Veterinary Referrals - What you need to know


We’ve all seen on TV the amazing work done by Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick and his team at Fitzpatrick Referrals.

But what exactly is a referral centre and how do you know if your pet needs to visit one? We asked the team at Fitzpatrick Referrals to break it down for us…

If your family vet is concerned about the health of your dog or cat, they can recommend to you that further investigation by a specialist is needed. This is known as a referral. The referral process can sometimes be a confusing experience, especially at what can be a difficult time for you and your family. Fitzpatrick Referrals want to help you understand the veterinary referral process to make your experience as straightforward and stress-free as possible.




What is a referral?

“The professional etiquette by which your family vet refers a patient with a specific problem or ‘case’ to a specialist for further diagnosis and treatment”. Specialists at referral practices have vast experience in their field and access to equipment that might not be available at your local practice.

“The case is temporarily passed out of the care of the family vet to the specialist. Once the specialist has made their contribution, the case is then handed back to the family vet.”

An appointment at a referral practice can only be requested by your family vet. The family vet will send relevant medical information about the patient to the referral practice to start the process of arranging an appointment.


dr colin


Yogi’s Story 

“We were only 10 minutes into a walk when he had a complete wobble, stumbled and fell, unable to move… After we got him home, a very slow and worrying 20 minutes later, we were sure something was quite wrong. A visit to our local vets for a physical examination and blood analysis provided nothing concrete by way of a diagnosis and the symptoms continued to get worse. Our family vet recommended a referral and we asked to be sent directly to Fitzpatrick Referrals.

Yogi had the most thorough examination with Surgical Resident, Susan Murphy, and it was decided that he should stay for an MRI scan and spinal fluid analysis. The following morning, we received a call to say that the general anaesthetic and scans were complete and Yogi was back in a warm kennel and being cared for by the ward team.”




Why is my dog or cat being referred?

A referral to a specialist is appropriate when you and your family vet feels that the patient needs treatment which is beyond the scope or expertise of your local practice. 




Where am I being referred?

There are numerous referral practices based in the UK.  Some specialise in a single discipline (such as ophthalmology), some are universities with referral clinics and others are large, multi-disciplined practices with a whole team of specialists. Most of the non-university referral practices are owned by large corporate groups. Fitzpatrick Referrals is one of the few remaining independent referral practices.

Once your family vet has concluded with you that a referral is necessary, you have the opportunity to make the decision between the different referral practices.  Your family vet will help you to decide what is best for you and the patient.




Brinkley’s Story 

“Following a routine visit to our local vet, I got the results of a fine needle aspirate test for what we all thought was a cyst on Brinkley’s chest. To hear it was a mast cell tumour was a shock, so I asked for Brinkley to be referred to Fitzpatrick Referrals Oncology and Soft Tissue. A couple of days later, we had our first appointment and our journey began.”


prof. Nick


How do I know what is best?

Not only must you consider what is best for your animal friend, but also what is best for you. There are a number of different factors to consider when making your choice.


Nature of the problem

After your family vet has reviewed the patient’s medical information and performed an examination they can identify the nature of the problem and will recommend that the patient is referred to a practice with relevant expertise.



Your family vet might suggest referring you to the nearest referral practice for convenience. However, if you feel that there is more expertise or a better service at a different practice, you can ask your family vet to refer you there.


Waiting times

You might prefer to make a decision based on the appointment waiting times. Your family vet will be able to advise you how long you are likely to wait for an initial consultation – this often depends on the urgency of the referral. At Fitzpatrick Referrals, we are typically able to offer a routine appointment within 1 and 2 weeks of the referral.



We all trust personal recommendations from our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. It can be very useful to have input when making your choice, particularly if that person has been through the process of going to a referral practice with their own companion animal.



The cost of treatment is a very important factor when considering your options. Your family vet will be able to give you an idea of the expected cost. The specialist will discuss an estimate of costs with you in more detail at the initial consultation once a diagnosis has been confirmed and the treatment option has been confirmed.

If you are not insured or your policy does not cover the full cost of treatment, the referral practice may be able to help you spread your payments through the service of a third party payment plan provider (subject to you meeting their credit requirements).

Remember the referral practice is there to help you understand all costs involved and you can contact their finance department to ask any questions about your finance options. It is best to be aware of all potential costs so that you make an informed decision about treatment.


feline nurse


What happens now?


Louie’s Story 

“When our very sweet Yellow Labrador Louie was just eight months old, it became apparent to us that he was in pain. Radiographs taken by our vet revealed that Louie had bilateral hip dysplasia. The radiographs were sent to Fitzpatrick Referrals for reporting and the initial recommendation was for him to have physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and lead walking for three months to try to improve his overall condition.”




After the patient’s medical information has been reviewed and the specialist has examined the patient at the initial consultation, some further investigations, such as CT or MRI scan, may be necessary. Once all the information has been reviewed a diagnosis can be made and information about all of the treatment options can be given. You can then ask the specialist any questions that you have about the options before making a decision about any further treatment.

If your family friend has treatment such as surgery, they will need to stay at the practice to recover until they are well enough to return home with you.

We understand that families are often a little anxious when they arrive for their initial consultation, so the team at Fitzpatrick Referrals do their utmost to reassure, support and comfort you through the entire referral process. We are always driven by the patient’s welfare and we want to make a difference to every patient’s life, and every family, so our animal friends can go back home to their family and enjoy a new lease of life.


going home


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You can read Fitzpatrick Referrals advice and recommendations on Hydrotherapy on the Good Vet & Pet Guide here