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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Non-Vets Doing Surgery

Sal sent this to me today....

Question:  Is it legal for someone other than a Veterinarian to perform surgery
to spay a dog?
I ask because walking out of my vet’s office, I overheard the receptionist
talking and she said that the vet would not be coming in.  However, I was had
just dropped off my dog to be spayed.  I just want to make sure she isn’t in
harm’s way.

I can't speak for outside of the US or even in every state.  However, I've been licensed in 6 states in various parts of the country and in all of those states, as well as any I've ever heard of, it is absolutely, positively NOT legal, or a good idea.  The owner of that practice could be sued for malpractice and end up with jail time for allowing it.  Also, the person who did the surgery could go to jail for practicing medicine without a license.  Even though spays are routine surgeries, they are NOT simple, and required a skilled hand.  I know experienced vets who aren't comfortable with doing spays!  It took me years of doing spays every day to get my surgery time down from about an hour to my current 20 minutes or so.

Unfortunately I have known vets who will allow their staff to do things like this, even if it's illegal.  Here in Georgia only a vet can legally give a rabies vaccine, but I recently had a client who went to a vet recommended by a local pet store and the vet's receptionist gave the rabies (without an exam!) because the vet was busy. Some vets really don't care about laws or quality medicine and that makes a bad impact on the view of the profession as a whole.

Interestingly, castrations are normally specifically excluded from the practice of veterinary medicine.  This is done because most farmers castrate their own livestock since getting a vet out to do every steer, pig, goat, etc. would really drive up the cost of animal production and therefore food and other animal products.  So technically someone who wasn't a vet could castrate their own dog or cat (or someone else's) and it wouldn't be illegal.  I still wouldn't recommend it because then you get into ethical issues of proper pain control, anesthesia, etc., but it wouldn't be "practicing medicine without a license".

Sal, I would talk to the vet about this, as it is a legitimate concern.  But I would also make sure that there wasn't some other reason for the comment, such if there were a few vets working that day and only one of them wasn't coming in, or if the receptionist was talking about the vet not coming in until later and you missed part of the conversation.  Also, maybe the normal vet wasn't coming in but they had gotten a relief vet who was going to fill in for the day.  Since you only heard part of the conversation you may have missed parts explaining what was really going on.  Give the vet a chance to explain and you may find a very reasonable answer for what you overheard.  However, if the vet does admit that a non-vet did the spay, I would immediately place a call to the state veterinary board and report that practice.