In addition to general practice, there are many different specialties available for veterinary practitioners to choose from to explore their interests. You will now learn what these varied specialties include, how to choose a specialty pathway in the UK, what the process of certification involves and what are your options for veterinary specialisation abroad.

Veterinary Specialties in the UK

Veterinary practitioners may choose to specialise in a variety of areas of veterinary medicine.

These can include specialties similar to medicine such as Cardiology, Neurology, Oncology or Orthopaedics, however, veterinary specialties may also be in fields relating to the care for specific animal groups such as Zoo medicine, Exotic animal care or the care of agricultural animals, including cattle and sheep. 

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) include the following as recognised veterinary specialties in the UK. You can explore in further detail what each specialty involves on their page. Most veterinary specialties can be further divided into ‘small animal’ (dogs, cats etc.) and ‘large animal’ (horses, cattle etc.)

AnaesthesiaAnimal Welfare Science, Ethics & LawBehavioural MedicineCardiologyCattle Health & Production
Clinical NutritionDentistryDermatologyDiagnostic ImagingEmergency & Critical Care
EndocrinologyEquine MedicineExotic Animal MedicineFeline MedicineFish Health & Production
GastroenterologyInternal MedicineMicrobiologyNeurologyOncology
OphthalmologyOrthopaedicsOrthopaedic SurgeryParasitologyPathology
Pharmacology and ToxicologyPig MedicinePoultry Medicine & ProductionPublic HealthReproduction
Sheep Health & ProductionSoft Tissue SurgerySports Medicine & RehabilitationState Veterinary MedicineSurgery
Wildlife MedicineZoo & Wildlife MedicinePhysiotherapy

Some popular veterinary specialties include internal medicine and surgery.

Working in veterinary internal medicine focuses on the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of animals’ internal systems, for example, their liver, kidney or respiratory system. Daily tasks include diagnostic tests such as performing ultrasounds, biopsies, blood tests and endoscopies.

These investigations then aid in practitioners management of disorders which commonly include diabetes, infections, cancer or GI tract issues.

Working in veterinary surgery is commonly split into orthopaedics and soft tissue surgery. Orthopaedic veterinary surgeons conduct procedures such as joint replacements and fracture repairs whereas soft tissue veterinary surgeons perform procedures such as skin grafts and complex wound management.

The goals of veterinary surgery often vary depending on the type of animal. As an example, pets are often treated with the main goal being quality of life whereas farm animals may be treated with economic benefit being the most important factor.


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Choosing a Veterinary Specialty in the UK

Most newly qualified veterinary practitioners choose to work in general practice before choosing their specialty. This gives individuals the opportunity to explore which special interests they may want to further develop if they wish to specialise.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Specialty

Factors to consider when choosing a veterinary specialty include work-life balance, academic interest and financial compensation. 

  • General veterinary practitioners tend to have a better work-life balance as they typically operate within the nine-to-five work week. In comparison, specialties such as surgery, particularly emergency or trauma surgery, may have a worse work-life balance due to the need to be available in the case of emergency.

That being said, an individual’s work-life balance is what you make it to be as some choose to undertake extra work in, for example, research, which will take up more of your time.

  • Secondly, the choice of veterinary specialty may be guided by an individual’s academic interest. It may be that you would like to explore conducting research in the area of your specialty. You may also wish to work with certain types of animals, such as pets, or have a preference for working in a surgical vs medical field. 
  • Thirdly, individuals may take financial compensation into account when choosing their specialty. There are government veterinary services in the UK, where salaries are often comparable with private institutions, but these can vary.

Newly qualified practitioners typically earn around £32,000 annually but this may increase to £100,000 for senior, experienced practitioners. Additionally, salaries vary depending on their specialty, for example, zoo veterinarians may earn a higher salary compared to a village general veterinary practitioner.

How To Explore Which Specialty To Go Into?

Practitioners wishing to specialise in a veterinary field can explore different options by undertaking work experience in different areas.

Individuals are likely to have had some exposure to different specialties during their veterinary medicine degree but the further experience can be gained post-qualification by spending time with practitioners in different fields, talking to them and seeing what their day-to-day duties look like.

Training and Certification Process in the UK

Firstly, individuals need to complete an accredited veterinary degree which lasts five to six years in the UK in order to become a qualified veterinary practitioner.

In order to specialise, practitioners are required to complete additional training after veterinary school. This typically involves at least one internship and a three-year residency programme concluding with a set of examinations.

In the UK, to be certified as a ‘specialist’, individuals must have attained a postgraduate diploma, make active contributions to their field, including research publications, and be nationally or internationally acclaimed in their specialty.

The RCVS is the institution in the UK that makes the decision as to whether you are a specialist or not, depending on whether the above criteria have been satisfactorily met.

It is important to note that specialising in an area of veterinary medicine is not the same as becoming a veterinary specialist. Practitioners are welcome to work in fields of their interest without needing to complete the prerequisite requirements. 

Veterinary Specialties Abroad

Veterinary specialties in other countries can vary in terms of salary and animal demographic.

  • Similarly to medicine, veterinary practitioners often receive a higher salary in countries such as the US, Canada and Hong Kong.
  • Australia and New Zealand are also attractive options for UK veterinarians due to being English-speaking and culturally similar.

Additionally, specialties such as wildlife medicine will vary depending on the country as the animal demographic changes, giving practitioners the opportunity to care for animals not present in the UK. 

Before moving to practice veterinary medicine in another country, individuals should consider factors such as specific qualifications or examinations required for that country’s accreditation, any language barriers and the impact moving away from friends and family may have on you.


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