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Veterinary Treatments

Veterinary Treatments


Veterinary treatments can help keep companion, zoo, and sport animals happy, healthy, and comfortable while extending their lives. These treatments may be administered at regular appointments, in response to a particular issue, or during an emergency situation. Understanding the wide range of veterinary treatments available for your animal can help you maintain its wellbeing and determine when a trip to the vet's office may be appropriate.


Just as in human medicine, there are many techniques veterinarians can use to improve an animal's health. Your practitioner will diagnose your animal's condition and recommend a course of treatment based on your pet's symptoms, age, medical record, species, behavior, and preferences. Your primary veterinarian can perform certain treatments, but in more complicated circumstances, your animal may need to be referred to a veterinary specialist with more extensive knowledge and experience.

Before purchasing or adopting an animal, you should be prepared to pay for any routine or necessary veterinary treatments to provide an excellent quality of life for your pet.

Your veterinarian may prescribe treatment as a result of routine examination, but you should not hesitate to seek assistance for your animal if you notice any distressing symptoms or abnormal behavior. Your veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests to determine which course of treatment would be most suitable. As the animal's owner, you will also have input as to the proper course of action for your pet's needs and your own budget. Before purchasing or adopting an animal, you should be prepared to pay for any routine or necessary veterinary treatments to provide an excellent quality of life for your pet. Once your veterinarian creates a treatment plan for your animal, he or she may also request to see your pet for follow-up care to ensure it is working properly.

In many cases, you as the animal caretaker will need to be involved in administering treatment. This could be as simple as feeding your dog a different type of food or as complicated as applying daily injections to keep your horse's health under control. In more severe circumstances, your animal may even need to undergo surgery, in which case you will need to care for it during the recovery period. If you do not see your animal's condition improving or notice any negative side effects from treatment, you should contact your veterinarian for additional advice. He or she may be able to recommend an alternative and potentially more effective treatment option.

Medicinal Treatments

In certain circumstances, veterinarians will recommend medicinal treatments for animals. Some of the most common drugs include:

  • Anthelmintics. These are used to eliminate parasitic worms, which infest their systems and steal important nutrients.
  • Dermatological drugs. Oral, topical, or injected medications might be used to treat common skin and ear conditions in animals.
  • Central nervous system medications. Drugs like aminocaproic acid or potassium bromide might be prescribed to help animals suffering from seizures or epilepsy.
  • Respiratory drugs. A variety of medications can be used to help animals suffering from respiratory issues. For example, a veterinarian might prescribe inhaled or oral steroids to assist animals suffering from asthma or other disorders that cause wheezing.
  • Antibiotics. These medications help animals' systems fight infection and disease. They can be used once an illness is diagnosed, or a veterinarian might prescribe them preventively before a surgical procedure.
  • Kidney medications. Many animals are prone to kidney issues and these treatments can help slow or stop the progress of these disorders.
  • Ophthalmological drugs. Oral medications or eye drops can be used to treat infection and other ocular issues, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Behavioral modification treatments. If your animal appears neurotic, obsessive, or overly aggressive and other treatments have not been successful, your veterinarian may prescribe behavioral modifiers like antidepressants or antipsychotics.
  • Cardiovascular treatments. These can be used to treat any conditions relating to the heart or blood vessels.
  • Hormone medications. Veterinarians primarily prescribe these to assist animals with reproductive issues.
  • Painkillers. These medications can help animals with chronic conditions or those recovering from major procedures.
  • Chemotherapy. These chemical compounds can help kill cancer cells.

Vitamins and Supplements

Just like humans, animals can sometimes benefit from taking vitamins and supplements, nutrients and organic compounds that can help support bodily function. Veterinarians most often recommend them for aging animals or those with long-term chronic conditions, but any animal can take these oral, topical, or injected substances. More and more owners are working to improve their pets' quality of life and overall wellbeing with vitamins and supplements. Animal caretakers most frequently utilize the following:

  • Multivitamins. These can help balance an animal's diet and nutrition.
  • Probiotics. These help with digestive function.
  • Supplements for arthritis. Glucosamine, calcium, green tea, and vitamin E can help your animal's joints function better.
  • Antioxidants. These can help fight symptoms of aging and reduce animals' risk for cancer.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy oils can make animals' fur shiny and healthy, as well as limiting shedding.

Talk to your veterinarian if you believe vitamins and supplements could help your animal. While these are natural treatments, they should be used with care, and veterinarians are still divided about whether or not they are advisable.

Weight Management

Pet food with measuring tape around it

Recent studies indicate that nearly 60 percent of domestic cats and dogs may be overweight. Animals typically become obese due to overfeeding, lack of sufficient exercise, or congenital conditions. Being overweight can predispose animals to joint issues, diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, liver disorders, cancer, and other medical conditions. In addition, it can lower an animal's longevity and quality of life. Pets can also become underweight due to animal anorexia, certain disorders, or psychological conditions.

Overweight animals may develop a rounder midsection and rolls of fat, and their ribs may not be visible at all.

Your veterinarian will weigh and examine your animal at routine check-ups to determine if its weight is in a healthy range. You can also observe your pet for other symptoms of weight issues. Underweight animals' ribs may begin to protrude, their fur may thin, they may eat or drink less, and they may seem lethargic. Overweight animals may develop a rounder midsection and rolls of fat, and their ribs may not be visible at all. You can also weigh your animal at home to determine if it falls into a healthy range.

If your animal is underweight or overweight, your veterinarian will most likely recommend a customized weight management treatment plan, which could include:

  • Dietary changes. The most significant factor in your pet's weight is most likely his or her diet. Adjusting the amount of fat, protein, and fiber in your animal's food can help it gain or lose weight.
  • Different feeding practices. The way you feed your animal may also affect its weight. For example, many cat owners use free feeding, in which they leave food down in a bowl for their pets to consume throughout the day, but this can lead to obesity in certain cats. It's also important to create a standard feeding schedule so your animal does not eat too little or too much.
  • Increase or decrease in exercise and activity. Some animals may be underweight due to excessive activity and should spend more time resting. Overweight or obese pets will need to be played with, walked, and exercised more rigorously and frequently.
  • Medications. Your veterinarian may prescribe drugs that stimulate or suppress an animal's appetite to assist with weight management. Some vitamins and supplements may also achieve these effects.

Pain Management

Unfortunately, sometimes animals experience acute or chronic pain. This can be a symptom of an injury or illness, or it may result as a side effect of medications or procedures. To effectively manage your pet's pain and keep it comfortable, you first need to identify the signs. For example, a horse may be in pain if it begins to hang its head lower, move more slowly, or pay less attention to its surroundings. Dogs that are uncomfortable may become more submissive, eat less, bite at their skin, or lay in one place all day, while cats in pain become less curious, hide all day, and do not groom as well. Your veterinarian may use these symptoms and other diagnostic information to determine if your animal is in pain.

Each animal's symptoms and experiences are different, so your doctor may create an individualized pain management treatment system for your pet. This could include:

  • Physical therapy. If your animal's discomfort results from arthritis or an orthopedic injury, gentle exercises may be able to gradually rehabilitate it.
  • Medication. Painkillers, steroids, or anti-inflammatory drugs may provide temporary relief for your animal's pain. In addition, treating the underlying condition causing your animal's pain with medication could help alleviate it. Use these according to your veterinarian's exact instructions.
  • Vitamins and supplements. Organic substances like particular herbs, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, vitamin D, and others may help control your animal's pain.
  • Exercise and activity. In addition to physical therapy, helping your pet get outside to play or walk may help relieve its pain, although you will need to monitor it carefully so that the exercise does not exacerbate the issue.
  • Alternative medicine. While this is still a controversial issue within veterinary medicine, some pet owners use alternative medicine practices, such as acupuncture, massage, or homeopathy, to assist with pain management.

Your animal's pain management regimen will also depend on your input, including your observations, concerns, and budget.

RELATED: Find a qualified veterinarian in your area

Veterinary Surgery

Surgical intervention may be required for animals that experience more severe conditions. Depending on the complexity of the case, a general veterinarian or surgical specialist may perform these procedures. Some common veterinary surgeries include tumor removal, tooth extraction, traumatic injury care (typically from bites or scratches), or skin condition repair, particularly for abscesses or ulcers.

Veterinary surgery treatment involves the following:

  • Diagnostic testing. Veterinarians use this to determine the root cause of the issue, assess the animal's baseline, and plan the procedure accordingly.
  • Anesthesia. Local or topical anesthesia can be used to numb a small area, while oral or intravenous sedation helps your animal remain calm and comfortable. Some veterinarians may also prescribe muscle relaxants or use massage techniques during a procedure to keep an animal at ease.
  • Incisions. In most cases, your veterinarian will need to open your animal's skin to modify tissue underneath. He or she will do so in as minimally invasive a fashion as possible. Depending on the extent of your animal's condition and your doctor's expertise, the incision can be made using a thin blade, small laparoscopic instrument attached to a camera, or even a laser.
  • Surgical instrument placement. Depending on the situation, your doctor may need to insert a stent, artificial valve, or orthopedic implant.
  • Tissue modification. Your veterinarian or surgical specialist may need to remove, adjust, or repair skin, fat, muscle, bone, or other tissue to improve your animal's state.
  • Suturing. Regular or dissolvable stitches can close the wound for proper healing. Your doctor will also sanitize the site and may place prophylactic antibiotics.

Your practitioner will explain the specific aspects of your animal's procedure at your pet's pre-operative consultation.

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Pet Emergency Care

Veterinary emergencies can occur, in which case you may need to bring your animal directly to your veterinarian's office or a local animal emergency room. You should bring your pet in for emergency care if it:

  • Is involved in an accident or fight
  • Ingests a potentially poisonous substance
  • Suddenly appears extremely lethargic or immobile
  • Stops eating and drinking
  • Appears to have trouble breathing
  • Has a swollen abdomen
  • Is howling, crying, or whimpering due to discomfort
  • Has pale or yellow gums
  • Does not stop bleeding after an injury
  • Has a fever
  • Shakes or seizes
  • Has an irregular smell
  • Vomits more than three times in a short period
  • Falls over or faints
  • Exhibits any behavior that is abnormal or concerning to you

Veterinary emergency and critical care offerings typically include:

  • Certain surgeries
  • Intravenous or subcutaneous (beneath the skin) fluids
  • Post-operative observation
  • ECG (electrocardiogram) testing to check for cardiovascular issues
  • Tonometry (used to measure eye pressure)
  • Blood pressure evaluation
  • Lab services
  • Blood transfusion
  • Oxygen therapy
  • X-rays
  • Endoscopy (inserting a tube connected to a camera to look within the animal's body)
  • Ambulance transportation to specialists
  • Anesthesia and pain management therapy
  • Blood analysis
  • Inhaler use for respiratory conditions
  • Pediatric incubation for animals born pre-term

If you notice troubling symptoms in your animal, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian's office. If you call during business hours, your doctor may see your animal on an emergency basis or refer you to a critical care facility. Your veterinarian may have a special after-hours line or redirect you to an emergency room if you call outside of typical hours. In any case, you should be able to reach a professional that can recommend an appropriate clinic and emergency care treatment.

Dental Treatments

A dog getting his teeth cleaned

Pets need to have healthy teeth and gums to remain comfortable and well, since oral disease often results from systemic issues or spreads throughout the body. General veterinarians and veterinary dentists help animals maintain good oral health. On a preventive level, dental treatment involves regular brushing with pet-appropriate toothpaste and at least annual dental check-ups so your animal's doctor can diagnose any dental conditions before they worsen. Most veterinarians will also perform comprehensive cleanings, typically under anesthesia, to keep your animal's teeth and gums healthy.

Oral disease often results from systemic issues or spreads throughout the body.

You should bring your animal in for dental care immediately if you notice that it seems to be sensitive about being touched around the mouth, stops eating or drinking as much, drools excessively, has yellowed or plaque-covered teeth, suffers from bad breath, or bleeds from the gums. If you are concerned about a potential oral health disorder, your doctor will assess your animal's mouth and most likely take dental x-rays to determine the nature of the issue before recommending a dental procedure.

Common veterinary dental treatments include:

  • Tooth extractions
  • Oral surgery to correct periodontal (gum) infection or diseased teeth
  • Jaw surgery to address dental arch misalignment and bone abnormalities
  • Fillings for cavities
  • Oral, topical, or surgically-placed antibiotics to fight disease in the mouth and throughout the body
  • Scaling and root planing (deep cleaning for gums to remove plaque and tartar)

Your doctor will explain which dental treatments may be appropriate for your animal at your consultation.

Laboratory Services

A dog getting a blood test

Proper veterinary diagnosis and treatment often depends on accurate laboratory services. Your veterinarian or specialist may need to obtain a sample for testing to determine which procedures or therapies may help your pet. Veterinary lab technicians use a variety of techniques to analyze animals' urine, blood, feces, individual cells, and tissue samples. In most cases, you or your doctor will collect these samples and send them in to an external lab, then wait for results. Laboratory services can typically test for:

  • Heartworms and other parasites
  • Cancer
  • Fungi
  • Antibiotic compatibility (to decide which medicinal treatments will best suit your pet)
  • Microorganism cultures
  • Toxins and poisons your animal may have been exposed to
  • Viral and bacterial infections
  • Digestive function
  • Allergies
  • Immune system operation

Veterinary laboratories can also be instrumental in treatment by providing services like blood transfusion, dialysis, and pharmacological assistance. Your general doctor or veterinary specialist will work in close cooperation with a partner lab to examine your animal's condition as well as creating and executing a treatment plan. Some veterinary labs also function as research facilities, using their diagnostic and treatment technology to run experiments and improve the field.

Skin Care Services

Veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists offer a variety of skin care services to treat issues with animals' skin, fur, feathers, scales, and ears. Some of the most widespread dermatological conditions in animals are:

  • Flea and tick infestation
  • Ear infection
  • Nail fungus
  • Acne
  • Hair loss (also called alopecia)
  • Skin cancer
  • Skin infection, such as staph
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Dermatitis

You should bring your animal in for treatment if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Consistent itching behavior
  • Sneezing and sniffling
  • Skin abnormalities such as growths, blisters, spots, sores, or rashes
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Consistent itching behavior
  • Redness, foul odor, inflammation, and unusual discharge, particularly around the ears
  • Overgrooming (excessive licking, scratching, or biting at a specific area or in general)
  • Tissue flaking and damage
  • Fur or feather loss or matting

Dermatological conditions may be related to the skin, ears, fur, feathers, or scales only, or they may be symptoms of systemic issues. Your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist will run diagnostic tests to identify the root cause of the skin condition in order to treat it properly. Skin care treatments can include:

  • Diet and lifestyle changes to reduce allergen exposure
  • Medicated gels, creams, liquids, or shampoos, which function as topical treatments
  • Parasiticides to kill or prevent fleas and ticks
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and discomfort
  • Antihistamines to alleviate allergic or irritated symptoms
  • Medications or therapies used to treat systemic issues, such as infection or parasites, that might cause dermatological symptoms

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End-of-Life Services

Unfortunately, animals do not typically live as long as humans. As caretakers for companion pets, zoo animals, and livestock, it is our responsibility to keep them as comfortable as possible as they age and pass away. Veterinarians often provide a wide range of end-of-life services, which can include:

  • Palliative care (pain management therapies and medications)
  • Consultation to help animal owners decide the best course of action to preserve their pets' quality of life
  • Euthanasia for pets whose conditions can no longer be treated effectively
  • Cremation and burial services
  • Bereavement services for grieving pet owners and fellow animals
  • Creating keepsakes to help pet owners remember their beloved companions

Some veterinarians or veterinary specialists may travel to animals' homes to provide these offerings in order to keep them at ease and prevent them from having to travel to a veterinary office.

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