How to Decipher Veterinary Code

Veterinary Acronyms Explained


When PWD Rover, MACH, CGC, OTCH, RE, began favoring his RHL, Rover’s trainer, Molly Millikin, CPDT-KA, suggested that he be examined at an AAHA-accredited clinic. After an initial exam and tests were conducted by Dr. Terry R. Whitecoat, VMD, Dr. Whitecoat recommended that Rover be taken to see Dr. Collie G. Deluxe, DCVSMR.

What the heck do all those letters mean? They can seem as random as letters in a bowl of alphabet soup. But those acronyms pack a lot of information in just a spoonful. The letters around a dog’s name indicate what competitive titles he has attained. The letters after a trainer’s name indicate what sort of education and certification she has attained. And the letters after a veterinarian’s name, or having to do with her practice, tell you what sort of advanced education and certification she has.

Here’s a guide to deciphering all the letters that you may see that have to do with veterinary professionals. In future issues, we’ll explain the letters having to do with dogs’ and trainers’ titles.

Veterinary Letters
There are dozens of professional organizations that offer educational opportunities for veterinarians who have a special interest in a type of medicine. Other veterinary medical groups have been organized for the express purpose of developing guidelines and standards for practitioners who wish to pursue an advanced level of knowledge about a certain type of medicine.

Many of the organizations listed in this section provide training, education, and support for veterinary professionals in specific areas of medicine, but don’t call them “specialties.” That word is reserved exclusively to designate veterinary organizations that provide training and certification in specialties that have been recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA); these specialties are described after this section (see “Veterinary Specialties,” page 12).

Note also that while a good number of alternative and complementary medical associations offer advanced training and certification, none, as yet, have obtained “board-certified” recognition by the AVMA.

AAHA: The American Animal Hospital Association is an international association committed to ensuring high-quality veterinary standards, improving pet care, and supporting small animal practices. AAHA has developed a set of accreditation standards that are widely used as benchmarks to measure excellence in veterinary medicine.

AAHA is the only organization that accredits animal hospitals throughout the United States and Canada; currently, more than 3,200 veterinary clinics hold the “AAHA-accredited” designation. In general, clinics that seek out and stay current on AAHA accreditation have a special interest in providing above-average, up-to-date service and care to their clients and patients.

Accreditation helps veterinary hospitals stay on the leading edge of veterinary medicine and ensures a wide range of quality services, such as diagnostic testing (xray and laboratory) for prompt diagnosis and an on-site pharmacy so treatment can begin immediately.

AAVA: The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture was established to improve animal health by the advancement of veterinary acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, and Traditional Asian Medicine. Credentialed membership is awarded to individuals who are citizens or permanent residents of the U.S., are licensed graduates of a college or school of veterinary medicine, and who have successfully completed an AAVA-approved veterinary acupuncture/TCM course or equivalent.

Advanced certification is awarded and the title of Fellow of the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture (FAAVA) is conferred after successfully passing an examination. The exam demands that candidates demonstrate expert knowledge about the classical and neuro-physiologic basis of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, and their application for successful diagnosis and treatment of veterinary patients.

AAVC: The American Association of Veterinary Clinicians is an organization of clinicians (vets who practice medicine in a clinic, as opposed to those who work in a laboratory or research) with an interest in veterinary clinical teaching and research. The AAVC sponsors matching programs for internships and residencies to expedite selection of applicants for vet schools, colleges, and private practices.

AAVSB: The American Association of Veterinary State Boards is a not-for-profit association comprised of 58 veterinary licensing boards. Its primary function is to provide quality, relevant programs and services that these boards can rely on to carry out their statutory responsibilities (regulating veterinarians) in the interest of public protection.

ACCC/AVCA: The Animal Chiropractic Certification Commission of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association is the primary national credential for this field in North America. The organization establishes standards of care in animal chiropractic, conducts a professional certification program, awards credentials to individuals who meet established criteria, and promotes professional accountability and visibility. Certified Doctors may call themselves “certified in animal chiropractic by the Animal Chiropractic Certification Commission of the AVCA.”

Note that both veterinarians and doctors of chiropractic may be certified in animal chiropractic; but a doctor of chiropractic who is not a vet must have a referral from a vet for a diagnosed problem before treating an animal.

ACSMA: The American Canine Sports Medicine Association is an organization for veterinarians, physical therapists, trainers, and other professionals devoted to addressing the medical and surgical problems encountered in the canine athlete and the working breeds. Note that this organization offers information resources for veterinarians and non-veterinarians who work in this field; there is also a board certification for veterinarians in sports medicine (see ACVSMR: The American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehablitation).

AhVMA: The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association explores and supports alternative and complementary approaches to veterinary healthcare, and is dedicated to integrating all aspects of animal wellness in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. Its annual conference introduces many “conventional” veterinarians to the wide range of alternative and complementary medical modalities available to veterinarians, and the latest research in these modalities.

AVMA: The American Veterinary Medical Association, founded in 1863, is a not-for-profit association representing veterinarians in the United States, with the mission to improve animal and human health, and advance the veterinary medical profession.

The AVMA is responsible for the profession’s Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics. Its Council of Education sets the standards for the accreditation of veterinary medical programs accepted by all states, and its Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities sets the standards for the accreditation of veterinary technician education programs. The AVMA Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates evaluates the competence of graduates of colleges of veterinary medicine that are not accredited by the AVMA Council on Education. Finally, the AVMA’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS) establishes and evaluates criteria for recognition of veterinary specialty organizations.

AVSAB: The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior is a group of veterinarians and research scientists dedicated to improving the lives of animals and people through an understanding of animal behavior. Note that animal behavior is also a field in which a veterinarian can become board-certified; see the ACVB, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, below.

BFRAP: Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioners hold a certificate of registration issued by the Bach Centre and work to the Bach Centre’s Bach Foundation Code of Practice. Both veterinarians and non-vets can obtain this certification; but a practitioner who is not a veterinarian must have a referral from a veterinarian for a diagnosed veterinary problem before treating an animal with the Bach Flower Remedy system.

BVetMed/BVSc/BVSC: The Bachelor of Veterinary Science is a bachelor’s degree conferred for studies in veterinary science in the United Kingdom and some other countries. These degrees are equivalent to DVM/VMD degrees in the U.S. They are not called “doctorate” degrees due to nomenclature differences among degree designations between the U.S. and Canada and the U.K.

CCRA: The Canine Rehabilitation Institute offers two certifications, one for vets and physical therapists (CCRT, next item on list), and the CCRA (Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant) for veterinary technicians and physical therapy assistants.

CCRT: The title of Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist is awarded only to trained veterinarians and physical therapists by the Canine Rehabilitation Institute. (Physical therapists – people with training in this field on humans – are certified in the U.S. by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Some hold Bachelor’s and/or Master’s degrees in physical therapy, while others obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.)

Cert AAH: Applied Animal Herbalism Certificate from the Companion Animal Sciences Institute (CASI). Open to all, CASI is a private professional skills development institution providing advanced, comprehensive, science-based, home-study in dog training, dog daycare operation, shelter and rescue work, and canine nutrition and fitness; it does not grant degrees and therefore it is not accredited. Both veterinarians and non-vets can obtain this certification; but a practitioner who is not a veterinarian must have a referral from a veterinarian for a diagnosed veterinary problem before treating an animal.

Cert CN and Cert ACN: Canine Nutrition Certificate and Advanced Canine Nutrition Certificate from the Companion Animal Sciences Institute (see Cert AAH above).

CVH: A Certified Veterinary Homeopath is a veterinarian who has also been certified by the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH).

CVPM: Certified Veterinary Practice Manager with a credential from Veterinary Hospital Managers Association (VHMA).

DVM: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from an accredited college or university. All veterinary schools in North America use this designation except for the University of Pennsylvania, which issues a degree of VMD. See VMD, below.

MLAS: Master of Laboratory Animal Science. This degree is offered by one university in the U.S. and several in Europe. Laboratory animal welfare and management, and the legal and ethical aspects of laboratory animal use, are among the topics studied for this degree.

MRCVS: Veterinarians practicing surgery in the United Kingdom must be registered members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). FRCVS veterinary surgeons have received the Diploma of Fellowship (the highest award of the RCVS) by either the submission of a thesis or for meritorious contributions to learning. “Fellows,” through their research, push frontiers by creating new knowledge in a wide range of subject areas.

PhD: Doctoral degree from an accredited college or university.

RVT/LVT/CVT: Registered Veterinary Technician/Licensed Veterinary Technician/Certified Veterinary Technician. Each state has different requirements for credentialing veterinary technicians; some are registered, some licensed, and some certified.

A veterinary technician is a graduate of an AVMA-accredited two-year program, from a community college, college, or university. Almost every state requires a veterinary technician to take and pass a credentialing exam, which is either state-administered or administered by the AAVSB (i.e., the Veterinary Technician National Examination or VTNE).

State veterinary associations: Each state has its own veterinary regulatory agency. These are the organizations that you would contact to determine whether a veterinarian is licensed and had ever been the subject of disciplinary action, and to file a complaint against a vet.

Veterinary Medical Doctor. The University of Pennsylvania calls its degree a veterinary medical doctorate and abbreviates it as such; it is equivalent to DVM.

WSAVA: The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) is an association of associations. Its membership consists of international veterinary organizations with the primary purpose to advance the quality and availability of companion animal care and create a unified standard of care for the benefit of animals and humankind.

Veterinary Specialties
In veterinary medicine, as in human medicine, there are general practitioners – the basic family doctor type – and specialists. Many people use the word “specialist” loosely, as in “My vet specializes in holistic medicine,” but actually the word has a legal definition and it involves more than just identifying a practice that is limited to a certain type of medicine.

In the U.S., veterinary specialists are those (and only those) who have been board-certified by one of the 22 veterinary specialty organizations recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in one of 41 specialties. This list has grown over the years; currently the AVMA’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties (ABVS) is considering petitions to add two more specialties to its list: Shelter Medicine (which would fall under the already large umbrella of American Board of Veterinary Practitioners [see below] and Equine Dentistry [which would fall under the purview of the American Veterinary Dental College [see below]).

Each AVMA-recognized specialty organization develops the training requirements for its certification. The most common include the completion of an internship (usually one year), completion of a residency training program (usually two to three years) under the supervision of veterinarians who are board-certified in that specialty, and a final examination. There are some exceptions. Some specialty organizations will accept several years of veterinary practice experience in lieu of an internship; one accepts extensive practice experience with a certain species to become eligible to examine for certification as a specialist with that species.

Once they have met all the requirements of their specialty, veterinarians are awarded “Diplomate” status. Board-certified specialists indicate this status with the capital letter D before the abbreviation of the specialty organization; for example, a veterinarian certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons would list the letters “DACVS” after his/her name.

Some organizations require extensive advanced training in not only the specific area of specialty, but also in related areas of veterinary medicine.

For example, to become board certified in veterinary surgery, an individual must also complete at least 80 hours of training with a board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist, at least 80 hours with a board-certified veterinary radiologist, at least 80 hours with a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist, and at least 80 hours with a board-certified veterinary pathologist during the three or more years of a veterinary surgical residency. You can see how a board-certified veterinary surgeon would have much more training and experience than an ordinary veterinarian who does surgery.

The benefits of seeing a specialist for difficult-to-diagnose or complicated cases can’t be overvalued. A veterinarian who has sought out additional education and training in a given field will almost always be more likely to successfully diagnose and treat complicated conditions. She generally will equip her clinic with the most sophisticated diagnostic tools and stay informed about new and more effective treatments.

The following specialty organizations are recognized by the AVMA according to the policies and procedures of the ABVS:

ABVP: The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners certifies veterinarians who demonstrate knowledge and expertise in species-oriented clinical practice.

A veterinary degree gives a vet the legal right to diagnose and treat any type of non-human animal for any sort of medical condition; it does not necessarily make her an expert in treating any specific type of animal. She can open a practice and say that it’s limited to small animals, or even just dogs and cats, but she may not say that she specializes in dogs or cats unless she has obtained a board certification by the ABVP in Canine and Feline Medicine.

The other species-oriented veterinary specialty certifications are Avian, Beef Cattle, Dairy, Equine, Exotic Companion Mammal, Feline, Food Animal, Reptile and Amphibian, and Swine Health Management. Note that there is no board-certification that deals solely with dogs; the Canine and Feline Practice certification comes closest.

These species-oriented certifications may still seem somewhat general, as compared to opthamology (as just one example). But consider that it takes a minimum of six years of clinical practice experience with the specific patient species before an applicant can take the examination for this certification.

ABVT: Veterinarians who are certified by the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology have special training as regards the toxicological hazards to pets, livestock, and wildlife.

ACAW: Veterinarians who are certified by the American College of Animal Welfare demonstrate an advanced level of expertise in all aspects of animal welfare science and animal welfare ethics. (This board certification is one of the newest specialties recognized by the ABVS and has a provisional status.)

ACLAM: The American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine advances the humane care and responsible use of laboratory animals through certification of veterinary specialists, professional development, education, and research.

ACPV: American College of Poultry Veterinarians.

ACT: Diplomates of the American College of Theriogenologists have advanced training in theriogenology (the branch of veterinary medicine concerned with reproduction, including veterinary obstetrics).

ACVAA: American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia.

ACVB: Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists are veterinarians who have attained specialist status in animal behavior. They have received additional training, generally at least three years, and they have authored a published research project in animal behavior, written case reports, and passed a two-day examination.

Veterinary behaviorists are trained to diagnose and treat problems in animals, whether they are medical or behavioral. They are also licensed to prescribe drugs and are familiar with psychotropic medications, their uses, interactions with other medications, and side effects.

ACVCP: Veterinarians who are certified by the American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology have received intensive training in the use of veterinary drugs.

Pharmacology is often described as a “bridge science” because it incorporates knowledge from a number of basic science disciplines including physiology, biochemistry, and cell and molecular biology in order to rationally develop therapeutic treatments.

ACVD: Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology have expertise and specialized training in diagnosing and treating of animals with benign and malignant disorders of the skin, hair, ears, and nails.

ACVECC: American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.

ACVIM: The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine is the international certifying organization for veterinary specialists in five different areas: cardiology, large animal internal medicine (LAIM), neurology, oncology, and small animal internal medicine (SAIM).

ACVM: The American College of Veterinary Microbiologists certifies veterinarians with special expertise in microbiology (includes the fields of bacteriology, mycology, immuno-serology, and virology).

ACVN: American College of Veterinary Nutrition. Veterinary nutritionists formulate commercial foods and supplements as well as home-prepared diets, manage the medical and nutritional needs of individual animals, and recommend specific nutritional strategies that are used to prevent and treat diseases.

ACVO: American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists.

ACVP: American College of Veterinary Pathologists. Two types of certification may be earned: Anatomic Pathology or Clinical Pathology.

ACVPM: Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Preventative Medicine help prevent and control diseases of food animals and humans, combining the disciplines of veterinary microbiology, epidemiology, immunology, parasitology, public health, production medicine, and clinical medicine.

ACVR: Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Radiology receive advanced training in diagnostic imaging such as radiology, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nuclear medicine. Certification may be earned in Radiology (Diagnostic Imaging) and Radiation Oncology (Radiation Therapy).

ACVS: American College of Veterinary Surgeons. This board defines the standards of surgical excellence for veterinary medicine.According to its website, “Approximately 70 veterinarians earn Diplomate credentials every year. More than 60 percent of the ACVS Diplomates operate in private and specialty practices that accept cases on a referral basis from primary care practitioners. The remainder are primarily employed by academic institutions and industry where they teach, conduct research, practice in teaching hospitals, and participate in the development of new products and treatments which improve the quality of veterinary and human health care.”

ACVSMR: The American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation is another new specialty with provisional recognition by the AVMA AVBS. There are two recognized veterinary specialties: Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (Canine) and Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (Equine).

ACZM: The American College of Zoological Medicine certifies veterinarians with expertise in zoological medicine, addressing the care of captive zoo animals, free ranging wildlife species, aquatic animals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and non-domestic companion animals. Zoological medicine incorporates principles of ecology, wildlife conservation, and veterinary medicine.

AVDC: Diplomates of the American Veterinary Dental College have training in advanced veterinary dentistry, including diagnosis of oral problems, malocclusions and orthodontics, crowns, endodontic (gum) disease, and anesthesia.

In the next installment, we’ll look at training and behavior “letters.”

Barbara Dobbins, a former dog trainer, writes about dogs and studies canine ethology. She lives in the Bay Area with her Border Collie, Duncan.

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Barbara Dobbins has been writing for WDJ since 2011 with a focus on veterinary and canine health topics. Her lifelong fascination with dogs has led her in many directions. As a youngster she would round up her dogs and horse for a day of adventure exploring and searching for buried treasure in the California hills. Inspired by Margaret Mead with a nod to Indiana Jones, she went on to study anthropology, archaeology, and museum studies and obtained a masters degree in art history. Then two new puppies bounced into her life, and Barbara launched into studying animal behavior and training and spent hundreds of hours volunteering in the behavior department at her local shelter. When her beloved Border Collie Daisy was diagnosed with a rare cancer, she dug deep to research all she could about the disease, and has written extensively about all sorts of canine cancer for Whole Dog Journal. Liaising between pet owners and veterinary practice, science, and research, she synthesizes these complex and data-driven subjects into accessible information. She continues to take inspiration from her two research assistants, mixed-breed Tico and Border Collie Parker.