2018 June - Responsibilities when sedating animals


Veterinarians may be asked to provide sedation (or tranquilisation) for animals in order for a procedure to be performed effectively and safely by a non-veterinarian.  This role may therefore be vital for both animal welfare and human safety. Examples include the sedation of rams for shearing, horses for certain dental procedures, and wildlife for capture and transport.

Clearly there is a range of risks for veterinarians to consider when supplying sedatives for animals from relatively minor procedures associated with shearing of rams to significant, invasive procedures such as equine dental procedures.



If veterinarians choose to supply sedation for procedures to be performed on animals by non-veterinarians, they need to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities, including those imposed by veterinary practice and poisons and therapeutic goods legislation:

  • Veterinarians must only supply a sedative for an animal they have either physically examined or have under their direct care (Veterinary practitioners code of professional conduct (Code) (cl 20)). For multiple animals, such as sedation of rams for shearing, it is unlikely you will have examined each animal but you need to be able to show that these animals are under your direct care.  This includes regular visits to the property, knowledge of the husbandry and client, and physical examination of a representative number of animals. 

  • Veterinarians must not supply any restricted substance in a quantity, or for a purpose, that does not accord with the recognised therapeutic standard of what is appropriate in the circumstances (Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Regulation 2008 (cl 54)).

  • The administration of a sedative or tranquiliser is a restricted act of veterinary science and hence the veterinarian must only supply these agents to the owner of the animal (owners of animals are exempt persons under the Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (s 9(2)) and may therefore perform a restricted act of veterinary science). Clearly this does not extend to the shearing contractor, horse farrier, dog groomer or other similar service providers.

  • Veterinarians must be aware of both the legislative and skill limitations of non-veterinarians. If the owner of the animal or supervised lay person is incompetent or negligent, the veterinarian may be subject to professional misconduct allegations and proceedings.

  • Veterinarians must be aware that, in providing such a service, they are responsible for sedation and appropriate analgesia, the assessment of each animal’s health status prior to administration of appropriate doses of the drug, and may be held responsible for the outcome of the procedure (as above).  They are also responsible for follow up of the animal and they must clearly explain the use, side effects, storage, and safety requirements when supplying these agents as they would for other restricted substances (Code (cl 4)).

  • Accordingly, veterinarians must be familiar with the expected outcomes and associated risks of the procedures being performed.  For example, the incorrect use of power tools for equine dental procedures can result in over-heating of teeth, which can cause the death of blood vessels and nerves, resulting in pain when eating, loss of appetite and weight loss. Sedated animals may also behave unpredictably and a sedated dog in a car can pose a significant risk to public safety.

  • A detailed record of any procedure, treatment or supply of a restricted substance must be made as soon as practicable and in sufficient detail to enable another veterinarian to continue treatment of the animal (Code (cl 15)).


The supply of sedatives and tranquilisers to anyone other than the owner of the animal may lead to disciplinary proceedings and a finding of unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct.


Administration of sedatives and tranquilisers

This is a restricted act of veterinary science because reducing or removing an animal’s ability to respond normally to its environment, including potentially painful stimuli, presents a significant danger to the welfare of that animal. 

Under the Code (cl 1), when providing for or administering sedation to an animal the veterinarian must ensure that his or her primary concern is for the welfare of that animal.  Accordingly, the veterinarian is responsible for ensuring any procedure carried out on a sedated animal will not jeopardise the animal’s health or welfare. 

A veterinarian cannot simply provide for sedation and then disregard what is being done to the animal. If any damage is caused by a non-veterinarian to an animal while under sedation the Board will consider action against the veterinarian concerned and consider referring the lay operator to the appropriate authorities for a potential breach of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979.


In summary

  1. Veterinarians supplying sedatives and tranquilisers need to consider their obligations under the appropriate legislation, their responsibilities to the safety and welfare of animals being sedated and their responsibilities for the safety and welfare of the owners of these animals when administering these agents and managing sedated animals. 

  2. Veterinarians may be held liable for any adverse consequences by both the Board and through civil proceedings.