Owner Welfare Responsibilities

Your animal welfare responsibilities

as an animal owner/keeper

The following is adapted from www.rcvs.org.uk

What does the law say?

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (which applies in England and Wales), the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Welfare of Animals (Northern Ireland) Act 2011 contain provisions to safeguard the welfare of animals.

This means that owners and keepers are legally obliged to care for their animals properly and they are responsible for ensuring that the welfare needs of their animals are met. These five basic needs are as follows:

  • A suitable environment (place to live)
  • A suitable diet
  • The ability to exhibit normal behaviour
  • Housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

A person with responsibility for an animal may commit an offence if an act, or failure to act, causes an animal to suffer unnecessarily.  If a person does not provide for an animal’s welfare needs, they can be banned from owning animals, fined and/or sent to prison.

What should I expect if I take my pet to a veterinary practice?

The responsibility for the welfare of an animal ultimately rests with the owner or keeper of the animal.

However, we can help owners and keepers to meet their responsibilities under relevant animal welfare legislation by providing veterinary advice and/or care.

This might include professional guidance about how best to tackle the animal’s specific complaint and by providing a means by which treatment may be delivered.

In doing so, we seek to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to our care and to fulfill our professional responsibilities. At the same time, owners and keepers should be aware that obtaining private veterinary attention will have associated costs. In most cases, the client will be the owner of the animal or someone acting with the authority of the owner) and the client will be responsible for meeting these costs.

We provide treatment on the basis that the client (i.e. the person who requests veterinary attention for animal) is able and willing to pay for this.

Our vets have a responsibility to make a full and realistic assessment of the prognosis and the options for treatment and communicate this to their clients. They also have a responsibility to provide their clients, where requested, realistic fee estimates based on treatment options and to keep their clients informed of progress and of any escalation in costs once treatment has started.

To help with the costs of obtaining veterinary attentions and to meet their responsibilities to care for their animals properly, owners and keepers may wish to consider taking out animal insurance.  See here for further information on: Pet insurance or Equine Insurance.

What if I am unable to pay for the veterinary treatment?

In the absence of sufficient funds to cover the cost of a particular treatment plan, owners and keepers should recognise that there will be a limit to the treatment that we will be able to provide.

In some cases, owners and keepers may be eligible for charitable assistance, which the veterinary surgeon may be able to provide information on. We are not aware of a dedicated charitable practice (such as the RSPCA or PDSA in our area), but some assistance may be available through such charities as a contribution to the fees charged, though this may be limited to either an emergency consultation fee, neutering fees or £50 - £100.

Ultimately, if the owner/keeper is ineligible for charitable assistance and no other form of financial assistance can be found, euthanasia may have to be considered on economic grounds.

What happens in an emergency situation?

Veterinary practices are obliged to provide emergency first aid and pain relief. However, veterinary surgeons are entitled to charge for providing emergency first aid and pain relief.

We may though direct owners to their own registered Practice to be seen, including for emergencies, if this is different, as owners are obliged to use the emergency services provided or used by the Practice they are registered with.

Charitable financial assistance may be available  from the above charities, but in most cases the charity has to be contacted before the client contacts the Practice to  discuss with the charity the situation and where applicable obtain a voucher reference number that needs to be given to the vet.  The RSPCA is normally the  first organisation to contact in such emergencies where financial assistance may be required.

Following immediate first aid and pain relief, it can be decided how best to proceed in terms of treatment, cost and payment arrangements.

Can my vet report me to the authorities?

In exceptional cases we are allowed to pass on information to the relevant authorities without the permission of the client. For example, where the vet considers that an animal’s welfare is compromised because the client is failing to obtain or follow appropriate veterinary advice.