Veterinary care and hazardous situations

15 July 2022

We’re aware of the court case that concluded this week in which a dog owner was unsuccessfully prosecuted after the dog bit and seriously injured a veterinarian.

This was a prosecution by a local authority under the Dog Control Act. We do not consider that it has any bearing on veterinary standards and we will not be changing the way we interpret or apply our standards as a result of it.

We acknowledge that the outcome has caused distress to many veterinarians in the community. With that in mind, it may be helpful to provide some clarity for veterinarians on what they can do when they feel their health or safety is at risk.

Animal welfare considerations are very important but personal (and team member) safety comes first. We do not expect veterinarians to put their health or safety at undue risk to provide veterinary services.

That means that, if a veterinarian  believes  their safety may be compromised by seeing, or continuing to see, a client or animal, they may cease or refuse to provide care. There is no obligation to see an animal that may pose a risk unless there are grounds to suspect unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.

Where it is possible, we expect veterinarians to act to remedy any suspected unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress in an animal. In some situations it may be possible to restrain the animal or take other measures to ensure safety. However, we acknowledge that in some cases no steps will be possible without jeopardising safety and, in that situation, there is no expectation to see the animal.

It may be timely to review practice and personal risk management procedures. We encourage all veterinarians and practices to ensure they have planned to minimise risks associated with seeing higher risk animals in advance and that team members are familiar with the plan.

We play no role in prosecutions under the Dog Control Act and it is not appropriate for us to comment on the merits of this recent case. We do believe that there is significant value in educating animal owners on their responsibilities and the value of early training to avoid situations like the one that arose in this case. We will continue to promote this message and we know veterinarians around the country will continue to do so too.