Animal welfare: information for veterinarians

Page last updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2018 - 9:11am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

It is important for veterinarians to understand when examining and treating an animal in a veterinary practice, you or your staff have temporary custody of the animal. As such, you or your staff may, for the purposes of the Animal Welfare Act 2002 (the Act), be the person in charge or control of the animal. This means that veterinarians and their staff have the same responsibilities to animals under the Act as the rest of the community. This responsibility extends to animals brought into your practice where the owner is not known and you accept the care of the animal.

Animal Welfare Act 2002

The Act contains some specific provisions relating to veterinarians. The Act allows veterinarians:

  • to undertake tail docking of a dog in certain circumstances in the interests of an animal's welfare
  • a defence to a charge of cruelty (other than in relation to prescribed surgical practice or activity) for the person to prove that they were a veterinary surgeon, or were acting on the instructions of a veterinary surgeon and were providing the animals with veterinary care in accordance with generally accepted veterinary practices.

Tail docking

Tail docking means the removal of one or more of the coccygeal vertebrae, whether by cutting, ablation, elastration or any other means.

The tail docking of dogs is prohibited. It is an offence under regulation 14 of the Animal Welfare (General) Regulations to dock the tail of a dog unless the removal is performed by a veterinary surgeon and only if the tail docking is clinically indicated to cure or alleviate a disease or injury from which the dog suffers. The penalty for an offence under regulation 14 is $2000.

This means that if a veterinarian removes the tail of a dog for any reason other than to alleviate a disease or injury from which the dog suffers, for example for prophylactic or aesthetic reasons, the veterinarian may be prosecuted.

Natural disaster

In the event of a large scale natural disaster in WA, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) or other responding organisations may need voluntary support from veterinarians and veterinary nurses. The Australian Veterinary Association will coordinate gathering information about veterinary volunteers via its website if a disaster occurs and volunteers are needed.

Enquiries can be directed to the Australian Veterinary Association on +61 (0)8 9388 9600, 1300 137 309 or Further information can be found on the Australian Veterinary Association website.

Contact information

Animal Welfare General Enquiries

Further information on reporting animal cruelty is available.


Rick Bryant