Vet Week: The Unlawful Practice of Veterinary Medicine


 I provide a large disclaimer in my left column that I am not yet licensed (California takes forever to send out bar results!) because I cannot engage in the unauthorized practice of law, which includes giving legal advice or signing legal briefs, among other tasks.

In the same way, veterinarians cannot engage in the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine, though the boundaries between lawful practice, unlawful practice, licensed vet technicians, or unlicensed pet-services providers can at times be a bit blurry.

Here are a few examples:
"The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) is preparing a crusade against unlicensed veterinary medical activities such as anesthesia-free teeth cleaning for dogs and cats, ultrasound pregnancy testing of livestock and physical rehabilitation for animals of all sorts." (from the 2010 article cited at the end of this post)
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):
"There are four states with felony penalties for the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine: Florida, Michigan, New York and Nevada. The majority of states provide only a misdemeanor penalty for unauthorized practice and most states have provisions allowing for injunctions, cease and desist orders and monetary fines."
Individual state veterinary boards have control over licensed veterinarians, so if there is misconduct, a vet's license can be suspended or revoked; if someone practices veterinary medicine without a license (such as diagnosing or treating animals), the state veterinary boards have no authority to reprimand them for misconduct.



It seems pet owners are more-frequently susceptible to unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine with:
Groomers: who do more than groom.  One example is a groomer who allegedly broke a dog's jaw while cleaning its teeth; the case was dismissed for a lack of witnesses
Alternate-Medicine: equine physical therapists, rehabilitation specialists, animal masseuses, animal dental hygienists (who are only allowed to brush and floss, but cannot do more without vet supervision under California law), arthritis specialists, etc.  may be engaging in the unauthorized practice of vet medicine (whether intentionally or or not) 

Those who engage in unauthorized practice argue that they would be happy to work under a vet, but they cannot find a vet willing to supervise them; or, they say that vet care is costly, and they provide an alternate and affordable supply of services to meet the demand.

Allowing your horse to receive veterinary care under a non-licensed vet or vet technician can endanger your horse, and it actually can be more expensive or physically harmful to your horse in the long-run if a vet is required to repair what an unlicensed practitioner may have missed or done wrong.
Vets are trained to not only perform the requested task, but to also be aware of other health issues in the whole horse.

I am not asserting that all unlicensed practitioners would harm your horse's health, however, as frustrating as it may be that I cannot practice law until a piece of paper comes in the mail, I believe that for the purpose of controlling the quality of care provided to the state's animals, drawing a line between a license or not is necessary; I would recommend licensed care for your horses.
 (Though some groups are trying to change the strict guidelines to encompass more low-cost care providers in less-technical service to animals, such as physical therapy- see article linked at the end of this post.)

One final point: for those of you who perform veterinary tasks on your own animals (such as dental cleaning beyond brushing/flossing), for the most part you are permitted to do so because your animals are your private property.  And this seems to also be the case for private welfare and non-profit rescue organizations (at least in N.C.) Typically it is receiving compensation in any form that is a red flag for "engaging in" the unauthorized practice.  However, even though a pet is private property, a person would be subject to welfare laws if their "vet treatment" is inhumane, painful, or harmful to the animal.

For an interesting article on the subject click here.

I know this post doesn't provide concrete answers as to how each state defines what is, or is not, veterinary care; but where do you think the line should be drawn as to what type of care should require a board-certified, licensed veterinarian?
Would you consider using a non-licensed vet for your horse's veterinary needs?