Frequently asked questions for animal owners



This page has answers to common questions we get from animal owners. It can be a helpful place to start if you have questions or concerns. If you can't find an answer to your question here, you can always contact us .

On this page:

Emergencies and after hours


Veterinarian - client relationship


COVID-19 and the veterinarian shortage


Emergencies and after hours

What are my obligations as an animal owner?

As the owner of an animal, you have a duty under the Animal Welfare Act to meet their physical, health and behavioural needs. This includes taking action quickly when it is unwell.

We strongly recommend that all owners ensure that they are signed up with a local veterinary practice. As well as giving access to regular health checks and care, it will ensure that the practice will have arrangements for you to access 24 hour emergency care for your animal. Veterinarians are only expected to have emergency care arrangements for their clients, so it is a good idea to make sure you are signed up to a clinic to make sure you have access to help when you need it.


Does my vet have to provide an emergency (after hours) service?

Veterinarians are expected to provide after hours and emergency care for their clients.

Veterinarians may choose to respond to any emergency call but they are only required to respond to calls from their own clients. If you are not a client of a veterinary practice, the practice can refer you to the emergency service provided by your own veterinarian.

Veterinarians are not required to attend non-emergencies after hours and, if they decide that something is not an emergency, they may advise you to wait till normal opening hours.

In emergency cases where that cannot wait till normal opening hours, we expect veterinarians to act to ensure the animal’s pain and suffering is managed. In the first instance, a veterinarian may ask non-clients to contact their normal veterinarian. If this is not possible for any reason, we expect that the veterinarian receiving the call will help. Emergency care may be limited and you should not necessarily expect the same level of care your animal would receive during the day.

You should expect to pay for any veterinary care your animal needs. If you cannot pay for emergency care at the time of your consultation, your veterinarian will still provide the minimum necessary care to deal with any pain and suffering. In extreme cases, this may mean euthanasing the animal.


What counts as an emergency?

A veterinary emergency is defined as:

Any sudden, unforeseen injury, illness or complication in an animal, demanding immediate or early veterinary treatment to save life or to provide timely relief from unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.

We expect veterinarians to use their professional judgement to decide whether a situation is an emergency or not.

After hours care may be limited and you should not necessarily expect the same level of care your animal would receive during the day.

You should expect to pay for any veterinary care your animal needs. If you cannot pay for emergency care at the time of your consultation, your veterinarian will still provide the minimum necessary care to deal with any pain and suffering. In extreme cases, this may mean euthanasing the animal.


What do I do in an emergency if I don’t have a regular veterinarian or I can’t contact my veterinarian?

In emergency cases where that cannot wait till normal opening hours, we expect veterinarians to act to ensure the animal’s pain and suffering is managed, even for non-clients. In the first instance, a veterinarian may ask non-clients to contact their normal veterinarian. If this is not possible for any reason, we expect that the veterinarian receiving the call will help.

Emergency care may be limited and you should not necessarily expect the same level of care your animal would receive during the day. You should expect to pay for any veterinary care your animal needs. If you cannot pay for emergency care at the time of your consultation, your veterinarian will still provide the minimum necessary care to deal with any pain and suffering. In extreme cases, this may mean euthanasing the animal.


Can non-veterinarian staff provide emergency care?

Emergency services provided by a practice may involve the services of appropriately trained people who are not veterinarians (for example technicians and veterinary nurses). A veterinarian must be readily available to provide the necessary veterinary clinical care and undertake the work legally required to be completed by a veterinarian. Emergency calls and initial assessments may be handled by non-veterinarians.


How long should I expect to travel, or wait, to access an emergency (after hours) service?

Wait and travel times can very depending on the circumstances. There is currently a shortage of veterinarians in New Zealand and this means that emergency veterinary services are under more pressure and wait times are likely to be longer than usual.

Busy clinics may have to prioritise care based on urgency, in the same way this is done hospital accident and emergency centres. This means you may have to wait a long time if there are other, more urgent, cases. It can be difficult to wait when you’re worried about your animal but you can trust that your veterinarians are trained to make these decisions.

In quieter and more rural areas, there may be fewer veterinarians and clinics, meaning longer wait times and longer drives.

In areas where there are dedicated emergency after hours veterinary clinics, your normal clinic may close down after hours and refer you to the dedicated clinic. While this may mean longer travel times and sometimes longer waits, we believe that the benefits offered by dedicated emergency clinics (such as better staffing and facilities) outweigh these factors.


What if my veterinarian says they are unable to attend my emergency?

We expect veterinarians to use their professional judgement to decide whether a situation is an emergency or not. Veterinarians are not required to attend non-emergencies after hours and, if they decide that something is not an emergency, they may advise you to wait till normal opening hours. This can be frustrating when you’re worried about your animal but you can trust that your veterinarians are trained to make these decisions.

We recognise that there will be times when a veterinarian on duty will not be able to attend every emergency in a reasonable time. When extraordinary circumstances prevent a veterinarian on duty from being able to attend an emergency, they must assist the caller or arrange for someone else to assist the caller to access an alternative veterinary service.


What if the veterinarian says they are not competent to treat the type of animal I have?

We strongly recommend that all owners ensure that they are signed up with a local veterinary practice. As well as giving access to regular health checks and care, it will ensure that the practice will have arrangements for you to access appropriate and competent 24-7 emergency care for your animal.

Veterinarians normally limit the species or type of animal they treat. This is a VCNZ requirement and relates to the veterinarian's chosen field of practice and their current competence. This means that, if you contact a veterinarian for the first time during an emergency, there is a chance that they will not have the knowledge or skills to help your animal. In these cases, we expect them to try to help you find appropriate care elsewhere and, if that is not possible, do what they can to help, recognising that this may be limited.


Veterinarian - client relationship

Who counts as a client?

A client of a veterinarian is a person (or organisation) that uses or has used the professional services of that veterinarian.

Whether a person is a current client of a veterinarian will depend on factors like when they last visited and how often they visit. For example, a companion animal veterinary practice may consider that someone is not a client if they haven’t had any contact with them in more than a year.

We strongly recommend that all owners ensure that they are signed up with a local veterinary practice. As well as giving access to regular health checks and care, it will ensure that the practice will have arrangements for you to access 24-7 emergency care for your animal. Veterinarians are only expected to have emergency care arrangements for their clients, so it is a good idea to make sure you are signed up to a clinic to make sure you have access to help when you need it.


Can a veterinarian or veterinary practice refuse to see my animal?

Yes. There is no expectation that veterinarians must accept new clients. Sometimes refusing new clients is necessary to ensure that resources are not overstretched and good care can be given to existing clients.


Can my current veterinarian decide not to treat my animals?

Yes. There is no obligation on veterinarians to continue to provide services to existing clients or to provide them with a requested treatment. Veterinarians can end their relationship with a client as long as this doesn’t put an animal’s welfare at immediate risk. Where an animal needs ongoing care, we consider that ending the relationship and giving a client a reasonable amount of time to find a new veterinarian is acceptable.


Veterinary medicines

Can my veterinarian prescribe medicines without seeing my animal?

Veterinarians can only authorise (prescribe) medicines after a veterinary consultation. A consultation means that the veterinarian has to see the animal.

In unusual situations, such as the COVID-19 lockdowns, we may temporarily allow veterinarians to prescribe medicines without seeing an animal (for example, using video calling instead).


How much medication can my vet give out before they have to see the animal again?

This depends on the circumstances. The amount of a medication that can be given out without seeing an animal again is restricted to manage risks to animals and people. The following maximums apply before a veterinarian would be required to see the animal(s) again:

  • For prescription medicines (human medicines used on animals), a maximum of 3 months’ worth
  • For restricted veterinary medicines on companion animals other than horses (including commonly used antibiotics), a maximum of 6 months’ worth
  • For restricted veterinary medicines for production animals and horses (including commonly used antibiotics), 12 months’ worth.
  • For critically important antibiotics (specific antibiotics that are classified as critically important for human health), a maximum of 4 months’ worth

These are absolute maximums and veterinarians may need to prescribe for shorter periods depending on the situation.


COVID-19 and the veterinarian shortage

Will the impact of COVID-19 or the shortage of veterinarians affect the service I receive?

Currently, there aren’t enough veterinarians to meet New Zealand’s needs. This means that clients should expect that some of the non-urgent services may be delayed.

While this can be frustrating, it is necessary to allow veterinarians to better manage the workflow and to prioritise urgent and emergency situations.


Will I be asked for a Vaccine Pass when I visit?

Veterinary businesses are not legally required to check Vaccine Passes. This means that, like many other businesses, they have to make their own decision on what is right for their business in order to keep their staff, customers and patients safe.

Different clinics may make different decisions depending on factors like the community they serve, the risk of exposure to COVID-19, the vaccination status of staff and the type of work the veterinarians undertake.

Many clinics are offering non-contact services for clients who choose not to present a Vaccine Pass. Veterinary teams have had a lot of experience successfully delivering non-contact care under the recent lockdowns and are still able to provide animals the care they need.


Can my veterinarian ask to see my Vaccine Pass? What about in an emergency?

Yes, your veterinarian can ask to see your vaccine pass and choose not to allow entry to the premises for those who choose not to show it.

There are no legal restrictions on your veterinary clinic requiring visitors to show Vaccine Passes. Veterinarians are not required to accept new clients or to keep seeing existing clients.

In emergency situations, we expect that clinics will have a plan in place to ensure animals can receive urgent care, even if the owners choose not to show a Vaccine Pass. The arrangements they make may involve contactless drop-off of the animal, which would still meet our requirements.


Will I be able to choose which veterinarian I want to go to?

You are free to choose which veterinary business you use.

Currently, veterinary services are being stretched as a result of increased demand for veterinary services and fewer available veterinarians. This means that in some situations veterinary clinics are electing to limit the number of new clients they will accept.

We recommend you try to book well in advance for routine procedures and, if you haven’t already, contact your intended clinic to introduce yourself and enrol with them.