An avian veterinarian is a veterinarian who has developed a special interest in birds. Generally speaking most vets learn very little about birds in veterinary school. Some vet schools offer more classes than others, but on the average the amount of theoretical and practical training available on bird species is much reduced compared with that offered for cats and dogs. So how does an avian veterinarian learn about birds, and what makes them an avian veterinarian? The term avian veterinarian is usually a self-appointed term. These vets will have typically taken as many classes on birds as possible during their time at vet school, and they will have attended many conferences, lectures and labs since graduating. They should also remain current on the avian literature.
How then does one become an avian specialist? There are two routes to becoming an avian specialist. Both require significantly more learning than would be required for one to use the term avian veterinarian, and both require the candidate pass a vigorous 2-day exam in avian medicine and surgery. The first and most common route is called the ‘practice-track’. In this route a vet must have had at least 6-years of clinical experience before they can sit the examination in avian medicine. They must have obtained extensive continuing professional education and have written two papers on avian medicine which must be approved by a committee of experts. Finally, they may sit for and must pass the 2-day, 400-question examination on avian biology, physiology and medicine offered once a year in Chicago.
The second route to becoming an avian specialist is less common, and some would argue more rigorous. This is referred to as the ‘residency-track’. Candidates in the residency track must have undertaken a 1-year internship (or equivalent clinical experience) followed by a rigorous 2 or 3-year residency program. In these programs veterinary residents typically work 10-14 hours a day seeing a broad variety of avian cases; from routine primary care cases, to critical emergencies and advanced medical and surgical cases. The residents work hand-in-hand with world renowned avian specialists, as well as other veterinary specialists in disciplines such as: surgery, ophthalmology, dermatology, cardiology and oncology. Residents must also meet additional continuing education requirements as well as meet the same publication and examination requirements as those specialists undertaking the ‘practice-track’.
It is important to be aware of the training your bird’s vet has received in avian medicine, because birds are certainly not small dogs. They have vastly different anatomy, physiology, infectious diseases and biology.