Guidelines of the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria
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Guideline 3 - Treatment obligations

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 3: Treatment obligations

Under Section 9 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA), a person who does or omits an act, with the result that unreasonable pain or suffering is caused, or is likely to be caused, to an animal, commits an act of cruelty.

Consistent with this legal obligation, a veterinary practitioner must provide first aid or pain relief to minimise or alleviate the unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress of an animal presented to them for emergency attention. The treatment or action taken by the veterinary practitioner should acknowledge the emergency nature of the circumstance and must not be delayed or withheld while payment for treatment is negotiated. The obligation to treat through the provision of first aid and/or pain relief exists irrespective of whether:

  • the person bringing the animal to the veterinary practitioner is its owner
  • the person bringing the animal to the veterinary practitioner has an established relationship with the veterinary practitioner and/or has previously attended their veterinary facilities
  • the animal is a stray, is lost or the owner is unknown, or
  • the animal is an undomesticated or exotic species but not a declared pest animal.

The provision of first aid and pain relief includes carrying out euthanasia where it is determined to be the most appropriate management option for the animal’s condition and ongoing wellbeing.

A declared animal pest presented to a veterinary practitioner for treatment must be euthanased as soon as practical.

A veterinary practitioner has no statutory obligation to accept an animal for treatment other than in the emergency situation described above. Where a veterinary practitioner chooses not to treat an animal, their reason for doing so should be discussed with the owner of the animal including what alternative service options may be available. A record of the discussion should be made in the clinical record.

Professional conduct under this guideline is demonstrated by the following:
3.1 A veterinary practitioner provides first aid and/or pain relief appropriate to the circumstances when presented with an animal in unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress.
3.2 A veterinary practitioner gives due consideration to human safety before commencing treatment of an animal, whether in an emergency situation or otherwise.
3.3 A veterinary practitioner must provide first aid and necessary analgesia to ensure that an animal will not be in unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress because its owner is unwilling to provide veterinary care.
3.4 Where a veterinary practitioner is presented with an animal of a species they do not normally treat and the animal requires emergency attention, the veterinary practitioner provides first aid and pain relief to the animal before referring the animal for appropriate care.


Related guidelines

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.