Different Types of Veterinary Animal Care Facilities – Hospital vs Clinic

Is It an Animal – Veterinary Hospital or Is It a Clinic?

You should know the difference between an animal/veterinary hospital versus an animal/veterinary

The words animal hospital or  veterinary hospital essentially are the same. As are animal clinic and veterinary clinic. But the difference is between “hospital” and “clinic”. However, the differences between “hospital” and “clinic”, as it relates to veterinary practices, is getting less distinct.

What is a Full Service Veterinary Hospital?

When you read a veterinary practice’s mission statement or description, it is very common to see this statement – “we are a full-service animal hospital or veterinary hospital”. Really, what does that mean to you as a potential client.  Hopefully, we can help in providing some insight into the meaning.

Even though many people think the main difference is the size of the veterinary pet care facility, that is not the real difference. In reality, an animal hospital’s physical size will most likely be larger. In most cases that is because an “animal hospital” or “veterinary hospital” provides more services than an “animal clinic” or “veterinary clinic”. Hospitals require more room to keep sick or injured pets overnight or longer. So an animal or veterinary hospital will have the facilities to care for animals in more extensive ways and will usually have more “in-hospital” diagnostic capabilities, have more hospital services and provide more extensive treatment options.

What Services You Can Find In Many Vet Hospitals

The typical modern animal or veterinary hospital will have many of these:

  • radiology, especially digital radiology today
  • in-house laboratory tests
  • laser surgery and laser therapy
  • oxygen therapy
  • electrocardiograms
  • ultrasound
  • general-routine surgeris
  • specialty surgeries
  • dental services
  • intensive care
  • hospitalization
  • boarding facilities
  • specialized treatment options (stem cell therapy)
  • fully stock pharmacy
  • and other modalities

Animal or veterinary hospitals, because they are more diverse, usually have more veterinarians on staff and more veterinary support staff.

What Makes Up an Animal or Veterinary Clinic

On the other hand, an animal or veterinary “clinic”, provide similar type services but not on the same scale as a hospital does. A vet or vets at a “clinic’, just like a “hospital”, do complete examinations, and generally referred to them as “wellness exams”. They tend to concentrate on the preventative veterinary medical care area of veterinary practice. They will make diagnoses, but usually don’t have “in-hospital” laboratory capabilities. They will send blood, urine or other samples to an outside veterinary laboratory. Therefore, they do not get immediate (in-house) results, which could be significant in emergency situations. They can make a diagnosis but it can take longer.  Generally, a “clinic” limits it’s veterinary surgical to minor surgical procedures, neutering and spaying. Anything more involved, they will refer out to specialty veterinary surgical practice or another veterinary hospital. Some clinics are satellites of a larger animal of veterinary hospital and they will send the patient to their main hospital. Most “clinics” have a single veterinarian and maybe at most a total of two vets. They also  will have less support veterinary staff such as receptionists and veterinary technicians, nurses or assistants. Some clinics don’t have radiographic capabilities and may not do dental procedures or limit their dental cases to simple dental cleanings only, with no extractions. They also may not have a completely stocked veterinary pharmacy and use prescriptions more commonly.


In summary, animal or veterinary clinics are set up to treat the more simple basic problems and tend to refer out the more involved veterinary cases. Because they are set up for more outpatient type of cases, they tend to require less physical space and the vast majority of the laboratory work up and specialized surgeries or treatments will be referred to another veterinary practice.

Is the Quality of Veterinary Pet Care Different, No!

This does not mean that the abilities or professional care is less. Small animal or veterinary clinics, have very capable veterinarians and staff. These vets can easily care for 80% of the cases seen at any general veterinary  practice. They all will have associations with other veterinary facilities to handle the other cases. Because they have significantly less overhead, the fees for veterinary services tend to be less at an “animal or veterinary clinic”.

Now, it must be understood that there are many veterinary practices using “animal clinic” or “veterinary clinic” in their names or description that are actually “full service” veterinary hospitals. As stated previously, the distinction between the terminology is getting more blurred. However, on the other hand, a veterinary practice that is providing wellness, preventative care and has limited services should use the term “clinic”.

As a consumer of veterinary services and pet care, the best thing is to do is ask.

Learn About What to Look for In Selecting a Veterinarian or Animal Hospital

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