The RCVS has updated its Code of Professional Conduct to require that before euthanasing an otherwise healthy dog, veterinary surgeons must first scan the animal for the presence of a 'rescue backup'.

The updated guidance follows a public campaign known as ‘Tuk’s Law’, which was started after a healthy dog by that name was euthanased despite its microchip being dually registered with a rehoming centre as a 'rescue backup'.

In response, the RCVS and the BVA agreed that more should be done to prevent occasions where a dog might be needlessly put to sleep, but voiced concerns that a legislative approach could undermine a vet’s clinical judgement, unfairly involve veterinary surgeons in ownership disputes or potential criminality, and leave vets unfairly exposed to financial sanctions.

In consultation with Defra, the RCVS and BVA therefore jointly agreed to strengthen the Code of Professional Conduct as follows:

Chapter 8 (para 8.9)

There may be circumstances where a request is made by a client for the destruction of a dog, where in the clinical/professional judgement of the veterinary surgeon destruction of the dog is not necessary, for instance where there are no health or welfare reasons for the dog to be euthanised.

In these circumstances, before carrying out the request for euthanasia the veterinary surgeon should scan the dog for a microchip and check the relevant database if a microchip is found. 

Chapter (paras 29.25 -29.27)

Clients may have a contract with the shelter from which they acquired the dog such that it can be returned to that shelter, and that it may be appropriate to discuss this with them prior to euthanasia. Alternatively, there may be another individual willing to take responsibility for the dog (who may be named on the microchip database), and this may also be discussed with the client.

The updated guidance supports existing best practice in terms of discussing alternatives to euthanasia with clients, and give vets flexibility where, in their professional judgment, scanning is not appropriate; this might be if scanning would itself cause a welfare problem, or where a vulnerable client might be involved.

The RCVS Standards Committee says it recognised the difficulties experienced by veterinary surgeons in dealing with the current microchip database system, but felt that introducing these provisions into the guidance was a more proportionate response than the alternative of legislation with substantial fines. 

BVA Senior Vice President Dr Daniella Dos Santos MRCVS said: “One of the most important jobs as a vet is having those difficult conversations with clients about euthanasia where we talk through all the options that are in the animal’s best interests. But where the vet doesn’t consider that euthanasia is necessary, the new guidance clearly sets out the steps we need to take. We support this constructive approach that addresses the campaigners’ concerns without undermining veterinary judgement.”

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