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Must you be a veterinarian to float teeth, pull teeth, ultrasound, pregnancy check, massage or render chiropractic care to a horse? This question has arisen many times over the past number of years and needs to be analyzed. Let me begin by saying each state regulates the practice of veterinary medicine by its Veterinary Practice Act. Not all states view the issue the same and it is important to check the Act of your state to be certain of the answer.
The key provisions of state law come down to the definition of “veterinary services," the definition of “animal husbandry” and the “exceptions” to the Act. Although time and space do not permit viewing all state laws on this topic, we will discuss some of the variations which presently exist.
I will begin with an analysis of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Practice Act. The definition of the practice of veterinary medicine is as follows:
“ ... the practice by any person who (i) diagnoses, treats, corrects, changes, relieves, or prevents animal disease, deformity, injury or other physical, mental or dental conditions by any method or mode, including the prescription or administration of any drug, medicine, biologic, apparatus, application, anesthetic, or other therapeutic or diagnostic substance or technique ...” (63 P.S. §485.3 (10))
This is an all-encompassing definition but for Section 485.32 of the Act titled “Exemptions and Exceptions." The applicable exceptions are as follows:
“This Act shall not apply to:
(4) any person or his or her regular employee or agent while practicing veterinary medicine on his or her own animals...
(7) any person performing 'normal husbandry practice...'
(11) farriers or persons actively engaged in the act or profession of horse shoeing.”
Although “normal husbandry practices” is not defined in the Act it is generally accepted that this phrase means careful or thrifty management of one’s herd or animals. Thus, it is clear in Pennsylvania that one can perform all the above cited activities on his own horse and a farrier can perform procedures on a horse which would be considered part of the art or profession of horse shoeing. The gray area becomes the “normal husbandry practices." Pennsylvania law specifically exempts any person who performs “normal husbandry practices." Can it be argued that floating teeth, pulling teeth, massage, chiropractic care, ultrasound and pregnancy checks are careful and thrifty management practices? It certainly appears the argument can be made and the decision would ultimately be up to a Court to decide.
The state of Minnesota also has an all-encompassing definition of veterinary practice and also excludes the owner of an animal from the Act. However, Minnesota has an interesting section which is applicable to non-veterinarians who float teeth. Any non-veterinarian who wants to float teeth may do so after first notifying the Board of Veterinary Medicine and meeting the requirements of the revised Statute. This Amendment, effective August 1st, 2005, reads as follows:
“2. Equine Teeth Floating Services
(a) a person may perform equine teeth floating services after submitting to the Board the following:
(1) proof of current certification from the International Association of Equine Dentistry or other professional equine dentistry association as determined by the Board; and
(2) a written statement signed by a supervising veterinarian experienced in large animal medicine that the applicant will be under direct or indirect supervision of the veterinarian when floating equine teeth.
(b) The Board must waive the requirement in Paragraph (a), Clause (1) and allow a person to perform equine teeth floating services if the person provides satisfactory evidence of being actively engaged in equine teeth floating for at least ten of the past fifteen years and has generated at least $5,000 annually in personal income from this activity.”
It is important to note that indirect supervision as stated in the Act means a veterinarian must be available by telephone or other form of immediate communication if necessary.
Thus, Minnesota permits a non-veterinarian to float teeth but not pull teeth. In addition, it appears other health care services such as massage or chiropractic care, ultrasound and/or pregnancy check are not permitted unless performed by a veterinarian or on one’s own horses.
The Iowa Veterinary Act adds yet another twist to the various state interpretations of this issue. The Iowa Act defines the practice of veterinary medicine at Section 169.3 (10) as follows:
(10) the practice of veterinary medicine means any of the following:
(a) to diagnose, treat, correct, change, relieve or prevent, for a fee any animal disease, deformity, defect, injury or other physical or mental conditions or cosmetic surgery, including the prescription or administration of any drug, medicine, biologic, apparatus, application, anesthetic, or other therapeutic or diagnostic substance or technique, for a fee; or to evaluate or correct sterility or infertility, for a fee; or to render, advise or recommend with regard to any of the above for a fee. (Emphasis added.)
Exceptions to the general definition are found at Section 169.4 of the Act as follows:
“(5) the owner of an animal or the owner’s bona fide employees from caring for and treating the animal in the possession of such owner except where the ownership of the animal was transferred solely for the purpose of circumventing this chapter.
(11) any person from advising with respect to or performing accepted livestock management practices.”
Accepted livestock management practice is defined in the Iowa Act to include de-horning, castration, docking, vaccination, pregnancy testing, drawing of blood, draining of abscesses, branding and other surgical acts “of no greater magnitude."
The Iowa Act appears to allow non-veterinarians to perform procedures defined as the practice of veterinary medicine so long as no fee is charged. Thus, a non-veterinarian would be free to perform equine dentistry, pregnancy checks, massage and chiropractic care, but only if no fee is charged.
Utah’s Veterinary Act adds yet another variation to the issue at hand. Utah’s Act defines the practice of veterinary medicine as the other Acts cited herein and is clearly all-encompassing. Utah’s Act also includes the standard owner exemption but in addition thereto permits non-veterinary activity under Title 58, Chapter 28, Section 8 (12) as follows:
“This chapter does not apply to:
(12) (a) upon written referral by a licensed veterinarian, the practice of animal chiropractic by a chiropractic physician licensed under Chapter 73, Chiropractic Physician Act, who has completed an animal chiropractic course approved by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association or the division;
(b) upon written referral by a licensed veterinarian, the practice of animal physical therapy by a physical therapist licensed under Chapter 24A, Physical Therapist Practice Act, who has completed at least one hundred hours of animal physical therapy training, including quadruped anatomy and hands-on training, approved by the division; and
(c) the practice of animal massage therapy by a massage therapist licensed under Chapter 47B, Massage Therapy Practice Act, who has completed at least sixty hours of animal massage therapy training, including quadruped anatomy and hands-on training, approved by the division.
Thus, under the Utah Act non-veterinarians can perform animal chiropractic, physical therapy and massage therapy. However, equine dentistry, including floating teeth and pulling teeth, as well as ultrasound and pregnancy checks are not permitted unless performed on one’s own horses.
Finally, a review of the New Hampshire Veterinary Practice Act reveals another variation in the handling of the issue of non-veterinary health care providers. The definition of the practice of veterinary medicine is found at Section 332-B:l (III) (a) as follows:
“(a) to diagnose, treat, correct, change, relieve or prevent animal disease, lameness, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical or mental conditions: including the prescription or administration of any drug, medicine, biologic, apparatus, application, anesthetic, or other therapeutic or diagnostic substance or technique, and the use of any manual or mechanical procedure for testing for pregnancy, or for correcting sterility, or infertility, or to render advice or recommendation with regard to any of the above.”
The Act also contains the standard owner exemption but adds a further exception to the requirement of being a licensed veterinarian found at Section 332-B:2 (IX).
“This chapter shall not be construed to prohibit a person from doing veterinary or surgical work or giving advice to the person’s neighbors; provided that the person does not make a regular practice thereof or receive pecuniary consideration.”
Thus, New Hampshire permits a non-veterinarian to perform veterinary care so long as it is on a neighbor’s animals, is not a regular practice and involves no pecuniary benefit.
The above cases demonstrate the lack of uniformity on the treatment of non-veterinarian health care providers. There are many areas of health care which traditionally have been performed by non-veterinarians such as dentistry, farriery, physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage, light therapy, aromatherapy, etc.
Numerous groups have been formed to lobby state legislators to permit these areas of health care to be exempted from the Veterinary Practice Act and are actively lobbying at the present time. However, many veterinarians are concerned that non-veterinary health care providers have been essentially unregulated and may increase the liability exposure of veterinarians who treat animals after non-veterinarian care.
The other issue associated with this topic is enforcement. Many of the state boards do not have the funds or resources to police these activities. However, some states have taken a proactive role and obtained the services of the State Attorney General to provide cease and desist letters to non-vet health care practitioners.
This is a hotly debated topic and one in which we should keep alert for any future changes in the law.
Enough legal talk—it’s time to hitch horses!
Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the east.