What is a Veterinary Criticalist?

If your pet has ever been seriously ill, you know that illness and disease do not follow a nine-to-five schedule. Pets sometimes need medical attention and treatment in the middle of the night or on holidays, requiring around-the-clock intensive monitoring, and specialized knowledge that your family veterinary hospital may not be able to provide.  

At Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital (BBVSH), our critical care department is staffed by four board-certified criticalists. A critical care department is much like a human intensive care unit (ICU)—it is a separate area of our hospital specifically devoted to caring for extremely sick patients. We are open 24/7, are a VECCS Level 1 certified, and are capable of handling even the most critical, life-threatening emergencies and trauma, with specialists on call to handle any medical or surgical issue.  


What does a veterinary criticalist do? 

Veterinary criticalists are board-certified veterinarians who provide specialty-level treatments and monitoring for pets with life-threatening illness or injury, such as severe trauma, shock, sepsis, or post-surgical complications. Our critical care team is ready to jump into action should a pet’s condition worsen, or a complication arise. 

Our critical care department also cares for postoperative patients who have a higher complication risk due to systemic infections, cardiovascular instability, advanced age, concurrent illness, or debilitation. Pets with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes mellitus, cancer, or immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, who suddenly worsen occasionally require several days of critical care for stabilization before returning home for continued outpatient care.  

Our critical care team works closely with other BBVSH specialists, such as cardiologists and internists, and may collaborate on challenging cases to provide the most complete and seamless care. 


How do BBVSH’s criticalists work with our emergency team? 

Our critical care team consists of criticalists, emergency vets, and registered veterinary technicians who work as a team to treat pets who come into our emergency department with a variety of medical concerns – such as acute illnesses, seizures, toxicities or traumatic injuries – that require stabilization, hospitalization, and intensive care.  

After our emergency team stabilizes their illness or injury, these patients are often transferred to the critical care department for continued treatment and monitoring. There, our criticalists oversee a pet’s care to ensure they continue improving and see them through to recovery.  


How much training does a veterinary criticalist receive? 

A veterinary criticalist is a veterinarian who has received additional specialized training in the field of veterinary emergency and critical care. In addition to four years of veterinary school, a criticalist completes a one-year rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery, and a three-year residency in emergency and critical care to master specialized technical skills and therapies. During this time, residents are exposed to a wide variety of challenging medical cases, while under the supervision of a board-certified critical care specialist. In addition to residency training, in order to become board-certified, the veterinary criticalist must pass the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care board examination at the end of their residency.  


What specialized treatments can veterinary criticalists provide your pet? 

BBVSH’s critical care team can offer many of the same diagnostic tests and treatments as human ICUs, such as blood transfusions, oxygen therapy, Pleur-evac, hi-flow O2, mechanical ventilator, flexible and rigid endoscopy, ligasure, ultrasonography, on-site 64 slice CT and 1.5T MRI, fluoroscopy, laparoscopy, and arthroscopy  – please see our Critical Care page for more information 


What to do if your pet is having an emergency 

If your pet develops a serious or life-threatening illness or injury, our critical care team is ready and able to assist your pet in any way necessary. Find out more about when to visit the emergency room and how to contact us on our emergencies page. 


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