Veterinary pathologists play key role in research

The veterinary pathologist serves an important role in health monitoring of livestock, pets and wildlife.

In addition to the training all veterinarians receive in basic autopsy procedures and the extensive instruction on animal diseases, veterinary pathologists spend an additional three years after obtaining their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine taking dedicated pathology training.

There are two types of veterinary pathologists:

  • Clinical pathologists evaluate specimens from live animals, such as blood samples and urine. They work with clinical veterinarians by providing important information that can help to direct the care or treatment of individual animals. For example, veterinarians treating horses with chronic weight loss may recommend routine blood work to better understand the disease process.

A veterinary clinical pathologist interprets the results in light of the clinical history and offers suggestions as to what the diagnosis may be and which, if any, additional tests might be helpful.

The clinical veterinarian uses this information when making treatment decisions.

  • Anatomic pathologists perform autopsy examination on deceased animals, as well as tissue biopsies. Once carcass specimens arrive at the laboratory, the pathologist will evaluate the clinical history (usually provided by the submitting veterinarian) and do a careful dissection.

All important organs and structures are examined for signs of disease. For example, pneumonia changes the colour of lungs from light pink to yellow, green or deep purple.

Tissue samples are collected and some are processed to make microscope slides that are evaluated for microscopic changes in the tissues. Other samples may be submitted for further testing such as mineral analysis or bacterial identification.

If the horse with chronic weight loss is euthanized or dies from its illness, an anatomic veterinary pathologist can conduct an autopsy and hopefully reach a diagnosis as to the cause. This is especially important in cases of infection, toxic or diet-related diseases where reaching a diagnosis can help with prevention or treatment of other animals.

In circumstances of disease outbreaks at a herd level, veterinary pathologists can serve an important role in helping the herd veterinarian reach a diagnosis, which is essential to developing management plans.

The American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) is the governing organization of this specialty. Veterinarians with additional training in pathology are eligible to write the qualifying board exam.

Those that pass become Diplomats of the ACVP and earn the specialist designation. There are many other specialty boards in veterinary medicine, such as surgery, radiology and internal medicine.

In many instances, veterinary pathologists work in diagnostic laboratories to diagnose disease in animals. Direct contact with farmers or pet owners is rare.

Usually, the veterinary clinic submits specimens and conveys results to owners.

Variations in laboratory submissions include biopsies, which are tissue samples removed from a living animal by a clinical veterinarian. Common biopsies include skin diseases and tumours.

In many large animal cases, the clinical veterinarian conducts the autopsy in the field and only small tissue samples are submitted to the laboratory for microscopic examination and additional testing as necessary.

Universities, especially those with a medical program, often have veterinary pathologists on staff. Additionally, veterinary pathologists work for companies such as those in the pharmaceutical industry and government agencies.

The broad training veterinary pathologists receive allows them to compare between species, including humans, to further understanding of disease causes and outcomes, an important aspect of medical research.

In their various roles, from providing disease diagnoses to clinical veterinarians, to key players in medical research, veterinary path-ologists fill an important role.

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