2016 December - Availability to care for an animal

When a veterinary practitioner accepts an animal for diagnosis or treatment there are very clear responsibilities and codes of professional conduct that go with the service being provided. These are to ensure the care of the animal is to current standards, and that the owner or client is fully informed about the ongoing care.

Under clause 8 of the Veterinary practitioners code of professional conduct, a veterinarian must demonstrate “availability to care for an animal”. When a veterinary practitioner accepts an animal for diagnosis or treatment, he or she must:


  1. Ensure that he or she is available for the ongoing care of the animal, or
  2. Ensure that if he or she will be unavailable, make arrangements for another veterinary practitioner to take over the care of the animal.


The situation may arise for example, where a veterinary practitioner initiates the diagnosis and care of an animal, but may be unavailable for the next day or more to continue with the ongoing care. In these circumstances the veterinarian is expected to ensure a veterinary colleague has all of the relevant information to continue the care to current standards.  It would also be appropriate to advise the client who will be providing the ongoing care.

In another situation an animal may be admitted to hospital and warrant critical care monitoring overnight. It may be the case where the veterinarian does not provide overnight monitoring of animals in their hospital. In these circumstances the veterinary practitioner is expected to discuss the situation with the client or owner of the animal, so they can be given the choice of authorising it to stay in their hospital without overnight care, or to transfer it to another veterinary hospital with 24 hour care. If the animal is transferred to another veterinary hospital the owner or client must be fully informed of the details of the hospital, how to contact them and what to expect.

Owners and clients should be advised on details of what to do in an after-hours emergency, or when an animal develops an unexpected complication following surgery or treatment in hospital. The veterinarian must be available to examine the animal and provide the care that is required, OR direct the owner or client to another veterinary hospital that is able to undertake the care of the animal. In this situation, the veterinarian should have made arrangements with the other veterinary hospital to ensure they are aware that after-hours emergencies may be referred to them.