Veterinary referrals and second opinions


Ratification Date: 20 Jul 2023


Veterinarians who refer patients to another veterinarian and those who receive such cases should communicate and cooperate closely to achieve the goal of providing quality care for their clients and patients. This applies to veterinarians in both general and specialist practice.


In these guidelines:

  • The ‘attending veterinarian’ is the veterinarian in charge of the patient before referral/second opinion
  • The ‘receiving veterinarian’ is the veterinarian to whom the patient is referred
  • ‘Referral/second opinion’ is the transfer of responsibility for diagnosis and treatment from the attending veterinarian to the receiving veterinarian.

Always offer optimal treatment

The veterinarian, whether in general or specialist practice, should offer clients what they consider to be optimal treatment for the care of the client’s animal. This may involve referral to another veterinarian or facility (including referral via telephone or e-mail), or referral of pathology specimens or radiographs. Other options, if these exist, should also be canvassed. Treatment should be carried out with informed medical and financial consent.

In general, in the interest of maintaining harmonious relations with the attending veterinarian, the receiving veterinarian should not treat the patient for any ailment other than that involved in the referral except in emergencies or upon consultation with the veterinarian who referred the case. The welfare of the patient and the wishes of the client should be the priority for each veterinarian.


When referring a patient, the attending veterinarian should send the receiving veterinarian a detailed report and advice about previous treatment, and indicate if it would be in the best interests of the patient for the receiving veterinarian to offer a second opinion or to take over the case.

Upon discharging the patient, the receiving veterinarian should send the attending veterinarian a detailed written report and advice about the continuing care of the patient. If appropriate, the client should be advised to contact the attending veterinarian regarding continuing care of the patient.

Maintaining good relations between veterinarians is important in promoting quality patient care, but each veterinarian’s primary legal responsibility is to the patient and client. 

Direct accession cases

Owners are entitled to seek specialist treatment without initial referral. Specialists should encourage owners to consult with a general practitioner initially or when the problem presented is outside their own area of speciality. With direct accession cases, the specialist should seek to determine whether the animal has been previously treated by another veterinarian and whether the client wishes the specialist to communicate with that veterinarian. Provided that it aligns with the wishes of the client, the specialist should seek information from the previous veterinarian about matters pertinent to the case and should advise the veterinarian of the actions that the specialist has taken.

Other relevant policies and position statements

In-house diagnostic pathology and pathology referrals