Okla. reduces penalty for lay equine dentistry

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May 20, 2009
By dvm360.com staff
Oklahoma City, Okla. -- A law passed last fall that made it a felony for a non-veterinarian to practice equine dentistry in Oklahoma was essentially overturned this week after pleas from horse owners.

A Senate bill that decreases the penalty for the unlicensed practice of veterinary medicine was approved by both houses and awaits the governor's signature.

The measure reduces equine teeth floating to misdemeanor status, as it was before last fall, when a change to the Veterinary Practice Act made teeth floating a felony offense that could result in one to four years' imprisonment and/or $1,000 to $10,000 in fines. The new bill, if approved by the governor, would lower the fine to $500 to $5,000 per offense.

Teeth floaters still could be arrested if they are caught by a commissioned law officer, but Cathy Kilpatrick, executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, says the state doesn't have the resources to pursue offenders at that level.

The lowered fine will make it easy for teeth floaters to continue their work, looking at the fine as a business expense, she says. Some, Kilpatrick says, earn about $800 a day, which puts them at about the same earnings level as veterinarians without the cost of school debt, licensure and insurance, she explains. Horse owners and public-interest groups appealed to Oklahoma senators in April for an amendment that would allow practices like equine dentistry, vaccinating and castrating to be performed by non-veterinarians, arguing that there are not enough veterinarians to perform those duties.

But Kilpatrick says the drugs used in such practices, particularly teeth floating, are the state's main concern. More than 200 veterinarians in the state perform equine dentistry services, compared to only a handful of non-veterinarians, she says.

But to appease horse owners, she says the Oklahoma board recently added a new rule allowing registered veterinary technicians to perform equine dentistry without the direct supervision of a veterinarian. That way, non-veterinarian equine dentists could comply with the law by getting their two-year technician degree, which would allow the state to regulate them.

Kilpatrick says the state now is working on a follow-up study to come up with a new penalty system acceptable to the veterinary community and horse owners.