Restricted acts of veterinary science
Ratification Date: 03 Feb 2017
The performing of acts of veterinary science must be restricted to registered veterinary practitioners, in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of animals.
Veterinary practice acts within Australia must define and legislate acts of veterinary science consistently across jurisdictions, to protect animals and the community.
An ‘act of veterinary science’ means services which form part of the practice of veterinary surgery and medicine, and includes:
- the diagnostic confirmation of, treatment of, and provision of management advice for infectious disease, physiological dysfunction, psychological dysfunction and injury in animals;
- performing invasive or surgical procedures on animals;
- administering anaesthetics to animals;
- the exercise of prescribing rights for veterinary chemicals, medicines or poisons which may be restricted by scheduling or registered label; and
- the provision of veterinary certificates.
The AVA position is that a formal degree in veterinary science, registrable within Australia, is the minimum acceptable knowledge base and skill set necessary to perform acts of veterinary science competently. This minimum standard is in place to protect animals and the community, and is supported by the majority of Australian state and territory veterinary practitioner boards. The veterinarian is uniquely qualified to make evidence-based diagnoses, to manage patients before, during and after procedures, and to understand the systemic impacts of medical or surgical interventions on the individual patient. This level of knowledge and expertise is essential in order to minimize adverse welfare consequences and yield successful outcomes for the patient.
Legislation varies across Australian states and territories as to which procedures are restricted to registered veterinary surgeons. Of particular concern are invasive procedures with the potential for serious animal welfare or health implications, such as use of animals in research, use of power tools in equine dentistry, pregnancy testing of cattle, and cattle spaying.
In addition to the broad categories listed above, the range of procedures which should only be performed by registered veterinary surgeons includes:
- stomach tubing or oesophageal intubation of horses
- artificial insemination and embryo transfer of horses and camelids
- pregnancy testing of horses and camelids by rectal examination
- microchip insertion in horses
- sampling of tissue from live animals
- laparoscopic insemination
- general anaesthesia
- the carrying out of any treatment, procedure or test that involves the insertion of anything in the nasal passage, nasal sinuses, thoracic cavity, abdominal cavity, pelvic cavity, cranial cavity, spinal cavity, tooth alveolar cavity, eye, orbital cavity, tympanic cavity, joint spaces or any other synovial cavity of any animal
- the performing of any dental procedure on any animal other than manual rasping on a horse performed by a person with an appropriate Certificate IV qualification
- the performing on a horse of any dental procedure that involves: making an incision through the skin or oral mucosa or entry below the gum line; extracting a tooth by repulsion; or any other activity to maintain or restore correct dental function (except basic hand filing and rasping performed by a person with an appropriate Certificate IV qualification )
- the performing on a horse of any dental procedure that involves the use of a power tool
- cattle spaying by flank or dropped-ovary method
- signing any certificate or other document prescribed by or under any Act which requires the signature of a veterinary surgeon or veterinary officer in respect of the certification of disease status, including freedom from disease of any animal or animal product.
Veterinarians who are employed in public service positions within a government department where the position requires the employee to hold a veterinary degree or where they are certifying freedom from disease should be required to be registered.
There are some areas that may be exempt from the above for specified procedures under certain legislation, for example Animal Control Officers performing euthanasia.
Nevertheless, the principle of protection of the animal should underpin any exemptions.
The Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 8th edition1 requires a program of veterinary care to be established wherever animals are to undergo procedures that include acts of veterinary science. It also requires researchers to be assessed and certified as competent to undertake these procedures. Though implementation of these requirements currently varies under legislation in different states, the Veterinary Practice Acts Review Taskforce agreed that the minimum requirement should be the need for veterinary oversight where any act of veterinary science was to be undertaken.
AVA policy2 is that the facility veterinarian should directly assess the competence of researchers and technicians to undertake invasive or potentially painful procedures on animals. This will include direct assessment and approval of surgical technique, as well as anaesthetic and peri-operative analgesic protocols.
Some acts of veterinary science are routinely performed on livestock species by lay persons, and veterinary practice acts may grant exemptions for these procedures. In this case, it is essential that any associated compulsory standards such as age restrictions, requirements for competence, and use of analgesia are observed and enforced.
Veterinary students, veterinary nurses and veterinary technicians
Veterinary practice acts may grant an exemption for veterinary students, veterinary nurses and veterinary technicians to perform acts of veterinary science under the direct supervision of a registered veterinary surgeon.
In some limited circumstances, appropriately trained and licensed paraprofessionals may perform specified acts of veterinary science, but must be under the supervision of a veterinarian who is responsible for their work. Whether this supervision is direct, or indirect, will vary with the relative risk of the procedures to be performed. For example, a veterinarian may directly supervise and provide sedation during a manual rasp and file of a horse’s teeth by a Certificate IV level lay equine dental service provider. Veterinarians assisting, employing or supervising laypersons must be available to assess, correct and intervene as required, and remain ultimately responsible for the animal’s health and welfare.
- Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes. 8th edn. Australian Government NHMRC, 2013. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/ea28
- AVA Policy: The role of veterinarians in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, ratified December 2016.