Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions of the Veterinary Medical Board
on Animal Shelter Issues

The Veterinary Medical Board's stated mission is to provide protection to consumers and animals through proper licensing of veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians, and through vigorous, objective enforcement of the California Veterinary Medicine Practice Act.

Although the Board does not regulate shelters, per se, various changes in the landscape of animal shelters and shelter medicine have caused the Board to review the veterinary medicine requirements for shelters. Numerous questions have been generated regarding the Veterinary Medicine Practice Act and what types of procedures may and may not legally be performed in shelter facilities.

The Board hopes that the responses to the following Frequently Asked Questions are helpful.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are animal shelters practicing veterinary medicine?

If shelters are providing veterinary care, they are practicing veterinary medicine. The Veterinary Medicine Practice Act, Business and Professions Code, Section (hereafter B&P) 4826 defines the practice of veterinary medicine as diagnosing, prescribing, and treating of / for an animal for the prevention, cure, relief of a wound, fracture, bodily injury, or disease, and includes the performance of any surgical or dental operation, and these procedures therefore fall under the jurisdiction of the Veterinary Medical Board (hereafter Board).

Animal control shelters are regulated under the California Food and Agriculture Code and the California Civil and Penal codes and city, county and/or city/county animal control shelters and/or its agencies are mandated to provide "necessary and prompt veterinary medical care to animals housed in an animal control shelter" to care for adoptable animals and protect the public good.

The "necessary and prompt" veterinary medical care provided within city, county and/or city/county animal control shelters and/or its agencies to protect the public good without a California licensed veterinarian present is limited to basic care to prevent spread of disease and to protect the public and the animals, e.g., vaccinations, prophylactic treatment of parasites and basic testing within protocols developed in conjunction with a California licensed veterinarian. All other on-going and regular veterinary medical care must be provided by or under the supervision of a licensed California veterinarian.

2. Is an animal shelter the owner of a stray animal?

No. Senate Bill 1785 of 1998, also known as the Hayden bill, declares that animal control shelters are involuntary depositaries. It is the opinion of the Board that animal control shelters are not the bona fide owner of the animals and therefore, not exempt from the Practice Act. This opinion is derived from the amendments the Hayden bill made to certain sections of the Civil and Penal Codes. (Civil Code sections 1815, 1816, 1834, 1845, 1846, 1984, and Penal Code section 597.1).

3. Must medical records be maintained on animals treated in a shelter?

Yes. Shelters are required to keep records as specified under Department of Food and Agricultural Code, Section 32003. This section requires that medical record keeping requirements established by the Veterinary Medical Board and additional record keeping requirements listed in section 32003 must be met.

4. Can a RVT or an unregistered assistant (i.e. any unlicensed person) perform spay and / or neuter surgeries on pets that are to be adopted out?

No. Only California licensed veterinarians may perform surgeries.

5. Can a RVT or an unregistered assistant microchip animals at a shelter without a veterinarian?

Yes. The Board does not consider micro-chipping to be the practice of veterinary medicine. Therefore, it can be performed by either an RVT or unregistered assistant.

6. Can a RVT perform routine health care services (non-emergency) prior to the animal's examination by a licensed veterinarian? (e.g. the treatment of ear mites, giving vaccines, running FeLV or fecal tests)

B&P 4840 provides a specific exemption stating that a RVT may perform health care services on those animals impounded by a state, county, city, or city and county agency pursuant to the direct order, written order or telephonic order of a veterinarian licensed or authorized to practice in this state.

7. Can a RVT perform emergency procedures on an animal?

Yes. An RVT can perform emergency procedures on animals, but with limitations. As defined in B&P 4840.5, an emergency situation means that the animal has been placed in a life-threatening condition where immediate treatment is necessary to sustain life. CCR 2069 clearly specifies what limited treatments a RVT may perform after direct communication with a licensed veterinarian. If direct communication cannot be established the RVT may perform these limited treatments only in accordance with written instructions established by the facility's veterinarian.

8. Can euthanasia be performed at an animal shelter without a veterinarian present?

Yes. Euthanasia can be performed at an animal control shelter. Absent the presence of a veterinarian, euthanasia may only be performed using sodium pentobarbital. The parameters for performing euthanasia in a shelter are outlined in Business and Profession Code, Section 4827(d), and in the California Code of Regulations, Section 2039.

9. Are veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians required to report animal abuse?

Yes. Any veterinarian or RVT that has reasonable cause to believe that an animal has been the victim of abuse or cruelty or that the injuries or death of a dog was due to a staged fight is required by B&P 4830.5 and 4830.7 to promptly report it to enforcement authorities. A licensee does not incur civil liability (they are immune from law suits) as a result of the report. Failure to make such required reports may result in disciplinary action by the Board.

10. Can wildlife be treated at an animal shelter? ("Wildlife" are California's native wild creatures such as a raccoon. These are different than "wild animals" - see the next question.)

Yes. Certain species of wildlife can be treated, but only for necessary v veterinary care. Per Title 14 (Fish and Game) CCR 679 you must contact the California Department of Fish and Game within 48 hours of possession for additional information and guidance on disposition or placing the animal / bird in an approved wildlife rehabilitation facility per 14 CCR 679. Contact information is under "Fish & Game Dept" in the state pages of the phone book or at www.dfg.ca.gov.

11. Can animals restricted by the Fish and Game Code (e.g. ferrets) or wild animals (e.g. zebras, alligators or other non-native species ) be treated at an animal shelter?

Yes. Per B&P 4826.2 the possession of one of these animals is lawful but only for the period of time that veterinary treatment is necessary. However, they cannot be adopted out. Contact California Department of Fish and Game for disposition.

12. Is there additional information available on the Veterinary Medicine Practice Act?

Yes. The California Veterinary Medical Board's website is www.vmb.ca.gov and contains information on a wide variety of related topics including consumer issues, shelter issues, forms and publications, licensing, and links to websites for ordering the California Veterinary Medicine Practice Act, searching California laws and regulations, and more. If you can't find the answer to your question online you can call (916) 263-2610 or write to the VMB at 2005 Evergreen Street, Suite 2250, Sacramento, California, 95815.