Surgical Procedures Performed on Animals – Position Statement
January 22, 2021
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) holds that in the best interest of animals, surgical procedures on animals (i.e. “surgery”) should be performed by a licensed veterinarian.
- Surgery on animals requires the extensive technical knowledge and skill possessed by a licensed veterinarian, including for the management of pain and distress in animals.
- CVMA believes that individuals who perform surgeries should be licensed veterinarians who meet professional standards.
- Provincial and territorial veterinary regulatory authorities license veterinarians and thus regulate the practice of veterinary surgery within their respective jurisdictions.
- The CVMA endorses the concept that veterinarians should have advance input through a provincially and territorially defined and mandated Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) whenever surgical procedures are used on animals, including permitted procedures that are performed by livestock producing clients.
1. Surgery is any medical or dental procedure that involves the invasion, excision and/or extraction of tissue of a living animal through operative, manual and instrumental techniques developed for such a purpose or purposes (1,2).
2. The CVMA recognizes that provincial and territorial veterinary regulatory authorities license veterinarians and thus regulate the practice of veterinary surgery within their respective jurisdictions and so determine:
a. What constitutes surgery on animals (“veterinary surgery”);
b. What constitutes “veterinary supervision” and the limits of supervision as it pertains to any given surgical procedure and how a non-veterinarian(s), such as a registered veterinary technician, may or may not be involved in a surgical procedure;
c. Which surgical procedures that person(s) other than a licensed veterinarian may perform and under what circumstances.
3. Surgery on animals requires extensive knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathology, medicine, analgesia and anesthesia as well as an understanding of animal welfare needs and requirements, including pain management. In addition, knowledge and application of appropriate aseptic technique and the overall management of the animals’ health and well-being are essential. A licensed veterinarian is best positioned to address these requirements.
4. The management of pain or distress that occurs before, during and following surgery is integral to the success of the procedure and requires the appropriate use of anesthetics and analgesics available in the practice of veterinary medicine.
5. Surgical procedures, if not properly performed by a competent individual, are painful and present a risk of complications including blood loss, infection, inadvertent damage to organs and other vital structures, or death.
6. Veterinarians have the training, qualifications and experience to (a) identify issues that might make surgery contraindicated,(b) mitigate and if necessary respond to intra-operative complications and (c) access a wider range of drugs than would be available to a non-veterinarian to control pain and treat complications.
7. Given the above and that animal welfare, safety and quality of care are paramount, the CVMA holds that individuals who perform surgeries should be licensed veterinarians who meet professional standards.
8. The CVMA endorses the concept that veterinarians should have advance input through a provincially and territorially defined and mandated Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR) whenever surgical procedures are used on animals, including permitted procedures that are performed by livestock producing clients. In these circumstances, the following should apply:
a. Surgery should be conducted by competent personnel following Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) developed in consultation with a licensed veterinarian, using appropriate, well-maintained equipment and accepted techniques with anaesthesia and analgesia, and close peri-operative monitoring.
b. Surgical procedures on livestock and poultry performed other than for therapeutic, diagnostic or research purposes should only be considered once all non-painful alternative management options have been exhausted (3).
c. Procedures undertaken by the owner of an animal or by a person engaged or employed by the owner to care for their animals, such as emergency first aid to save life or relieve pain and suffering should not involve entry into a body cavity. In circumstances where major surgery is required to relieve suffering, it must be undertaken by a licensed veterinarian. Failing that, the animal should be humanely euthanized.
9. When establishing a VCPR with a new client or when conducting a periodic review of surgical procedures on an existing client's farm, the CVMA encourages veterinarians to ensure that their clients are trained on how to recognize and control acute and chronic pain. Veterinarians should make available, when appropriate, pain control drugs for their clients to use on animals undergoing surgical procedures.
10. Where surgical procedures are undertaken as part of a research study the institutional veterinarian(s) must review all protocols involving experimental procedures (4-7). It is recommended that pre-operative care, operative technique and post-operative care practices be developed in consultation with a veterinarian. A laboratory animal veterinarian must be consulted to ensure that there is adequate veterinary care for the animal, including appropriate anaesthesia and analgesia.
11. The CVMA recognizes and supports the overseeing bodies (e.g. Canadian Council on Animal Care) that specify the standards and procedures required in performing surgical procedures on animals used for scientific purposes (5).
12. The CVMA acknowledges the important role played by registered veterinary technicians/technologists (RVTs) in supporting surgery performed by veterinarians on animals by providing anesthesia monitoring and pre/post-surgical care. In addition, RVTs with Veterinary Technician Specialty (VTS) training in areas such as Anaesthesia and Analgesia, Veterinary Surgery, Emergency and Critical Care (ECC) add specific and specialized training when assisting DVMs with surgical procedures (8).
3. Stafford, K. and Mellor, D.J.. 2015. Painful Husbandry Procedures in Livestock and Poultry. In Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach: 2nd Edition. T. Grandin ed. CABI. 96-124. DOI 10.1079/9781780644677.0096
Revised October 2nd, 2020