Module 3: The Case of the Embedded Collar

What is the Shelter Veterinarian’s Role in Response to Animal Abuse?

Should the Veterinarian Report Animal Abuse?

Human healthcare professionals and teachers are required by law in all 50 states to report suspect child abuse, elder abuse, and domestic violence abuse. Veterinarians are the advocate for animals in society and must speak out about the abuse of these silent victims. Are veterinarians required by law to report suspect animal abuse?

At time of this e-publication, only 18 states require veterinarians to report suspect animal abuse to law enforcement. Reporting is voluntary in 19 states. Twelve states do not have any laws for veterinarian reporting of suspect animal abuse. Kentucky is the only state that prohibits veterinarians from reporting suspect animal abuse unless there is an appropriate court order or subpoena for access to medical records. At this time, 28 states provide immunity from civil liability for veterinarians that report suspect animal abuse in good faith. Here is a map showing veterinary reporting laws by state .


US map with states color-coded based on whether veterinary reporting of animal abuse is mandatory, voluntary, or prohibited. Florida is voluntary reporting.

the key for the US map with states color-coded based on whether veterinary reporting of animal abuse is mandatory, voluntary, or prohibited. Florida is voluntary reporting.


The AVMA Animal Abuse Response website contains state laws for reporting suspect animal abuse. Visit this site to learn more information about veterinarian reporting of animal abuse by state.


Test Your Knowledge


There are several professional sources of support for veterinarian reporting of suspect animal abuse, whether it is required by law or not. Here are policies and position statements from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA):


Policies and Position Statements

Veterinarian’s Oath

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

Source:  AVMA Veterinarian’s Oath

AVMA Policy for Animal Abuse and Animal Neglect 

The AVMA recognizes that veterinarians may observe cases of animal abuse or neglect as defined by federal or state laws, or local ordinances. The AVMA considers it the responsibility of the veterinarian to report such cases to appropriate authorities, whether or not reporting is mandated by law. Prompt disclosure of abuse is necessary to protect the health and welfare of animals and people. Veterinarians should be aware that accurate, timely record keeping and documentation of these cases are essential. The AVMA considers it the responsibility of the veterinarian to educate clients regarding humane care and treatment of animals.

Source:  AVMA Policy for Animal Abuse

American Animal Hospital Association Position Statement on Animal Abuse Reporting

The American Animal Hospital Association supports the reporting of suspicions of animal abuse to the appropriate authorities. The Association encourages the adoption of laws mandating veterinary professionals to report suspicions of animal abuse and providing immunity from legal liability when filing such reports in good faith. Veterinary professionals should be familiar with animal cruelty laws and their veterinary practice act, including any mandatory reporting requirements.

Studies have shown there is a link between animal abuse and other forms of violence, including child, spousal, and elder abuse.  Reporting suspicions of animal abuse is important as it will trigger an investigation that may ultimately protect both animals and humans. It upholds the veterinary oath to prevent animal suffering and promote public health.

Veterinarians should seek education about animal cruelty and the profession should provide training on the recognition, documentation, and reporting of animal abuse and the development of forensic models. Collaboration with animal and human welfare groups, law enforcement and other professionals within communities is crucial to improve response and reduce the incidence of animal abuse.

Source:  AAHA Position Statement on Animal Abuse


What is the Veterinarian’s Role in Investigations of Abuse?

Animal abuse is a LEGAL, not medical, determination. Just because a veterinarian feels that an act qualifies as abuse does not mean that the law recognizes it as such.

​Fortunately, as a veterinarian you don’t have to know how to prosecute animal cruelty. And as a veterinarian, you aren’t expected to know whether some action qualifies as an act of cruelty or neglect. Such knowledge and decisions belong with investigators, attorneys, and judges.

It is not the role of a veterinarian to “make the case” for abuse. Veterinarians need only do what they are well-trained to do: document their examinations thoroughly, gather a minimum database, pursue necessary diagnostics, offer objective interpretations of medical findings, provide evidence-based therapies, and explain matters to their clients using understandable language.

The most common role for the veterinarian is performing a clinical forensic examination on live victims of potential abuse. For these exams, the veterinarian must address the following questions:

  • Is the animal injured or its health compromised due to abuse or to another reason?
  • Does the animal require veterinary care?
  • Is the animal experiencing pain and suffering?
  • Has there been a permanent deleterious effect on the animal’s health?


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