Now there are cardiologists, neurologists and even internists to treat the ailments of pet cats, dogs, iguanas, parrots and other animals here in Pinellas County.
Tampa-based Florida Veterinary Specialists, one of the largest specialty groups in the country, has opened a $2-million satellite hospital near Largo.
It stands on property that for many years housed the private veterinary practice of Dr. Craig Fischer, who specialized in ophthalmology and retired in late 2007.
Fischer may be best remembered for his cataract surgeries in 1985 on a full-grown, 600-pound Siberian tiger with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and 10 years later on a young snow leopard from a Naples zoological park.
Large animals will not be treated at the 3,000-square-foot facility at 4525 Ulmerton Road, said Dr. Neil Shaw, who established Florida Veterinary Specialists 12 years ago and is its chief medical officer.
"When we have to treat large animals, we go to the animal," Shaw said. "When we go to a zoo or other large-animal facility, we go as consultants in ophthalmology, dermatology and internal medicine."
For the Tampa Bay area horse community, the equine Surgi-Care Center in Brandon offers ophthalmology and dermatology services, he said.
To date, Florida Veterinary Specialists has a large complex at its Tampa headquarters that includes a hospital and cancer treatment center, and a satellite hospital in Brandon that opened three years ago.
Only small pets will be treated at the Ulmerton Road hospital that opened in late September.
"We've been treating primarily dogs and cats, but also some large birds, iguanas, snakes and other small animals," said practice manager Carisa Erion.
The hospital's patients, all referred by their veterinarians, come mainly from Pinellas and Pasco counties and the Sarasota area, she said.
The hospital can care for up to 30 patients and has a full-time staff of six, including an internal medicine specialist and an ophthalmologist. The hospital also can draw from more than 50 veterinary specialists at its Tampa center.
"The pets we treat are in partnership with their family vets," Shaw said. "We take care of the specialty component."
Regular services at the hospital include surgery, cataract removal, oncology treatment, ophthalmology, and dermatology exams and treatments.
The facility doesn't have 24-hour emergency services offered by the other two hospitals in the Florida group. But it may in the future, depending on the need, Shaw said.
Florida Veterinary Specialists, in agreement with the University of Florida, teaches emergency medicine to veterinary students.
It also trains interns and residents, who have come from the United States, Canada and Europe, in its various specialties.
And it offers continuing-education courses to local veterinarians and technicians "to raise the level of care in our communities," Shaw said.
At the invitation of a group of New York City veterinarians, Shaw opened NYC Veterinary Specialists two years ago in Manhattan and one in Queens in November.
"It's actually pretty cool that what we developed here in Tampa Bay identified us as unique and something that would promote veterinarians and be of service to the community," Shaw said of the expansion to New York City.
"We are a hub for the veterinary community in Tampa, Brandon and Manhattan, and we will be in Pinellas and Queens."
Chris Cosdon can be reached at [email protected]