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Focus Area for Small Animal Practice

Avian & Exotic Animal Emphasis Available

Description of the Focus Area

Small animal practice (SAP) combines many elements of veterinary medicine, including medicine, surgery, dermatology, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, clinical and anatomic pathology, diagnostic imaging, anesthesia, nutrition, behavior, and practice management. Small animal general practitioners and specialists are employed in private practice, academia, and industry and are responsible for diagnosing and treating a wide variety of diseases. Small animal veterinarians can enter into general practice directly following graduation or they may elect to pursue advanced training through an internship (typically one year), residency (typically three years), or graduate school (typically 3-5 years) either immediately after graduation or following practice or other experience. Advanced training positions can be very competitive and, therefore, good planning and preparation are important during the veterinary school years.

SAP is a sufficiently broad career path that should enable veterinary students to avoid too much specialization very early in their careers. Important skills for all small animal practitioners include obtaining a complete medical history, performing a physical examination, identifying, prioritizing, and addressing problems, knowing where to find pertinent scientific information, and communicating effectively and compassionately with clients.

* For students desiring to enter a multi-species small animal practice, an Avian & Exotic Animal Emphasis is available. In the veterinary context, “exotic animal” medicine refers to the common non dog/cat species kept by private citizens.. The most common exotic animal species are birds (especially parrots), small mammals (e.g. rabbits, ferrets, hamsters etc.) and reptiles. A variety of other species, including wildlife, fish, and other vertebrate and invertebrate species are also seen by exotic animal clinicians. Most exotic animal species are seen as part of a small animal (dog/cat) practice. Specialization is also possible and internship and residency positions are available for advanced training. Students pursuing this emphasis area will have four requirements in addition to those in SAP: (1) two advisors will be required, one in Small Animal and one in Avian & Exotics, (2) three selectives will be required (to be chosen from the list below), (3) one fourth year externship (VMC 963) at an approved Avian & Exotic animal practice will be required and may require travel outside the Triangle area (an additional externship in Small Animal Medicine (VMC 994) is encouraged), and (4) enrollment in either the Special Species Medicine or the Advanced Clinical Avian Medicine 4th year rotation or consent of the emphasis area leader for substitution of a different course will be required. Students must contact Dr. Keven Flammer before signing up for this emphasis area.

Recent/Current Number of Small Animal Focused Students

Advisors (Small Animal)

Advisors (Avian & Exotics)

Steps to pursue a focus in small animal practice

  1. Identify a SAP focus area advisor by September 15 of third year (this may be the same advisor worked with in the first two years or a new advisor who will take their place)
  2. Choose CVM selectives and other activities (see below)
  3. Make contacts/arrangements for externships (summers, 4th year). The sign up / drop deadline is one month before the experience, unless the course coordinator decides to grant an exception for special circumstances.
  4. Plan 4th year CVM rotations with SAP focus area mentor
  5. Obtain signature of SAP focus area organizer following identification of advisor and for Extramural Studies Program (externship) requests
  6. Avian & Exotics Animal Emphasis interested students should plan early. In addition to the above list:
    1. Contact Dr. Keven Flammer, Avian & Exotic Animal emphasis leader, before declaring this focus area emphasis.
    2. Select two advisors, one in Small Animal and one in Avian & Exotics, by September 15th of the third year. Earlier declaration is possible and will give students priority for the required selectives in the Avian & Exotics Emphasis area.

Year 1-3 Required Courses

There are no required courses in years 1-3 for Small Animal Practice Focus Area students, but there are required courses for the Avian & Exotic Emphasis.

Avian & Exotic Animal Emphasis ONLY
Choose 3 of the following selective courses:

Year 1-3 Recommended Courses

General Clinical

Clinical Laboratory


Avian & Exotic Animal Emphasis

Fourth Year Required Rotations

Small Animal Focus Area

Small Animal - Avian & Exotic Emphasis

Required Required
VMB 977: Anesthesia VMB 977: Anesthesia
VMB 976: Radiology VMB 976: Radiology
VMP 977: Clinical Labs/Necropsy VMP 977: Clinical Labs/Necropsy
VMP 978: Clinical Pathology VMP 978: Clinical Pathology
VMC 971: Small Animal Medicine (2-blocks cons.) VMC 971: Small Animal Medicine (2-blocks cons.)
VMC 939: General Limited SA Practice VMC 939: General Limited SA Practice
VMC 973G: Small Animal Soft Tissue Surgery VMC 973G: Small Animal Soft Tissue Surgery
VMC 973O: Small Animal Orthopedic Surgery VMC 973O: Small Animal Orthopedic Surgery
VMC 994: Small Animal Extramural Experience**

VMC 963: Zoological Medicine Extramural Experience**

Choose ONE of the Following: Choose ONE of the Following:
VMC 960: Small Animal Emergency VMC 960: Small Animal Emergency
VMC 976: Veterinary Critical Care VMC 976: Veterinary Critical Care
Choose FOUR of the Following: Choose THREE of the Following:
VMC 972: Cardiology VMC 972: Cardiology
VMC 983: Dermatology VMC 983: Dermatology
VMC 984: Neurology VMC 984: Neurology
VMC 980: Oncology VMC 980: Oncology
VMC 982A: Small Animal Ophthalmology VMC 982A: Small Animal Ophthalmology
Recommended: Choose ONE of the Following:
VMC 986: Adv. Small Animal Medicine VMC 988: Exotic Animal Medicine
VMB 976A: Ultrasound VMC 996: Adv. Avian Clinical Medicine
  Other courses to meet this requirement can be approved by the Avian/Exotics emphasis area leader.
  VMC 986: Adv. Small Animal Medicine
  VMC 994: Small Animal Extramural Experience**
  VMB 976A: Ultrasound


**All Extramural Rotations (in 4th year) - maximum of 6 credits (3 rotations) total


The SAP focus area has a total of 15 required blocks. The remaining 9 blocks are to be chosen under the direction of the SAP focus area faculty advisor.

Other Experiences

Employment Opportunities/Externships/Funding

a. Extramural Studies Program (Externships) TBA
b. Research Opportunities

c. Funding CVM Summer Research Interns (Dr. Jody Gookin & Dr. Sam Jones)


Students may benefit from attending a conference. Annual meetings to consider include those sponsored by the following. Check websites of these organizations listed below, which have the latest information on upcoming meetings.

American Animal Hospital Association (5-day meeting in March);

American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (4-day meeting in May or June);

American College of Veterinary Surgeons (3-day meeting in September or October);

American Veterinary Medical Association (5-day meeting in July);

Association of Avian Veterinarians (4 day meeting in August;

Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (often in conjuction with Avian Vets meeting:

Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (meeting varies);

Mid-Atlantic Staes Association of Avian Veterinarians (3 day meeting in late April);

National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (3 day meeting in mid-March);

North American Veterinary Conference Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (annual meeting in early-mid September) Western States Veterinary Conference

Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (annual meeting in early-mid September)

Western Veterinary Conference (6 day meeting in February);


Rounds/Seminars/Journal Clubs


a. Advanced Topics in Zoological Medicine 1&2 are held: Thursdays from 4:15 - 6:00PM in D-239 North. Lecture, journal review, case presentations and discussion on zoological species.

b. Clinical Conference: Fridays, 8:00 a.m.

c. Dermatology Rounds: "Flea" Rounds are held each Tuesday at 8:00 a.m.; Week 1 of the senior clinical rotation at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, "Topical Therapies," are discussed. Week 2, "Endocrine Testing," is discussed. Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. "Mystery Cases," are presented by senior students. **Due to space limitations, attendance by students other that those on this rotation is by prior permission only.

d. Medicine Rounds: are held daily at 8:00 a.m. in the Medicine Rounds Room, VTH. Space is limited, however, and prior approval for attendance is required (contact the senior clinician on duty for permission).

e. Neurology Daily Rounds: are held daily at 9:00 a.m. in the Electrophysiology room, VTH.

f. Oncology Daily Rounds: are held daily at 2:30 p.m. in the Oncology Rounds Room, VTH.

g. Oncology Journal Club: is held each Friday at 10:15 a.m. in the Oncology Rounds Room, VTH.

h. Pain Interest Group Rounds: are held the first Wednesday of every month in B222

i. Pathology Rounds: Anatomic Pathology rounds are held Wednesdays at 12:15-1:15 p.m. in the Necropsy amphitheatre. Histopathology rounds are held Fridays at 7:50-9 a.m. in D236.

j. Research seminar: several ongoing series, as well as guest/invited speakers (usually posted on CVM listserv)

k. Soft tissue surgery walk-through rounds: are held daily at 7:30 a.m. in the VTH wards. Discussion rounds are held at variable times and by daily arrangement; contact the service for details.

Extracurricular Activities

Other Useful Information

Recommended Journals

Recommended Memberships

Computer and Internet Resource Sites

Skill Lists

The following lists, while not complete, are an indication of the entry level skills needed for general small animal practice. These lists were taken from “ Greenfield CL, Johnson AL, Scaffer DJ. Frequency of use of various procedures, skills, and areas of knowledge among veterinarians in private small animal exclusive or predominant practice and proficiency expected of new veterinary graduates. JAVMA 2004, 224: 1780-1787.”

The ten most important skills overall listed by practitioners were: general and elective surgery skills, good communication skills, ability to perform a complete physical exam, ability to interpret diagnostic tests, ability to take a good history, ability to obtain and interpret radiographs, ability to perform anesthesia and manage pain, ability to formulate a diagnostic plan, good interpersonal skills and being a team player.


Specific Procedures
(in order of expected proficiency)
Where Taught

Vaccine Protocols and Techniques

951, 970, Ford’s senior handout

Anal Sac Expression


Heartworm Testing

Parasitology, 970

Skin Scraping

937, 970, 983

Ear Cleaning


Anesthesia, including intubation

932, VMB 977


932, 937, 957, 970, VMB 977, clinics


932, 957, 970

Dental Prophylaxis

Dental selective


932, 957, 970

Wound Management

932 (lecture), bear dog project

Peripheral venous catheter placement

932, 957, 965, VMB 977, clinics

Fine-needle aspiration

937, clinics



Tooth Extraction



932, clinics

Routine periodontal treatment

Dental selective

Urinary catheter placement


Select skin lesion and skin biopsy


Bandage, splint, cast application

932, 961

Superficial mass excision

932 (lecture), surgery selective


Pathology lecture, rotation

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation

Emergency elective

Incisional biopsy

932 (lecture)

Management of worn or fractured teeth

Dental Selective


Specific Skills
(in approximate order of frequency performed in practice)
Where Taught

Take a complete patient history

937, clinics, 971 rounds

Perform complete physical exam

937, 932, clinics

Practice with integrity


Have a good attitude


Take a complete history


Provide excellent client services


Formulate diagnostic/therapeutic plans

Problem-based medicine, 951, clinics

Good written/oral communication skills


Have well developed interpersonal skills


Interpret results of blood, urine, fecal testing

Clinical pathology, Parasitology, 951, clinics

Assess and manage anesthetized patient

932, 977

Demonstrate critical thinking skills


Apply knowledge disease diagnosis/control


Perform oral exam

Dental selective

Multitask and deal with stress


Assess patient, formulate anesthetic plan

932, 977

Plan, organize, present ideas


Be goal-oriented


Have a team-oriented approach

All team-taught courses

Provide optimal post-operative care

932, clinics

Evaluate body weight/condition


Communicate risks, benefits, costs anesthesia


Create and encourage enthusiasm


Produce quality radiographs


Asses and treat postoperative pain

932, clinics

Properly restrain patients

Dogs 937, cats 970

Advise owners on early socialization


Perform basic eye examination


Recognize 1 o and 2 o skin lesions


Use monitors on anesthetized patients

932, 977

Safely restrain/immobilize aggressive patient

No specific lecture/lab

Perform orthopedic examination

937, 961

Understand ectoparasite lesion distribution


Assemble anesthetic machine

932, 977

Understand dx, rx of DJD

932, 961

Troubleshoot anesthesia machine

932, 977

Interpret radiographs

Radiology, 951, 961

Know how to humanely shape behavior


Give client ed on flea allergy


Perform cardiovascular exam

Physiology, 937

Monitor growth rates in young animals


Use nutrition in managing disease


Prepare slides for cytology

Clinical Pathology

Test/interpret conscious proprioception

937, 961

Dx/rx hip dysplasia

932, 961

Correlate tests for hepatic dysfunction


Differentiate prerenal/renal azotemia


Test/interpret deep pain

937, 961

Recognize inflammatory leukogram

Clinical Pathology

Test/interpret spinal reflexes

937, 961

Obtain complete behavioral history


Perform cytological interpretation

Clinical Pathology

Id cardiac disease/failure on radiograph


Localize spinal pain

937, 961

Rx/dx cats inappropriate urination


Rx/dx cranial cruciate rupture

937, 961, 965

Rx/dx/prognosis congestive heart failure


Rx/dx noise phobia/separation anxiety dogs


Construct glucose curve

951, clinics


Specific Areas of Knowledge
(in approximate order of frequency used in practice)
Where taught

Influence history/signalment on ddx

951, 971

How to use diagnostic laboratory

Clinical Pathology

Ddx/rx for pruritus


Behavioral effects castration/OHE


Dx/rx localized alopecia


Problems related to improper diet

Nutrition, 932, 961

Nutritional needs dogs/cats


Nutritional needs at various life stages


Normal/abnormal species specific behavior


Attributes of commercial dog food


Behavioral counseling for common dog issues


General and systemic pathology

Pathology courses

Behavioral changes indicating problem


DDx/rx generalized alopecia


How to interpret food labels


Basic ocular pharmacology

Pharmacology, 961

Normal reproductive behavior dog/cat


Use elimination diet for food allergy

Nutrition, 983

Association growth rate/diet/skeletal disease


Influence of neuro exam on DDx


Pathophysiology electrolyte disturbances


References for rx seizure disorders


References for ddx neuro disorders


Pathophysiology anemia


Advantage/disadvantage diagnostic ultrasound


Pathophysiology adrenal gland dysfunction