What is a Veterinary Pathologist?

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  • Written By: Vicki Hogue-Davies
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 21 June 2017
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A veterinary pathologist is a veterinarian with specialized training in diagnosing causes of disease and death in animals through studying bodily tissues, organs and fluids. Veterinary pathologists can work in several different industries and areas. They diagnose illnesses and determine reasons for death in everything from family pets to herd animals. Veterinary pathologists are involved in the health management of animals at zoos, in wildlife sanctuaries and at other places with large populations of wild animals. They teach and perform research at veterinary colleges and universities, for governments and in private industries such as pharmaceutical companies.

A diagnostic veterinary pathologist might work behind the scenes in a laboratory or out in the field. In either case, the veterinary pathologist is an important part of the veterinary team in discovering what has caused illness or death in animals. Diagnostic veterinary pathologists consult with private practice veterinarians to determine why pets have become ill or died.

Diagnostic veterinary pathologists also seek to discover what has sickened animals such as cows, sheep and other herd animals, so that future disease outbreaks can be prevented. They work at zoos and other places that house wild animals, surveying animal populations to help ensure their health and to diagnose any diseases that are found. What the veterinary pathologist discovers sometimes has a broad impact on human health as well as animal health. Some examples of such cases include the diagnosis in cows of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease, and the diagnosis of West Nile virus in wildlife populations and horses.

A veterinarian in a diagnostic role looks at everything about the animal to discover causes of illness or death, all the way down to the molecular level. They look at tissues removed during biopsies and review blood samples. In animals that have died, they perform postmortem examinations.

Colleges and universities employ veterinary pathologists to teach classes to veterinary students and veterinary residents and to conduct research into animal disease. Veterinary pathologists also work for governments and private industries performing basic and applied research. They develop new medicines and vaccines for animal and human diseases.

A doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree and additional training in the specialty of veterinary pathology are required to become a veterinary pathologist. Veterinary pathology training involves a residency program in veterinary pathology and certification. Training for veterinary pathologists who opt to spend their careers in research often includes earning a doctorate degree in addition to earning a DVM and veterinary pathology certification.

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