, and Samuel Vainisi. Formal application was submitted to the AVMA in June 1969. Probationary acceptance was followed by full approval in 1974.

The Specialist in Veterinary Ophthalmology contributes to the veterinary medical team
 and to the optimal care of patients.
Canine Case Example

The Referral Process
Many eye problems are managed by a general veterinarian. However, if the regular veterinarian believes that the patient would benefit by the skills and experience of a specialist, the doctor will refer the patient to a veterinary ophthalmologist for care. Typical problems that are referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist include: cataracts, glaucoma, retinal diseases, severe injuries, and cancer of the eye.
Cataracts are opacities in the lens of the eye. Many people mistakenly think the cloudiness is on the surface (thought to be a “film” on the eye), but in fact, the cloudy lens is deep inside your pet’s eyeball.Why Did Your Pet Get Cataracts?
Most cataracts are inherited, and are found in many breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel, Poodle, Husky, Schnauzer, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, and terriers. Other causes of cataracts include: Diabetes, trauma, inflammation, and puppy milk replacers. Many cataracts will worsen to the point of blindness but certain types, especially in the Retriever breeds, can remain small for the entire life of the patient. A common phenomenon occurs in many developing cataracts where the patient can develop an allergic type of reaction to the cataract. This allergic reaction is a LOCAL reaction and can result in many complications such as scar formation and glaucoma.How Are Cataracts Treated?
Treatment for cataracts is surgical removal and may be done in one or both eyes depending on the specifics of each patient. Before surgery is performed, your pet may have two special tests beyond the full eye exam to check the health of the retina or nerve layer in the back of the eye. These tests, called the ERG (electroretinogram) and ultrasound, are performed with heavy sedation so that the patient does not move the head or eyes; these tests are NOT PAINFUL and have virtually no risk associated with them. If your pet does not pass these tests, removal of the cataracts would not improve vision and therefore, surgery should not be performed.Cataract surgery is elective and requires a significant time commitment on your part. Eye drops must be administered several times daily before surgery and for about 6 weeks after surgery. The patient must wear a protective plastic e-collar for 2 weeks after surgery, and your pet will not be able to be groomed or vaccinated during the 6 week healing period. The postoperative checkups are usually performed the day after surgery and then one, three, and six weeks after surgery. At that time all medications are usually discontinued and long term checkups are made about 4 months after surgery and then once a year. The success rate is OVER 90% but as with any surgery there are risks:The surgery is performed under general anesthesia and we are proud of our anesthetic protocols and monitoring systems. The anesthetics are state-of-the-art medications that are used in human hospitals and all patients’ pulse rate, oxygen, and EKG are monitored throughout the surgery by the technician. After removal of the cataract(s) your ophthalmologist may suggest replacement of the lens with an artificial lens.Depending on the specifics of the cataracts, age, and cause we perform either a small incision technique (phacoemulsification) or a large incision method (extracapsular cataract extraction). The small incision technique is performed in over 90% of our patients and carries the benefits of shorter surgery and healing times. Often we will remove cataracts in each eye at the same surgery. Phacoemulsification is the same technique performed for human cataract removal; the tiny probe breaks up the cataract with ultrasonic vibration and draws out the cataract particles. Many people believe that cataract removal is done with a laser but that is incorrect!! After removal of the cataract(s) we usually replace the lens with an artificial lens. We have found lens replacement to be quite valuable in obtaining sharper vision for our patients as is the case in human cataract surgery.

The Highest Standards of Professional Excellence

Requirements for board certification: The American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists is an association, not an actual physical location, that has established certifying criteria for ophthalmologists. After a person graduates from college (4 years) and then veterinary school (4 years), he/she usually completes a 1 year internship in small animal medicine and surgery.  The person then serves a 2-3 year residency in ophthalmology at a veterinary teaching hospital (at a University) under the teachings and guidance of faculty ophthalmologists. Once the residency is completed, the board certification process begins first with a credentials package consisting of publications, case reports, and resume. If the credentials are accepted by the ACVO exam committee, the applicant is allowed to take the examination. The exam is a four day ordeal consisting of written, practical, and surgical parts. Finally, after passing all of the above criteria, the veterinarian is considered a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists or in short, is Board-Certified in veterinary ophthalmology.

Research Projects needing funding:
1. Development of continuing education and telemedicine projection and software capability for ophthalmology.
2. Drug toxicity study trials in small and large animals to determine beneficial or adverse effects of newly approved drugs for treatment of eye diseases in human beings.

For now, we have discussed the scope, specialty and eligibility criteria of Veterinary Ophthalmology field in detail. Moreover, we have also explained how it can turn out to be a career option for you if you are passionate about treating animals.

You may like to share your stories with us on what has been your journey so far and whether or not you had any doubts about becoming a vet since the beginning. Have good reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do Veterinary ophthalmologists make the most money?

Veterinarians who specialize in ophthalmology make the most money. This is due to a variety of factors, including demand for surgeries related to eye diseases and excellent working conditions. Veterinarians typically work long hours, which can be tough on their personal lives, but they often enjoy high levels of job satisfaction. Additionally, veterinarians are sought after by pet owners who want to know that their animals are receiving top-notch care.
Although veterinary ophthalmologists may not have all of the same privileges as those in other medical specialties, such as dermatology or surgery, overall their incomes tend to be quite high. Consequently, if you’re thinking about becoming a veterinarian and focus specifically on ophthalmology services – like optometry – your career should go very well financially.

How do I become a veterinary ophthalmologist in India?

Academic Track. The Veterinary Ophthalmologists are experts in the field of veterinary medicine, as we mentioned previously. A Bachelor’s degree is required for this educational programme, followed by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, residency training, and board certification.

Which country is best for ophthalmology?

One of the top countries in the world for eye surgery is the Czech Republic. There are many causes for this, including high standards, affordable costs, and a lengthy history of eye operations and lens use.

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