Identifying scope of illegal practice


Schaumburg, Ill. - Ther American Veterinary Medical Association developed a new data collection tool to help in the fight against non-DVMs performing veterinary prcedures

SCHAUMBURG, ILL. — The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) developed a new data collection tool to help in the fight against non-DVMs performing veterinary procedures.

While this issue is difficult for state boards to regulate, a survey by the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) says the problem is more pervasive than most think.

In fact, this tool will ultimately help state regulators follow-up on reports of illegal veterinary practice and build ammunition to lobby lawmakers for stronger language in veterinary practice acts, AVMA says.

Nearly 80 percent of veterinarians surveyed recently in California report they have encountered illegal veterinary practice in their area.

To counteract it, AVMA wants veterinarians to report information regarding cases of suspected illegal practice by downloading a new "scope of practice form" currently at and return it to the association.

"Hopefully it's going to assist the state veterinary medical associations in documenting cases where these practices are actually happening," explains Adrian Hochstadt, AVMA's assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs.

While only four reports have been submitted to AVMA since it began collecting data in mid-June, Hochstadt says the project will reveal trends as participation increases. Ultimately, the plan is to organize data by state, type of procedure and where the reports came from, and make the results available to veterinary advocates.

AVMA will not investigate any of the reported procedures, nor would it seek to prosecute offenders, he adds.

"This is simply an attempt to help with advocacy," Hochstadt says. "We're not going to investigate, but we want to know what's going on out there."

Dr. Stephen Dullard, chair of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association (ISVMA) Legislative Committee, helped develop the resource after running into problems changing the Illinois veterinary practice act. Legislators indicated that ISVMA didn't have enough hard evidence about the problem of non-DVMs performing veterinary procedures to warrant changes to state regulations, according to AVMA.

But in California, illegal veterinary practice is considered a big problem, one the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has been fighting for a long time, says CVMA Executive Director Valerie Fenstermaker. Laws already are in place in California to prevent non-DVMs from performing veterinary procedures, but Fenstermaker says the state veterinary medical board needs more power to enforce those laws.

Proving there is a problem can sometimes be the hard part, Fenstermaker says.

Last October, CVMA performed a survey asking members to report what they are seeing in terms of illegal practice, and what level of harm those illegal practices are causing animals.

"We've tried to work with our members to have them contact us when they know of illegal practice," Fenstermaker says. "But surveying our members was really the start to get a handle on the issues. The results were what we were expecting, but it was great to see in that format."

According to 1,600 respondents of CVMA's 12-question survey, 79 percent of members said they were aware of illegal veterinary medicine practice in their area, and 300 had treated animals that were harmed by an unlicensed caregiver.

The illegal practice of veterinary medicine most often originated in grooming facilities, according to the survey results, followed by mobile operations and pet stores.

The types of unlicensed care reported by survey respondents included anesthesia-free teeth cleaning, chiropractic medicine, vaccinations, teeth floating, physical rehabilitation, acupuncture, pregnancy checks and embryo transfers. More than 90 percent of CVMA survey respondents say their clients told them about illegal veterinary practices, and about two-thirds of those clients reported a negative experience with an unlicensed person performing the veterinary procedure. More than 54 percent of clients told CVMA members who they had encountered a layperson that was diagnosing and treating animals.

Animal injuries as a result of illegal veterinary practice most often were attributed to muskoskeletal and orthopedic injuries, oral and facial wounds related to dentistry, parvo and death attributed to improper vaccination administration, infected surgical sites, infected ear crops and improper suturing.

The survey indicates animals treated by non-DVMs range from small to large animals.

"The harm to animals is quite evident when we look at the results of our survey. There's a huge problem out there and consumers are not aware of it," Fenstermaker says. "They believe they are dealing with somebody who is licensed in the state of California, and they aren't."

In addition to the survey, CVMA's ongoing Illegal Practice Campaign is working to introduce legislation to help the veterinary medical board win stronger enforcement tools from lawmakers.

Senate Bill 697, which CVMA co-sponsored with the California Veterinary Medical Board (CVMB), asks lawmakers to give CVMB the power to issue civil citations to unlicensed individuals who practice veterinary medicine.

Opposition has been raised by groups like the Farm Bureau and Thoroughbred trainers, Fenstermaker says, but CVMA hopes a new author for the two-year bill will help clarify its language and ensure passage. The California Department of Consumer Affairs also is working on legislation to crack down on unlicensed activities, and it calls for penalty increases up to $100,000, she says.

Other state veterinary associations have contacted Fenstermaker about CVMA's report and, while each state has different laws enforcing unlicensed veterinary care, she says a national database could, at the very least, help shed light on the problem.

"We totally support all efforts. These are state issues because each state has a regulatory agency that oversees veterinary practice," she says. "But I think from a public relations standpoint, it can help inform the consumer. We support any effort to stamp out unlicensed or illegal practice."

Hochstadt says AVMA is hoping that as more veterinarians learn about the existence of the new form, participation will increase. The form may also serve as a reminder to veterinarians to report illegal practice to state veterinary medical boards for prosecution, he says.

AVMA's scope of practice information form is available at

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