Handling clients whose pets have ingested illicit drugs


What's your legal responsibility when you suspect a pet has been poisoned with illegal drugs?

Your first responsibility is to ensure the pet is stabilized and properly treated, regardless of the source of a poisoning, says Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, owner of Veterinary Advisors Inc., a veterinary consulting firm in Flemington, N.J. Your second responsibility is to decide whether animal cruelty might be in play.

If you think the poisoning was intentional and abusive (as in the case of a kitten being placed in a marijuana bong), your ethical responsibility is to take action. “Certain professionals must report certain crimes,” Dr. Lacroix says. “Animal cruelty is one crime that the American Veterinary Medical Association encourages you to report, and a few states require you to do so.” Brush up on your state laws, and be sure that every member of your veterinary team understands how to recognize and handle suspected cases of animal cruelty. (For more help, visit veterinaryforensics.com.)

On the other hand, if you guess that the poisoning was accidental and that the client treats the pet well otherwise, your next move should probably be to teach the client about the health risks to pets. “If someone is just insensitive and careless, when they're educated, they understand the gravity of what they're engaged in,” Dr. Lacroix says. “And maybe they'll educate their friends too.”

You don't need to get involved with the criminal aspect of the client using illegal drugs. “You have no jurisdiction over the people,” Lacroix says. “You can call the police if you want to, but you're not required to report illegal activity such as drug possession.”

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