Guidelines of the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria
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Guideline 1 - The veterinary practitioner-owner-animal (VOA) relationship

This guideline outlines the appropriate standard expected of a registered veterinary practitioner in the course of veterinary practice. It should be read in conjunction with other related guidelines.

Context to Guideline 1: The veterinary practitioner-owner-animal (VOA) relationship

The relationship between a veterinary practitioner, an owner or designated representative and their animal (the VOA relationship) is the foundation for the delivery of veterinary services.

There are several aims in recognising a VOA relationship:
  1. Ensure the best interests of an animal is central in decision-making related to the provision of veterinary services, irrespective of whether the relationship between an owner and an animal is for companionship or commercial reasons.
  2. Understand the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved and any limitations to the establishment and maintenance of the VOA relationship.
  3. Protect the public by facilitating an appropriate standard of veterinary practice.
  4. Enable a veterinary practitioner to meet relevant regulatory requirements, for example the requirement for an animal to be under the care of a veterinary practitioner prior to the supply and use of restricted medications.
  5. Align veterinary practitioner conduct when making treatment decisions with community expectations.
The attributes of the VOA relationship provided below are relevant to understanding the responsibilities of the parties involved:
  1. Veterinary practitioner
    a) the individual providing services to the owner in relation to the care and wellbeing of their animal.
    b) While it is noted that an owner may also view the VOA relationship in terms of a collective of individuals, such as a group of practitioners employed within a clinic setting, the Board views the responsibilities associated with a VOA relationship as vested in an individual veterinary practitioner.
  2. Owner
    a) The owner is the individual who has property rights over an animal receiving veterinary services.
    b) The basis of the relationship between the owner and the animal/animals receiving veterinary services may be primarily for companionship or commercial reasons.
    c) The owner may designate an individual as their representative to make decisions regarding the scope of veterinary services provided to the animal and to undertake one or more of their responsibilities in the VOA relationship. Such a designation should be explicit and recorded in order to be enacted.
    d) In the case of a service animal (e.g. a guide dog) which has been allocated to an individual by a third party, the owner is the third party.
    e) In the case of wildlife where property rights are not applicable, the owner is deemed to be the person presenting the animal to the veterinary practitioner for the provision of veterinary services.
  3. Animal
    a) the individual animal of any species receiving veterinary services at the instigation of the owner.
    b) While the animal may be one of a collective group of animals in receipt of veterinary services, the Board views the primary focus of the relationship between the veterinary practitioner and an individual animal is each individual animal’s wellbeing.

Veterinary practitioner and owner responsibilities

Both the veterinary practitioner and the owner carry responsibilities in the VOA relationship.

The main responsibilities of the veterinary practitioner in the VOA relationship are to:
  1. directly observe and examine the animal and/or their production system and facilities when requested to do so by the owner or when necessary
  2. keep the wellbeing of the animal as a central focus
  3. establish and record the name of the owner or authorised representative i.e., the individual with decision-making authority to consent to a procedure, treatment or husbandry matter
  4. take reasonable efforts to ensure the owner understands their communications
  5. provide a reasonable range of options for treatment or management, a prognosis, and the possible complications, consequences and associated costs for each option
  6. respect the owner’s rights, including the right to refuse service, request a referral or have established VOA relationships with several veterinary practitioners concurrently
  7. maintain the VOA relationship over its duration through:
    • regular communication
    • demonstrating an intention that the relationship continues
    • directly observing the animal or production system at least once per year
    • provision of veterinary services as required or until terminated by either the owner or the veterinary practitioner.
The main responsibilities of the owner in the VOA relationship are to:
  1. keep the wellbeing of their animal as the primary focus
  2. make decisions and give consent for proposed procedures, treatments or husbandry matters in the best interests of their animal
  3. designate an alternative decision-maker to act on their behalf including placing the wellbeing of the animal at the centre of their consideration and decisions
  4. satisfy themselves that their designated representative is willing and has the capacity to:
    • represent the interests of the owner in discussion with the veterinary practitioner
    • give consent for proposed procedures, treatments or husbandry matters
    • take financial responsibility for the veterinary services provided to the owner’s animal as required, including clearly communicating any financial limits to the veterinary practitioner
  5. take reasonable efforts to carry out instructions of the veterinary practitioner following the provision of veterinary services
  6. maintain the VOA relationship over its duration through:
    • regular communication
    • demonstrating an intention that the relationship continues
    • accessing veterinary services as required or until terminated by either owner or veterinary practitioner
  7. inform the veterinary practitioner whenever they have established a VOA relationship with another veterinary practitioner in relation to the animal receiving veterinary services.

The Board notes that while the responsibility to meet costs of treatments, procedures and husbandry matters lies with the owner, the owner may designate a different individual to assume this responsibility on their behalf without prejudice to their role as the decision-maker in relation to the treatment, procedures for and husbandry management of their animal.

Professional conduct under this guideline is demonstrated by the following:
1.1 The veterinary practitioner-owner-animal (VOA) relationship places the wellbeing of the animal at the centre of the relationship and, over its duration, fosters trust and collaboration between the parties.
1.2 A veterinary practitioner demonstrates an appropriate standard of professional conduct during the establishment, maintenance and, when it occurs, the termination of the VOA relationship,
1.3 A veterinary practitioner ensures their behaviour and professional judgement are consistent with the responsibilities of a veterinary practitioner within the VOA relationship as described in guidance provided by the Board and as amended from time to time.
1.4 Where a veterinary practitioner has recorded the name of the owner or their designated representative as communicated to them in the medical record, a veterinary practitioner is not responsible for any misrepresentation by an individual of ownership or authority for decision-making that is made with malicious or mischievous intent.
1.5 A veterinary practitioner terminates a VOA relationship by informing the owner in writing that the VOA relationship is terminated, and the practitioner maintains a written record that they will no longer provide veterinary services to the owner.
1.6 A VOA relationship must be established prior to, and maintained during, the supply and use of a poison or controlled substance.
1.7 A veterinary practitioner has no statutory obligation to establish a VOA relationship.

Related guidelines
Some exceptions and considerations regarding the VOA relationship are referred to in:

Related legislation

Date of publication
In effect from 1 May 2021.

This material is current only at the time of publication and may be changed from time to time. The Board reviews and updates the Guidelines on a continuous basis to reflect changes in the science and knowledge base underpinning contemporary veterinary practice. The Board will take reasonable steps to inform the veterinary profession when such updates are released but it remains the responsibility of the individual veterinary practitioner to ensure that their knowledge and application of these Guidelines to their own practice is current.

While the Board has made every effort to ensure that the material in these Guidelines is correct in law, it shall not be liable to any veterinary practitioner or any other person or entity in relation to any claim, action or proceeding whatsoever (whether in contract, negligence or other tort or in proceedings seeking any other form of legal or equitable remedy or relief) for any inadequacy, error or mistake, or for any deficiency in the whole or any part of this document (including any updates incorporated in the document from time to time). A veterinary practitioner or any other person or entity acting upon the contents of this document acknowledges and accepts that this is the basis upon which the Board has produced these Guidelines and made them available to such person or entity.