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Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act

New Animal Welfare Act recognizes veterinarians' skill set

On December 5, 2019, the Government of Ontario passed animal welfare legislation that includes a new enforcement model and contains elements which impact veterinarians in Ontario. The Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) replaces the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and comes into effect on January 1, 2020. 

The new animal welfare legislation introduces a new enforcement model, including provincial inspectors intended to provide province-wide coverage, and inspectors with specialized expertise in livestock, zoos, aquariums, and equine.

Key elements of PAWS which are important to veterinarians include:

A. Veterinarians now have the authority in specific circumstances to euthanize an animal without having to seek approval from an animal welfare inspector or the local police. The criteria to assess this authority includes:

  • the animal is suffering;
  • the animal’s owner or custodian cannot be found promptly, or the veterinarian reasonably believes that 
  1. the animal does not have an owner or custodian or 
  2. the animal has been abandoned by the owner or custodian, and
  • euthanasia is the most humane course of action (defined as where immediate veterinary treatment cannot prolong the animal’s life or prolonging the animal’s life would result in undue suffering for the animal)

B. Veterinarians continue to have a mandatory requirement to report animal abuse or neglect. This requirement is now expanded to also include undue physical or psychological hardship, privation or neglect, and an animal participating in fights with other animals, or being trained to fight other animals.

C. Veterinarians should note that the definition of distress in the new Act is expanded to include undue psychological hardship in addition to an animal being in need of proper care, water, food or shelter or being injured, sick or in pain or suffering or being abused or subject to undue hardship, privation or neglect.

On a different subject, the provincial government has established the ability to make regulations under the Ministry of the Solicitor General to prescribe procedures that may not be performed on animals. This provision could be used in the future to ban certain medically unnecessary procedures on animals.

The provincial government is maintaining the current 24/7 Ontario Animal Protection Call Centre (1-833-926-4625) for the public and veterinarians to report concerns about the abuse and neglect of owned animals. 

Click here to read PAWS.

The College of Veterinarians of Ontario is working in cooperation with the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association to help the veterinary profession understand the changes of the new legislation. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the College’s Practice Advisory Service at 1-800-424-2856 / 519-824-5600 x 2401 or

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