Technical Advice: Cattle pregnancy termination considerations

8 October 2022

Technical advice is our interpretation of how professional standards apply in a particular situation. It is designed to help veterinarians deal with common issues in practice, using their professional judgement to apply the advice to their own situation. It represents our best efforts at the time of publication but standards and expectations change over time and particular care should be used when reading old advice.

In specific circumstances, outside their control, farmers may approach their veterinarian to terminate the pregnancy in cattle if the pregnancy is likely to have a direct impact on the welfare or future reproductive performance of the animal (e.g. accidental matings). Before deciding to act on this veterinarians should consider if this is justified and appropriate.

The non-therapeutic termination of pregnancy as a management practice in dairy and beef cattle raises potentially significant animal welfare and ethical concerns.

Veterinarians should consider the following risks associated with the use of veterinary medicines for the purpose of pregnancy termination:

  1. reputational risks to the profession
  2. risks to trade in primary produce
  3. risks to animal health and welfare eg retained afterbirth, uterine infections
  4. the animal welfare section of the Code of Professional Conduct which states:

    Veterinarians must not carry out treatments or procedures on animals unless they meet the following criteria. Treatments or procedures must:

    a. only be performed:

    i. when the procedure is reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances in order to prevent, diagnose or treat an illness or injury; or

    ii. in accordance with accepted farming practices (eg develvetting deer); or

    iii. in accordance with generally accepted principles of responsible pet ownership (eg de-sexing cats and dogs)

    b. only be performed with appropriate pain management

    c. not be performed primarily for the convenience of the owner

    d. meet accepted professional standards.

  5. VCNZ’s Inductions Statement explicitly prohibits non-therapeutic inductions in dairy cattle.

Before deciding whether to terminate a pregnancy veterinarians should consider the following factors.

Stage of pregnancy

It is accepted that terminations:

  • prior to implantation will have no impact on the welfare of the blastocyst and minimal risk to the dam
  • prior to the end of the first trimester will result in a termination of the pregnancy and also carry minimal risk to the health and welfare of the dam
  • From the second trimester terminations result in induced labour (Induction) and carry potential welfare risks.

Management practices and mating intention

The veterinarian should also consider the intention of the mating – was the mating unintentional or was it intentional and is now being considered inconvenient by the owner. The latter would suggest the decision to request the termination is primarily a management practice for the convenience of the owner.

Situations that may meet the expectations

Primary Justification for request Factors to consider
Inappropriate mating of young heifers The farmer has clear evidence that the matings were unplanned and are likely to impact the health and welfare of the heifers (i.e. there is a higher risk of dystocia or impacts on heifer growth) to support the request. For example:
Heifers were mated at very young age; or Heifers inadvertently mated to a large breed bull
Also the pregnancies are at an early enough stage to ensure any animal welfare risks can be appropriately managed
Accidental mating of stock The farmer has clear evidence that mating performance was being managed and monitored and that the mating’s were unplanned/accidental.
For example: A neighbor’s bull got unintentional access to the herd.
Also the pregnancies are at an early enough stage to ensure any animal welfare risks can be appropriately managed


Example of a request not meeting the expectations

A veterinarian receives a request to terminate the pregnancy of a large number of dairy heifers as part of a consignment planned for live export. The heifers were initially mated with the intention of being used domestically and are in the first trimester of pregnancy. The termination of pregnancy is requested as it allows extra animals to be shipped due to lower space and feed requirements for empty cattle.
Our interpretation is that such a procedure would sit outside the expectations set out in the Code of Conduct, that it would be solely for the convenience of the exporter, and as such it would be inappropriate for a veterinarian to undertake this procedure.

Veterinarian’s responsibilities

Veterinarians must also ensure there is the appropriate stewardship and authorisation of RVMs, competence of personnel involved, management of the health and welfare of the animals, and that the informed consent of the client has been obtained.
The veterinarian must be able to substantiate their decision to proceed or not with the appropriate facts, good evidence of the direct impact on reproductive performance, consideration to the risks outlined about, and the mitigation steps taken to manage the situation and avoid a repeat event.

See also: Statement on Induction of Calving in Cattle