Similar to lawyers, doctors and other professionals, vets must abide by the rules of their profession – which is a written Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinarians.
This covers their professional obligations to you as the client (and more importantly, to the welfare of every animal).
For instance, did you know:
Vets are not allowed to prescribe medications without seeing the patient.
Sometimes clients ask ‘I haven’t got time to bring my pet in, but I want some xyz medication’. If you’re asking for a prescription medicine, your vet cannot legally do this.
Under the rules, a vet can only prescribe medication after examining the animal. This is for the protection of your pet – giving them the wrong or unnecessary medications can be dangerous.
Note: it’s different when you ask for a ‘refill’ of medication. This is usually fine, because your vet has originally prescribed it and is simply continuing the course of treatment. If a lot of time has passed, though, they may need to see your pet again to check it’s still safe and appropriate.
If you want to buy medicines online, your vet needs to provide a prescription.
You might have seen websites that sell veterinary medicines online. If you choose to buy from these sites, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
You can only purchase prescription medicines online if your vet supervises the writing of the script. Again, this is to protect the health of your pet. Your vet needs to ascertain it’s the right medication for them at that time.
Also, don’t be surprised if there’s a charge for writing the prescription. Your vet needs to put their time and knowledge into making that diagnosis.
So overall, it’s usually safer (and more cost-effective) to have your own vet provide prescription medicines for your pet.
Vets cannot provide medical advice informally (e.g at parties).
Some vets dread the ‘what do you do?’ question at parties, because they know what comes next…they usually get asked for free advice. Ask any vet, this is very common!
While it’s fine to have a general chat about your pet in a social situation, please don’t ask them for specific medical advice or a second opinion. Under the professional rules, they cannot diagnose or recommend treatment without examining your pet. Secondly, out of professional courtesy, they don’t want to interfere with the advice given by your regular vet. And thirdly, it’s just more respectful to let hardworking vets enjoy their time off!
Vet are obliged to provide their clients with 24-7 care.
Under the professional rules, vets are obliged to provide 24-7 care to their clients.
That doesn’t mean they have to personally be on call 24-7 to your pet – obviously they need to sleep! But it does mean they will provide you and your pet somewhere to go, if you need help after-hours when the clinic is closed.
This may be a neighbouring clinic they partner with, or a specialist after-hours hospital. Your vet will provide this information on their answerphone or website, telling you what to do.
It’s a good idea to get familiar with your vet’s after-hours arrangements (before you may need to drive there in the middle of the night).
Vets have an over-riding duty to the welfare of the animal.
Under the Code, vets have a ‘special duty to protect animal welfare and alleviate animal suffering’.
When there’s a decision to be made, they will use that as their guide. Their role is to be a voice for the animal.
For example, if an owner asked for an unnecessary procedure (such as docking a dog’s tail), the vet can refuse on the grounds that it is not in the animal’s best interests.