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College Council maintains position on medically unnecessary veterinary surgery

October 08, 2019

The Council of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (College) does not support unnecessary surgery on any animal. This position was re-confirmed in a discussion on medically unnecessary veterinary surgery at its fall Council meeting.

"Our Council understands that animal owners and veterinarians have strong feelings on this topic. Our role is to manage the risks in veterinary practice and consider the best options for animal health and welfare," said Dr. Patty Lechten, President of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario.

Medically unnecessary veterinary surgeries include procedures performed on companion animals and livestock, such as declawing, tail docking, ear cropping, tail nicking. The College Council has held a position on this topic since 2011.

"Council is clear and consistent in its position that these surgeries are unnecessary. However, if a client decides, after consultation with a veterinarian, to move forward with the procedure on their animal, it is in the animal's best interest that the procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian," said Dr. Lechten. "We, as veterinarians, have the skills and knowledge to help our clients make these decisions about their animals. Council respects the professionalism that veterinarians bring to their relationships with clients and their commitment to animal welfare."

Prohibiting veterinarians from performing a procedure that is currently legal in Ontario has the potential to create a harmful environment for animals.

"As a regulatory body, the College can permit or prohibit veterinarians from performing specific procedures, however, that is not a common use of regulatory authority. Further, prohibiting veterinarians from performing a surgical procedure does not make medically unnecessary veterinary surgery illegal. Prohibiting unnecessary procedures on animals would require changes in animal welfare legislation. To ban veterinarians from performing a procedure may not effectively eliminate the procedure but rather move it to an "underground" environment where the risks to the animal likely increases exponentially," said Jan Robinson, Registrar and Chief Executive Officer at the College.

The College's job as the veterinary regulator is to understand current and emerging risks in veterinary practice and implement strategies to protect the public and their animals from potential harm. The public trusts the College to ensure safety and quality in the veterinary services they seek. As a regulated profession, the College's governing Council is comprised of 13 elected veterinarians and five public members, appointed by the provincial government. Supporting the work of Council are five Statutory and two Standing Committees, with membership composed of veterinarians and public members.