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Information for Veterinary Professionals

As a licensed member, you will find helpful information in this section to assist you with making changes to your licence and managing the accreditation of a veterinary facility. You will also find information concerning professional conduct and quality practice. 

Practice Advice

The practice advisory service is available to anyone seeking information related to the regulations, policy and expectations associated with the practice of veterinary medicine in Ontario. This service offered by the College is free and confidential. By facilitating access to relevant information, practice advisors support veterinarians in providing quality care and service and assist the public with their understanding of the professional obligations of veterinarians licensed in Ontario.

Email practiceadvice@cvo.org or call 1-800-424-2856 extension 2401 to speak to our team.

Voicemail and email messages left with the practice advisory service are monitored during regular business hours and our goal is to respond the same day. We will respond within two business days of receiving the question.

If your question is urgent and requires a response immediately, please call the College during regular business hours (8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Thursday; 8:30 am to 4 pm Friday) and press 0.

What information are you looking for?

The practice advisory service receives questions about professional practice standards and expectations for veterinarians in Ontario. Some of the common questions received by the service include inquiries about prescribing and dispensing drugs, the veterinarian-client-patient relationship, medical record requirements and information, and advertising.

If the information you are seeking is related to a specific department, please see the staff directory to have your questions answered. This includes Accreditation, Investigations and Resolutions, Licensure, Quality Assurance and Improvement, Corporate Services, and College Communications. Any questions related to these topics are best answered by the staff member in that department.

Important things to know

The practice advisory service does not offer legal advice or a legal opinion. Any advice provided by the practice advisory service should not be interpreted as legal advice.

The practice advisory service does not provide veterinary medical advice or a medical opinion. The College does not set clinical guidelines for veterinarians.

The practice advisory service will not provide an opinion about the conduct of a veterinarian that relates to complaints or disciplinary decisions at the College. If there is a concern about the conduct of a veterinarian, this should be directed to staff in the Investigations and Resolutions department at the College.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a few of the questions, and answers, that the College frequently receives through its practice advisory service. If you have other questions, please feel free to contact the College’s practice advisor.

Animal Ownership: Two owners are listed in my patient’s file. If one owner requests that the other owner be removed from the file, what should a veterinarian do?

In order to remove an owner from a patient’s file, consent must be obtained from the individual whose name is being removed from the file. Alternatively legal direction, such as a court order, may be provided to allow you to remove an owner from the file. The change to the medical record must then be made in such a way that original content is maintained.

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Cannabis: Can a veterinarian prescribe cannabis for medical purposes?

No, a veterinarian cannot prescribe cannabis for medical purposes for their animal patients.

The Cannabis Act, Part 14, Cannabis for Medical Purposes applies to human patients; accordingly, a human healthcare practitioner (physician or nurse practitioner) can provide an authorization to their patient to access cannabis for medical purposes. Part 14 does not currently apply to veterinarians and their animal patients.

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Cannabis: What cannabis products can a veterinarian legally advise on?

Under the Cannabis Act, veterinarians are permitted to prescribe and dispense Health Canada approved drugs with cannabinoids, whether human or veterinary label. 

All cannabinoids, the naturally occurring active ingredients in cannabis plants, have been placed on the Prescription Drug List and, therefore, they are subject to the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations as well. This includes cannabidiol (CBD). There are currently no veterinary drugs available on the market. Current human prescription products containing cannabinoids (e.g. Sativex) are often not appropriate for veterinary use. Veterinarians may recommend and sell veterinary health products with hemp that are approved through Health Canada’s Notification Program. Veterinarians may advise and caution clients on the use of legally available recreational cannabis for their pets based on sound professional judgment. A veterinarian interested in the use of cannabis in animals needs to stay informed of the rapidly changing environment related to cannabis.

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Cannabis: What are Veterinary Health Products with hemp?

Currently, there are hemp products for certain animal species that are available and approved by Health Canada under the Industrial Hemp Regulations (IHR). Veterinary health products are low-risk substances that are used to maintain or promote the health and welfare of animals. The IHR excludes hemp seed derivatives (e.g., hemp seed oil) and products made from those derivatives from the application of the Cannabis Act if they contain less than 10 ppm THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. These products have no concentrated phytocannabinoids, including CBD. They are distinguished from unapproved cannabis products labelled for animal use by a Notification Number assigned by Health Canada.

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Cannabis: Before advising on the use of a legal recreational cannabis product, what does a veterinarian need to know?

It is important that veterinarians recognize that these products are not indicated for animal use; they are not classified as drugs and do not make health claims. Legally available cannabis products will not be labelled with animal safety in mind. Due to third party distribution of products in the recreational market, veterinarians should be vigilant in making recommendations and confirm the product obtained is appropriate for use. The scientific evidence to support the use of cannabis in animals, including safety and efficacy, is growing but remains limited. THC in cannabis has known toxic effects in pets and symptoms of toxicity can be severe. Veterinarians are not obligated to advise on use of cannabis products if they do not believe it is clinically appropriate. Veterinarians are accountable for any professional advice they provide to a client about their pet.  

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Cannabis: If a veterinarian chooses to advise on the use of recreational cannabis that their client has obtained legally through the provincial sales outlets, what are their obligations?

A veterinarian who chooses to provide advice should seek up to date information on cannabis use in animals through, for example, the scientific literature or continuing education. If a veterinarian chooses to advise on a legal recreational cannabis product for their client’s pet, they:

  • Must practice within the scope of their clinical competency;
  • Must weigh the evidence on cannabis against other available treatment options;
  • Must consider the known or suspected risks associated with its use in animals;
  • Must obtain informed client consent;
  • Must monitor patients and be available in the event of an adverse reaction or failure of treatment; and
  • Must be aware of the potential for abuse, diversion and misuse of cannabis.

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Cannabis: How can a veterinarian determine if a cannabis product is legal or not?

There are many cannabis products available that are not legal that clients may be accessing for human or animal use.

Veterinarians should not advise on the use of any illegal substance, including cannabis sold on the black market or unapproved cannabinoid products.

The only approved cannabis products for animals available in Canada at this time are veterinary health products made from hemp. These products:

  • Are exempt from the Cannabis Act as they contain < 10 ppm THC;
  • Are regulated by the Industrial Hemp Regulations (IHR);
  • Have no concentrated cannabinoids, including CBD;
  • Do not make health claims;
  • Are sold at retail; and
  • Are distinguished from unapproved cannabis products labelled for animal use by a Notification Number assigned by Health Canada.

Legally purchased recreational cannabis from authorized provincial retail sales outlets can be distinguished from black market cannabis by its packaging. Legal products:

  • Are not sold as drugs and as such must not be accompanied with human or veterinary health claims;
  • Are packaged and labelled according to strict rules set by Health Canada;
  • Have packaging with a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) excise stamp; and
  • Undergo quality control testing to ensure, among other things, that concentrations of CBD and THC that are indicated on the label are accurate, and that the products are free of specified contaminants (e.g. certain pesticides).

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Cannabis: If a client buys a CBD product for their animal and asks a veterinarian to provide a dose for their pet, can a veterinarian do so?

There are many cannabis products available that are not legal that clients may be accessing for human or animal use. The pathway for access to CBD products for animals under the Cannabis Act is Health Canada approved veterinary drugs and these will have a drug identification number (DIN). Currently, there are no approved veterinary drugs with CBD. If it is determined that the product the client has is not approved, the veterinarian may inform the client of this and indicate that the product’s safety and efficacy are unknown. The product has not gone through the proper legal pathways to be approved by Health Canada. 

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Dispensing: Can a veterinarian dispense a medication, other than a controlled substance, that has been prescribed by another veterinarian who works at a different clinic?

No; however, there are some narrowly defined exemptions in Regulation 1093 that allow a veterinarian to dispense to another veterinarian’s patient (individual animal or herd). These are outlined in section 33 (1.1) of Ontario Regulation 1093 of the Veterinarians Act:

  1. it is not reasonably possible for the client to obtain the drug from the prescribing member or a pharmacy;
  2. it is necessary in the interests of the animal to administer or dispense the drug without the delay that would be associated with returning to the prescribing member;
  3. the member makes a reasonable effort to discuss the matter with the prescribing member;
  4. the member conducts a sufficient assessment of the animal’s circumstances, which may not require a physical examination in every case, to ascertain that it is unlikely that there has been a material change in the circumstances since the prescription was given;
  5. the quantity of the drug dispensed is no more than would reasonably enable the client to return to the prescribing member for future prescriptions or quantities of the drug; and
  6. the member makes a written record of the transaction as otherwise required by this Regulation.

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Dispensing: Can a veterinarian dispense a controlled substance that has been prescribed by another veterinarian who works at a different clinic?

No; the College regulations only allow a member to dispense controlled substances to animals that are under their direct care. Clients do have the option of having the prescription filled by a pharmacist. (RRO 1990, Reg. 1093, s 28. (6))

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Medical Records and Information: If a client declines to pay the fee to obtain a copy of their animal’s medical record, how can the veterinarian meet their obligation to provide the medical record to their colleague who is now treating the animal?

Veterinarians are allowed to charge a reasonable fee to recover the cost of making a copy of a patient’s medical record. Materials, staff time, and courier/postage fees are examples of these costs. How that fee is dealt with will be up to the parties involved. In a situation where the client or veterinarian has refused to pay for a complete copy of a record, a veterinarian is still obligated to provide relevant medical record information to a colleague. This information can be given verbally or as a written summary. The best interest of the patient and their continuity of care necessitate the timely and accurate transfer of medical information between colleagues. Patient information or a copy of the patient record should be transferred within two business days (or sooner) when a request for the information is made.

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Medical Records and Information: Can a veterinary clinic maintain logs electronically?

Logs can be maintained in a paper based or electronic format (the clinic does not need to maintain both).  Regardless of format, all requirements are to be recorded. With electronic logs (as with all electronic medical records), there must be the ability to print the logs if required.

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Medical Records and Information: How long does a veterinary clinic have to keep medical records?

Medical records are kept for a minimum of five years after the date of the last entry made.  Radiographs and logs are considered to be part of a patient’s medical records and therefore, need to kept until the patient record can be removed from the clinic’s files (not based on the date the radiograph was taken or the log entry was made).

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Medical Records and Information: Is a veterinarian required to provide a client with a copy of their animal’s medical record?

Yes, veterinarians are required to provide either a copy or a summary of the medical record to a client upon request. The physical copy of the medical record is the property of the veterinary clinic but the information contained in the record belongs to the client and the client has the right to access the content of their animal’s medical record.  A veterinarian is allowed to recover reasonable costs for producing copies of medical records.

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Medical Records and Information: When a veterinarian prescribes a drug for a client’s animal, can the client ask them to write a prescription instead of purchasing the medication from the veterinary practice?

Yes, a client may request that a medication their veterinarian has prescribed for their animal be  dispensed at a pharmacy of their choice. Veterinarians will make a written prescription and may charge a prescribing fee.

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Medical Records and Information: When ownership of an animal changes and the new owner requests medical records that were created at the time that the animal was owned by the previous owner, is consent from the previous owner required?

Yes, the medical record information belongs to the owner and the previous owner’s consent must be obtained before that information can be provided to the new owner.

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Ownership: How can a veterinarian avoid potential ownership challenges and ensure that ownership is clear in the medical records documentation?

The name, address, and contact information of the owner(s) should be documented.
Contact information should be updated on a regular basis.
In situations with multiple owners, each owner should be recorded (name, address, and contact information). A veterinarian should take care to ensure that his or her medical record files are clear with respect to who is and who is not an owner. An agent is a person who has received the authority to act on behalf of the owner and whose decisions bind the owner as though he or she were themselves making the decisions. Authorized agents of the owner(s) should also be clearly documented, including their contact details. A veterinarian should also document what kinds of decisions the agent has been authorized to make, both medical and financial, by the owner. Simply adding a name under “spouse” “other” or even “emergency contact” may cause confusion. It is also prudent to clarify whether an individual is an emergency contact for a specified time period, and whether an emergency contact is also an authorized agent.

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Ownership: Two owners are listed in a patient’s file. If one owner requests that the other owner be removed from the file, what should a veterinarian do?

In order to remove an owner from a patient’s file, consent must be obtained from the individual whose name is being removed from the file. Alternatively, legal direction, such as a court order, may be provided to allow you to remove an owner from the file. The change to the medical record must then be made in such a way that original content is maintained.

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Prescribing and Dispensing: Can a client purchase medication for their animal outside of Canada or from an online supplier?

Yes; however, clients should be aware that products obtained outside of Canada are not subject to the same regulated approval process as drugs approved by Health Canada/Veterinary Drugs Directorate. Clients should research the online supplier before making a purchase to decide whether or not they wish to assume that risk.

The College regulates the practice of veterinary medicine in Ontario, including the issuance of prescriptions and the dispensing of drugs, but the regulation of pharmacies – in Ontario or elsewhere – is not within the jurisdiction of the College or its licensed veterinarians.

See Health Canada's web page on Buying Drugs over the Internet. While its content refers to purchasing drugs for human use over the Internet, some of the information will be useful for animal owners.

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Prescribing: Why does a veterinarian require that an animal be examined before prescribing or dispensing medication for the animal? Is it necessary and should the veterinarian charge for the exam?

A veterinarian must have recent and sufficient knowledge of a patient to provide a diagnosis and recommend treatment such as prescribing medication. In certain situations, an examination of the animal before prescribing medication may be necessary as, without an exam, the animal may be put at risk of harm.  It is up to the veterinarian’s professional judgement to determine if an exam is necessary.

Veterinarians must meet their professional obligations.  How they charge for services to meet these obligations is up to the individual practice’s business model. 

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VCPR: Are veterinarians allowed to sell therapeutic diets to non-clients??

A valid Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) must exist before any treatment product, whether prescription or not, is dispensed. References for this are found in Regulation 1093 and the Professional Practice Standard on the VCPR. Having said that, food is exempted from the definition of “drug” in the Regulations so technically, a veterinarian can sell therapeutic diets to someone who is not a client.

Before therapeutic diets are sold to non-clients, the potential risks to this group of animals should be assessed. Therapeutic diets used in the treatment of specific disease conditions that are fed to an animal without that particular condition can potentially put that animal’s health at risk. For these situations, it would be best for a veterinary clinic to either call the regular clinic for verification and/or discuss further with the non-client before selling that product. For other therapeutic diets, (e.g. a maintenance type diet), selling directly to a non-client without consulting with their regular veterinarian/veterinary clinic is low risk.

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Ownership: Where ownership of an animal is not clear, should a veterinarian decline treatment?

Where a veterinarian believes that ownership of an animal is unclear or where there is a dispute over ownership, they can decline treatment until evidence of ownership is presented (which may include a signed statement from the individual stating that they are the sole owner), unless the veterinarian determines that there is an emergency and treatment is necessary to prevent an animal’s suffering.

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VCPR: Are veterinary clinics allowed to discontinue providing veterinary services to a client and their animal(s)?

In certain situations, a VCPR may need to be terminated, despite attempts to address concerns.  In the interests of optimal animal care, termination of the VCPR may be the most productive option for both the client and the veterinarian. The client must be provided with proper notice of the termination and allowed a reasonable opportunity to arrange for care with another veterinarian. The steps to follow to officially terminate a VCPR and no longer be professionally obligated to provide care to a client/patient(s) can be found in the Guide to the Professional Practice Standard: Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (including a template letter).

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