What does a Veterinary Ophthalmologist do?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Like humans with special eye care needs, animals sometimes need to see an eye specialist. In this case, the animal eye doctor is known as a veterinary ophthalmologist. This line of veterinary medicine involves both diagnosing and treating animal eye conditions, particularly in zoo animals and pets.

Some veterinary ophthalmologists specialize in caring for one specific animal species. An animal eye doctor who only treats cats, for example, is known as a feline ophthalmologist, while a veterinary ophthalmologist who specializes in dogs is a canine ophthalmologist. Most animal doctors who work in the eye care field, however, are general veterinary ophthalmologists who care for multiple species.

A veterinary ophthalmologist often engages in veterinary surgery. This may be necessary for animals who are suffering from conditions such as eyelid masses or glaucoma. In most cases, however, an animal ophthalmologist can treat problems without having to cut the animal by providing medication and therapy. Rather than using a knife, many animal treatments can be carried out through freezing procedures or laser operations.


In order to claim the status of a veterinary ophthalmologist, one must usually be board certified by a reputable organization. He or she typically needs a degree in veterinary medicine from a recognized university, which averages out to eight years of study. A veterinary eye doctor must usually complete a minimum of one year of advanced training prior to becoming an eye care specialist. Completing a residency program with an animal eye institution is often required as well. A competency exam, continuing education credits, and other requirements may also be necessary depending upon the location of the work.

Animals can develop over 40 different eye conditions, and veterinary eye doctors must be knowledgeable about all of these in order to correctly diagnose and treat a patient. Veterinary ophthalmologists are typically trained to use the latest modern technology in caring for the eyes of animals. Some specialized devices that a veterinary ophthalmologist may expect to use might include tonometers, slit lamp biomicroscopes, and indirect ophthalmoscopes. Since these doctors deal with patients who cannot speak for themselves or often understand what is happening, they must also be well versed in animal sedation, as well as have a knowledge of how to gauge pain and other symptoms based on animal behavior.

Companion animals, service animals, and other creatures are typically referred to a veterinary ophthalmologist by their regular veterinarian after a problematic eye condition has been identified or suspected. Some animals that typically see a veterinary eye doctor include pets, such as dogs and cats, as well as farm animals, such as horses. Animals from zoos and circuses are often referred to an animal eye specialist as well.


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