Do a web search for “veterinary accreditation” and you’ll soon find yourself buried under a pile of acronyms: AVMA, AAHA, VMLB, APHIS, ABVS, ABVP, CVA, TVCM — even USDA. With an alphabet soup of terms like this to wade through, how will you know where to turn when one of your cats needs medical help?
Below is a guide to what each acronym represents, and how each one might affect your pet’s health:
This one is pretty basic. The American Veterinary Medical Association is membership-based organization similar to the American Medical Association that physicians join. The AVMA also offers accreditation policies for vet tech programs.
The American Animal Hospital Association accredits the veterinary hospital and not the individual veterinarian. A surprisingly low number of practices are accredited, just 12 percent to 15 percent in the U.S. and Canada. According to Kate Wessels, senior communications manager at the AAHA, “hospitals are evaluated on approximately 900 standards” — and re-evaluation occurs every three years.
Being AAHA accredited can be a voluntary step for an animal hospital. Being licensed by a state board, however, is not voluntary, but mandatory.
Some states, but not all, have Veterinary Medical Licensing Boards. You might be surprised to hear that requirements for state accreditation vary widely. Some states never inspect animal hospitals but instead have the policy to investigate only after a complaint has been filed. In some cases, such as Ohio and Alabama, the state has deemed the AAHA accreditation to be rigorous enough to meet or exceed their standards and accepts AAHA credentials in lieu of a state inspection.
Usually when you encounter the acronym USDA — the U.S. Department of Agriculture — it’s on a bag of produce or a package of meat at your grocer. But the USDA is also responsible for certifying the health of animals entering or leaving the U.S. So if you intend to travel with your pet, and crossing the the U.S. border is in your plans, you’ll need the services of a USDA-approved veterinarian.
Good news: The AAHA and AVMA fall under “USDA approved,” so if your vet is accredited under one of these agencies, you’re golden.
This one is interesting. As a division under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the mission of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is to “protect and improve the health, quality, and marketability of our nation’s animals (including various wildlife), animal products, and veterinary biologics.”
This agency is also responsible for upholding and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and has an emergency response program that provides national leadership on the safety and well-being of pets during disasters.
So you probably won’t run into this acronym unless you really need it. If you’re in a disaster situation where you do need it, you’ll be very glad it’s there.
This is one you’ll want to keep in your back pocket, especially as your cat ages and you find yourself running into health issues. Did you know that, just like human doctors, many veterinarians become specialists — experts — in specific fields?
That’s where the American Board of Veterinary Specialists comes in. This certification ensures that your veterinarian has met the requirements for his or her area of specialty, such as ophthalmology for eye issues or radiation oncology for cancer.
These letters after your vet’s name means he or she is species-specific. It stands for Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, and it means the veterinarian in question is board-certified as a cat specialist. According to one DABVP who I spoke with, these are general practitioners who have completed the necessary continuing education and examination to show their expertise in a particular species.
The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners is just one of many recognized specialty organizations under the AVBS. You can see the complete list at this link here.
A Credentialed Veterinary Acupuncturist is certified through the AAVA, the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture. Unlike traditional accreditation, this certification does not require periodic renewal and does not have agency oversight. However, many veterinarians who have their CVA are also accredited through the AVMA, and many are even specialists listed with the AVBP.
If you’re seeking the services of a CVA veterinarian, chances are you’ll run into this acronym as well: Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. No agency oversees this; rather, this is a category under which you’ll find alternative and complementary treatments to traditional Western veterinary medicine, including chiropractic.
That alphabet soup of acronyms behind your veterinarian’s name matters. And if you don’t know what credentials your veterinarian has, be sure to ask. You might be surprised — often pleasantly — at the answer. We hope this article will help you decipher exactly what they all mean.
Read more cool cat science stuff by Lisa Richman:
About Lisa Richman: Writer, director, pilot, foodie, cat person. When she’s not on set, this director of film and video can usually be found taking photos of cats (and food) with her trusty Nikon, or cruising aloft at 3,000 feet. She’s cat mom to an opinionated Tonkinese, a hearing-impaired Siamese, and a feline fashionista. She’s also the owner of a recently launched humor blog, and the Cat Writer’s 2014 Entertainment Blog, A Tonk’s Tail.