Animal-welfare concerns are changing the way DVMs work

Animal-welfare concerns are changing the way DVMs work

Societal 'awareness' increasingly influencing teaching, practice of veterinary medicine
Apr 01, 2009

National Report — Animal-welfare issues are becoming more prevalent, as evidenced by the sheer volume of legislation introduced and adopted throughout the country recently.

In 2008, states enacted nearly 40 laws pertaining to animal welfare, and another 33 were introduced.

So far this year, nearly a dozen such laws have been making the rounds in state legislatures.

In addition to government involvement, more veterinarians are taking stands against performing cosmetic and convenience surgeries.

There is increasing veterinary support for changes to long-standing agricultural practices, too, as evidenced by the 700-plus California veterinarians who endorsed Issue 2, the prevention of farm-animal cruelty act, last year.

The shift can be seen within the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMVA) as well.

That's one reason why the AVMA now asks, "Why do we do this procedure?" as opposed to "What are the harms associated with this procedure?" says Gail C. Golab, PhD, DVM, MACVSc, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division.

"Asking the first question is likely to result in a closer look at the origins and bases of traditional animal care practices," Golab says.

Both external and internal issues are leading the change, including public demand. And the focus of welfare continues to evolve with an increased interest in looking more closely at animals' mental needs, as well as more of interest in the well-being of fish and invertebrates.

Veterinary colleges are taking notice of these changes in animal-welfare conciousness, too, and have put more teaching emphasis on humane techniques.

"The field is changing," says Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). Societal attitudes and the fact that people are farther removed from the farm and just more aware of these issues is driving it. "I think it's a positive thing."

Veterinary graduates also are changing. While DVMs who graduated 20 or 30 years ago may have to adapt to some of these welfare changes, graduates just coming out of school have been acclimated to them throughout their lives.

Thirty years ago, the big focus was on animal research. Over the years, that has evolved. Use of anesthetics and pain management, shelter care, feral-animal issues and now a growing attention on how food animals are produced are at the forefront.

The formation of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) further shows an increasing interest in animal-welfare issues, says Barbara Hodges, DVM, MBA and veterinary consultant for the HSVMA.

"Welfare may have been seen as a specialty interest in the past, but we as veterinarians must be concerned primarily with our patients' health, and industry concerns should not trump the welfare of our patients," Hodges says.

Welfare in academia

Veterinary students are entering school with those ideas as a result of changes that have elevated the status of animals.

As a result, humane veterinary training will continue to be an area of rapid change, Hodges says.

"We're migrating toward a position where no animals are going to be killed in the training process," she says. "Newer veterinary students and practitioners are refusing to do these procedures. In large part, students themselves have helped make these changes occur."

And it's important for colleges to make sure new graduates are well-grounded in animal welfare, especially with topics such as ear cropping, says Pappaioanou.

"We should be leaders in this area," Pappaionanou says.