Defining Small Animal Practice

Small animal practice is a term that has nothing to do with the size of dogs and cats we veterinarians will see as

For most “small animal” practices, there is no limit to the size of patient we will see.


In this case, “small” separates practices that serve dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, rats, ferrets, sugar gliders, guinea pigs and other pets from “large animal practice,” which primarily focuses on farm animals such as cattle, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, llamas and alpacas.

The topic arose recently at church when a dear friend said, “Dr. Jim, this is Susan. She just started coming to church here and wants to be in your Sunday School class. I told her you were a veterinarian. She has two little Chihuahuas and they need a doctor here. I would take my dogs to you, but they are both over 100 pounds and I know your practice is limited to small animals.”

I wasn’t quite ready for that one.

Small animal” veterinarians will certainly see your Great Dane, as well as your Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, Rottweiler and Doberman Pinscher, as well as any of the giant mastiffs.

The categorization doesn’t end there, though. There are also veterinarians who have “mixed practices.” Don’t think these doctors are easily confused. On the contrary “mixed” means they enjoy seeing some farm animals part of the day and house pets, too. Some of their clients may be farmers who have dogs and cats around the house and barn. Such pets, often working breeds, might even be treated right on the farm and rarely go to the veterinarian’s clinic. Others have their pets seen at the doctor’s office.

The term “companion animal practice” was coined in an effort to reduce confusion about patient size, but many horse owners consider their equine friends as “companions,” and they became incorporated into the class, also.  The phrase became less useful when the companion category began to include goats, sheep and pigs.

Maxx says, “Dog? Bring it on!”

Then, too, there are veterinarians who do limit their practices by patient size. Brenda and I were once on vacation in Florida and saw a sign saying, “Practice limited to dogs under 40 pounds.” I wasn’t clear on whether he/she would also see cats under 40 pounds.

Our Maxx is mostly nonplussed by anything that happens: dogs, grownups and grandchildren.

Feline-only practice is a burgeoning field, in which no dogs will be found. The advantage is an exclusive environment for cats, with neither dog sounds nor smells that might increase anxiety for the visiting kitty not acclimated to dogs. As you can see at right, Maxx could not care less if dogs are around. I take him to work with me periodically, just to
make clinic visits a part of his routine, and it matters not to him how much his fellow boarders bark; he is oblivious.

Speaking of confusion: a nice lady stopped in last week to ask about
heartworm preventive for her cats. We talked for a bit, then she said, “Well, I don’t suppose it matters anyway, since you don’t see cats.”

Apparently this sign could cause confusion.

For a moment I was stunned, then asked, “Did I say something to give you the impression that we don’t take cats as patients?”

“Your sign out front,” she shared. “It says ‘Dogs Only.’”

I must have seemed to be the one confused at that point, until she added, “The two signs by the front walk.”

“Ahhh,” I said. “That is only referring to the Canine Influenza Vaccine. People and cats don’t get Canine Influenza. It’s supposed to be funny.”

Then, there are the intentionally funny people. Our laboratory specimen courier stopped in one night to pick up our
lab samples. “Why can only good dogs get the influenza vaccine? The sign says ‘sorry dogs only.’”

Fortunately, I was ready for him. “One little comma makes all the difference, doesn’t it?”

See you next week, Dr. Randolph.

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