The veterinary profession is highly regulated, a fact that often goes under the radar of public attention. The details are important.
The Veterinary Council is the statutory body (i.e. put in place by legislation) with the specific job of ensuring that vets carry out their profession in a way that is optimised. Examples of the way this done include registration of vets (only people who have completed specific degree courses can register), the Premises Accreditation Scheme (vets cannot set up a clinic without having the physical premises inspected, and these must meet high standards), and Continuing Veterinary Education (vets are obliged to carry out at least twenty hours of extra education every year to continue to be registered). As well as that, the Veterinary Council has disciplinary powers and procedures, so that if a vet fails in their professional duties, they will be taken to task, and held responsible for their actions (or lack of actions).
The high level of regulation of vets may happen behind the scenes, but it is an important part of the way our society works, protecting animals from charlatans, quacks and other irresponsible individuals. This is the reason why vets get concerned when non-vets start to carry out procedures which are normally done by vets: apart from the technical competence issues, non-vets are not held accountable in the same way as vets, and this leaves the public open to exploitation. If things go wrong, pet owners (and pets) don’t have the same level of protection as they do when vets are involved. The fakers often just quietly fade into the background.
Over the years there have been different examples of lay people carrying out work that has been primarily the domain of vets, from ultrasound diagnosis of pregnancy in horses and farm animals by non-vets, vaccination of puppies and kittens by breeders, and microchipping of dogs by lay people (I’ve seen an x-ray of a chihuahua where, incredibly, somebody had managed to implant a microchip in the dog’s brain rather in the normal position of the back of the neck). In these instances, steps have been taken to ensure that the non-vets only do work that they can safely do, that they are properly trained and that they are held accountable. One of the challenges is that the Vet Council can only regulate vets: there’s a shortage of systems in place to regulate non-vets carrying out activities normally done by vets.
One of the key questions is this: what should vets only do, and what should lay people be allowed to do. This comes down to definitions, and sometimes it’s difficult to be clear. Some examples are obvious (only a vet can carry out major surgical operations) while others are harder to specify (e.g. farmers disbudding calves, ultrasound examinations, vaccinations). Over the years, the various stakeholders in these areas have met, and have come to reasonable conclusions, so that there have not been many problems in recent years.
There is one emerging area that is causing concern: so-called Canine Fertility Clinics (CFCs). These ‘clinics’ appear to offer veterinary services, but they are often run by people who are not vets, and many operate with no veterinary involvement whatsoever. The number of CFCs has multiplied during the pandemic: it’s estimated that there are over 120 CFCs in the UK, and up to a dozen in Ireland. They often advertise on social media (e.g. with eye-catching Instagram accounts, populated with images of cute pups), and it’s easy for unwitting members of the public to be drawn in to engaging with them, usually to buy puppies. They often work hand-in-hand with illegal puppy farmers.
The growth in CFCs has led to a worrying rise in unethical and potentially unlawful practises. Examples include invasive procedures on dogs including artificial insemination, blood tests, and the illegal supply of prescription only and other medicines: all areas that should be the domain of vets.
The expansion of CFCs is linked to the ever increasing popularity of flat-faced dogs (such as Pugs, French Bulldogs and Bulldogs). Many of these breeds have difficulty breeding because of their extreme conformation (body shape). They require assistance to mate (often needing artificial insemination) and to give birth (e.g. over 80% of French Bulldog puppies are delivered by caesarean section). Vets are able to help with these issues, but vets are governed by ethical rules, and so they will often ask questions before helping to breed dogs with extreme features. CFCs are not governed by any ethical rules, so they are happy to help with the production of puppies with more and more extreme features, with no regard for the life-long health and welfare of these puppies, or their parents.
Canine Fertility Clinics are governed by animal welfare laws as well as rules about what only vets are allowed to do, but it seems that these are not often enforced. CFC operators should be reminded that they have to be careful to stay within the law, and there should then be better enforcement of existing laws.
Businesses that are proven to break veterinary and/ or animal welfare laws should be closed down.
The public can help by reporting any concerns to the ISPCA or DSPCA
For more, see www.naturewatch.org