Veterinary Ethics Research Paper

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Veterinary ethics is the application of ethical theories, principles, and rules by professionals and paraprofessionals in resolving ethical dilemmas in the practice of veterinary care. In order to resolve ethical dilemmas, a minimum understanding of and exposure to moral theories is essential. Aesculapian authority and professionalism confer on veterinarians the right to treat animals and the expectation from the public that veterinarians will act in the interest of the animal, client, and the public. Branches of veterinary ethics are described with a greater focus on normative ethics, or theories are discussed. The fundamental problem of veterinary professional ethics relating to the vet-patient-client triad and the complications arising from the dualist nature of veterinary medicine pitting professionalism against commercial interests are explored. Having laid the theoretical basis, the rest of the entry examines various issues with ethical dimensions. Included are euthanasia, genetic manipulations, disease control by mass slaughters, complementary and alternative veterinary medicine/ethnoveterinary medicine, wildlife capture, veterinary public health, and One Health ethical issues. The enforcement of fair competition practices is forcing a reexamination of relationships between veterinarians leading to changes in professional ethics. Animal ethics, research ethics, and animal welfare are dealt with in separate entries in the encyclopedia.


Veterinary ethics is a field of ethics concerned with the practical application of ethical theories, principles, and moral standards to the conduct of individuals involved in veterinary service delivery systems that are meant to benefit animals, owners, and the public. Stephens (2012) considers veterinary ethics to be composed of veterinary professional ethics and animal ethics, but Tannenbaum (1995) who defines animal ethics as the moral obligations that people have for animals restricts veterinary ethics to the provision of veterinary care. Given that there are other separate entries on animal ethics and animal welfare which have ethical dimensions, this entry will largely follow Tannenbaum and focus on veterinary professional ethics.

The entry will start by providing a background to veterinary ethics under the History and Development section, and then key concepts and definitions will be provided. The relationship between veterinary ethics and related fields will be explored, and the philosophical theories, principles, codes, standards, and rules will be discussed including the different branches of veterinary ethics. The next major section will cover the key ethical dimensions of veterinary professional ethics under the following subheadings: tripartite relationships (uniqueness of veterinary profession), euthanasia, complementary and alternative veterinary medicine/ethnoveterinary, public health issues, public infectious disease management strategies, animal breeding and genetic selection, working in wildlife ecosystems, veterinary ethics in business setting, and possible ethical challenges in the future (One health initiative).

History And Development

Veterinarians have largely been concerned with issues of professional conduct demanding that leaving animal treatment in the hands of vets was ethical, and in the UK in 1948, they were granted sole authority to treat animals. It is only in the late 1970s and 1980 that vets responded to emerging ethical issues in the context of animal use and their welfare (animal ethics) (Rollin 2006).

In the development of veterinary ethics, the field has drawn heavily from medical ethics, research ethics, animal ethics, and animal welfare. Key influences in the development of veterinary ethics have included the changing nature of practice, technologies, livestock production systems, and the relationships between veterinarians, animals, society, and the state.

Aesculapian authority and professionalism are two concepts at the core of relationship between veterinarians and the development of veterinary ethics. Veterinarians like their medical counterparts are believed by society to have a moral duty to take care of animals because they have “Aesculapian authority” which refers to the trust placed upon the healing professions. This trust is based on the following three key attributes of the professions. The first attribute is “sapiential authority” that is the authority based on the perceived wisdom and superior knowledge in veterinary medical knowledge possessed by veterinarians compared to their clients. The second one is “moral authority” which derives from the principle that veterinarians are expected to act on behalf of the needs and best interests of their patients and clients and are expected to provide both advice and guidance. The last attribute is that of “charismatic authority”: historically, this authority is based on the belief that healers had divine or magical powers to heal. The client therefore tends to have faith in the veterinarian and believes that the veterinarian can help and solve the health problem in question. Aesculapian authority is socially conferred on the healing professions with the expectation that these professions will perform to the expectations of the public including meeting their moral obligations partly through self-regulation.

Aesculapian authority and professionalism give veterinarians a near monopoly in the provision of veterinary services, but these can be abused by veterinarians (Rollin 2006).

Governments in response have set up statutory bodies to regulate the profession (quality control) through acts of parliaments. They are responsible for the development, updating, and enforcement of administrative ethics framed in terms of “codes of professional conduct.”

The importance of veterinary professional ethics is reflected in the oaths taken by veterinarians as they enter the profession or as they are registered to practice. In most countries, the Veterinary Oath makes reference directly to ethics, principles of veterinary ethics, professional ethics, the professional and ethical standards of veterinary medicine, code of professional ethics, code of conduct, or practice of veterinary science ethically. For example, in the USA, veterinarians swear to practice according to the principles of veterinary medical ethics (AVMA), whereas technicians swear to adhere to the profession’s code of ethics (veterinary technicians). In the UK and Ireland, the oaths do not mention ethics, but veterinarians are obliged to abide to the codes of professional conduct set by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the Veterinary Council of Ireland, respectively. To the same extent, veterinarians also swear to uphold animal welfare and well-being and/or reduce animal suffering.

The recognition that animals are sentient beings in that they feel pain, they recognize their surroundings, and they express happiness and the fact that animals can bond with people have led people to advocate for ethical treatment of animals, and this has in turn had effect on developments in veterinary ethics (veterinarians are expected to relieve animal sufferings, do no harm to animals directly and indirectly, etc.).

Conceptual Clarification/Definition: Key Concepts

Veterinary ethics is a subfield of bioethics. Bioethics is the study of ethics and philosophical implications of certain biomedical technologies (procedures and treatments). Animal ethics is centered on uses of animals by veterinarians and others. Another perspective of ethics is inherent in the concept of animal well-being operationalized as animal welfare. It is widely recognized that assessments of animal welfare involve a number of assumptions that are ethical in nature (Tannenbaum 1995; Sandoe and Christiansen 2008). Veterinarians are also stakeholders in research involving animals and their owners which has its own ethical dilemmas giving rise to research ethics.

Branches Of Veterinary Ethics

For practical purposes, veterinary ethics have been divided into four branches (Tannenbaum 1995) which are (I) descriptive veterinary ethics, (II) official veterinary ethics, (III) administrative veterinary ethics, and (IV) normative veterinary ethics which are briefly described as follows.

Descriptive Veterinary Ethics

Descriptive ethics deals with factual descriptions of moral behavior and belief systems. It includes describing ethical reasoning and perspectives of stakeholders on ethical issues, for example, those aspects of professional behavior and attitudes which members of the profession in a certain jurisdiction actually consider to be right or wrong. It is therefore empirical that natural and social science methods are used in studying the role and perception of ethics and ethical behavior in societies.

Official Veterinary Ethics

Official ethics are the official ethical standards which are formally adopted by organizations composed of professionals, such as the Veterinary Association of Tanzania, and which are then imposed upon their members. The harshest penalty for a violator is expulsion from the organization. Among the important functions of official veterinary ethics are the promotion and protection of the profession’s image in light of the obligation to self-regulate and self-accountability.

Administrative Veterinary Ethics

Administrative ethics are ethics administered by the government bodies which regulate veterinary practice and the various activities in which veterinarians and animal health paraprofessionals engage. The violation of administrative standards (e.g., codes of conduct) may result in prosecution (with civil or criminal penalties), suspension from practice, or deregistration. These are therefore backed by law. The main purpose of administrative ethics is to protect the public.

Normative Veterinary Ethics

Normative ethics describe the search for “correct” norms of professional veterinary behavior and attitudes. This is the most fundamental branch as it gives the philosophical underpinning of ethics to which one may appeal in solving ethical dilemmas and to which both official and administrative branches draw their principles to develop standards, codes, and rules. Normative ethics raises questions of interest for descriptive ethics. Normative ethics is about values, whereas descriptive ethics is about facts (Sugarman and Sulmasy 2010).

Role Of Theory

Professionals should have some capabilities in ethical reasoning so that they can distinguish which practices are ethical and which are not or be able to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad in complex situations (Bowden and Smythe 2008). When there is more than one mutually exclusive courses of action with ethical dimensions, an ethical dilemma occurs. Professionals would need some basic knowledge of moral philosophy to guide them out of such situations.

The relationship between ethical rules, codes, standards, principles, and theories is hierarchical based on the degree of specificity and purpose. Ethical rules are specific statements about ethical behavior; they prescribe action to be taken. Ethical principles are broader than rules serving as the foundation for rules. They stand as models of behavior and good practice and are found in ethical theories. Ethical theories provide a justification for how ethical decisions are made and assist in resolving conflicts among principles or rules. Codes which are similar to standards are compilations of ethical rules and are therefore often prescriptive (Newman and Brown 1996).

Normative Ethics

Normative ethics provides the concepts and principles used to solve applied ethics dilemmas. Normative ethics involves arriving at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. The Golden Rule which reads “People should do to others what they would want others to do to them” is a classic example of a normative principle. One can theoretically determine whether any possible action is right or wrong. It is a single principle against which all actions are judged. Other normative theories focus on a set of foundational principles or a set of good character traits. Out of the about 15 theories in existence (Singer 1993), three major ethical theories – virtue, deontological, and teleological theories – dominate the field (Bowden and Smythe 2008).

Virtue Ethic Theories

Virtue ethics theories emphasize the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy. What one ought to be rather than what one is not ought to be is fundamental to these theories. Virtue ethics does not primarily aim at identifying universal principles that can be applied in any moral situation. It typically extols people to “Act as a virtuous person would act in your situation.” A virtuous person is one who is kind (across time and space) but without an ulterior motive such as aiming at gaining something. When faced with ethical dilemmas, an appeal to the advice of those believed to be exhibiting the virtues may be made. In veterinary ethics, virtue theories guide veterinarians to ask themselves what their professional role models (from the ethical point of view) would do in a given situation or to contact them for guidance.

There are two kinds of virtues: moral views which relate to a person’s character and intellectual virtues that relate to a person’s intellect. Intellectual virtues based on rationality are used for reasoning by the virtuous person to decide how to be, whereas moral virtues guide the choice of the right action (Arries 2005; Gardiner 2003).

Its downside as a theory is that it provides a self-centered conception of ethics and does not sufficiently consider the extent to which one’s actions affect other people. Secondly, it has no clear principles for guiding action, and the ability to cultivate the right virtues depends on factors beyond a person’s control.

Deontological Theories

Many people feel that human beings have clear obligations, such as to not commit murder. Duty theories base morality on specific, foundational principles of obligation. These are deontological theories (deon is the Greek word for duty), in view of the foundational nature of our duty or obligation. There are four central duty theories.

Firstly, people have duties toward others; these can be divided between absolute duties, which are universally binding on people, and conditional duties, which are the result of contracts between people. Absolute duties are of three sorts: avoid wronging others, treat people as equals, and promote the good of others. Conditional duties involve various types of agreements, the principal one of which is the duty to keep one’s promises.

A second duty-based approach to ethics is rights theory. Most generally, a “right” is a justified claim against another person’s behavior, but rights and duties are related in such a way that the rights of one person implies the duties of another person. Three foundational rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from which more specific rights including the rights of property, movement, speech, and religious expression are deduced. These rights are natural, universal, and equal and are inalienable.

A third duty-based theory emphasizes a single principle of duty obliging us to “Treat people as an end and never as a means to an end.” That is, people should always be treated with dignity and never be used as mere instruments.

A fourth and more recent duty-based theory emphasizes prima facie duties which are believed to reflect our actual moral convictions; these duties are fidelity, the duty to keep promises; reparation, the duty to compensate others having harmed them; gratitude, the duty to thank those who help us; justice, the duty to recognize merit; beneficence, the duty to improve the conditions of others; self-improvement, the duty to improve our virtue and intelligence; and non-maleficence, the duty to not injure others. In veterinary ethics, these theories and principles give rise to the do’s and don’t do’s found in professional and administrative ethics to which veterinarians are expected to conform.

These theories require veterinarians to take into account the consequences of their intended action before they take a decision on what to do in moral dilemmas.

Teleological Theories

It is common for people to determine their moral responsibility by weighing the consequences of their actions. Correct moral conduct is determined solely by a cost-benefit analysis of an action’s consequences. An action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable. The theories are called teleological theories, from the Greek word telos, or end, since the end result of the action is the sole determining factor of its morality. They are also known as consequentialist theories.

The most attractive feature of consequentialism is that it appeals to publicly observable consequences of actions. Most versions of teleological theories are more precisely formulated than the general principle above. In particular, competing consequentialist theories specify which consequences for affected groups of people are relevant. Three end criteria are in use:

Firstly, in ethical egoism, an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable only to the agent performing the action. Secondly, in ethical altruism, an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone except the agent, and lastly, in utilitarianism, an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable to everyone.

In applying teleological theories, one may place some constraints against the agent in maximizing overall goodness by invoking deontological principles such as it is a duty for all people to make sure that they do not treat others in a way that merely makes them a means to the end of maximizing overall goodness, whatever that may be. One may thus not save five people by killing another who serves as an organ donor for the five, or one should obtain informed consent from a research participant even though the researcher believes that the research will be beneficial to the participant (participant being used as a means).

Applied Ethics

Applied ethics is the branch of ethics which consists of the analysis of specific, controversial moral issues such as animal rights or euthanasia. Usually, two features are necessary for an issue to be considered an “applied ethical issue.” Firstly, the issue needs to be controversial in the sense that there are significant groups of people both for and against the issue at hand. Secondly, it must be a distinctly moral issue.

What makes resolving a particular applied ethical issue difficult is the multitude of rival normative principles from which to choose, many of which yield opposite conclusions. As such, there is no single decisive procedure for determining the morality of a specific issue. Several normative principles have to be examined to provide the required guidance.

The following four principles are the ones most commonly appealed to in applied medical ethical discussions: (i) beneficence, which is the duty to do good and in teleological theories may be crafted as maximize net benefits; (ii) non-maleficence, meaning do not harm others; (iii) autonomy, which acknowledges a person’s freedom over his/her actions or physical body; and (iv) justice, which acknowledges a person’s right to due process, fair compensation for harm done, treat people equally and without prejudice, and equitable distribution of benefits and burdens (Beauchamp and Childress 2001).

In veterinary ethics, the principles may read as beneficence, non-maleficence, justice (to other veterinarians, owners, the public, and animals), and respect for the autonomy of owners. These normative principles are derived from both teleological and deontological-based approaches.

The Fundamental Problem Of Veterinary Ethics

The veterinarian attends to his/her patient who in most cases has an owner; so to whom should the veterinarians’ primary responsibility be – should it be to the animal or to the owner? This is the fundamental problem of veterinary ethics. It is possible that the client’s position on this matter may differ from that of the veterinarian in which case an ethical dilemma will arise. Veterinary medicine is dualistic in nature; on the one hand, it is a medical field, and as such the primary duty of the veterinarian is to his/her patient as is the case in medical ethics, but on the other hand, veterinary medicine is also an agricultural subject bringing forth economic considerations centered on the client and returns to the practice.

In economics, one may hold property rights over animals implying that they may own animals as private goods, make use of the animal for economic gains, and may dispose the animal in a manner deemed fit within the law. The client will therefore be the owner holding these property rights. The view of animals as a property is a source of some of the ethical dilemmas faced by veterinarians and has an effect on the vet-animal-client (owner) relationship. The owner may demand that the veterinarian position should be secondary to his since he owns the animal and ask the veterinarian to comply with his decision.

There is also the concept of bonding between animals and their owners, and this may be fairly strong with respect to pet animals and special high-valued animals. A strong bond may create a psychological barrier between the veterinarian and the client especially in issues connected with euthanasia.

Rollin (2006) uses two models to examine the perception of the society on veterinary practice; the two metaphors are the veterinarian as a “pediatrician” or as a “garage mechanic.” The pediatrician model is centered on the child patient’s interest, whereas in the mechanic model, the relationships are centered on the owners’ willingness and ability to pay. It is his view that the pendulum is more on the mechanic model when one is dealing with animal health care.

This (the “garage mechanic model”) perspective of service delivery is especially important when delivery of veterinary services is considered as a commercial activity. The relationship between the veterinarian and the client can then be cast in the language of principal-agent theory in which the problems of moral hazards and adverse selection are abound.

The fundamental problem is made even more complex when veterinary public health issues such as antibiotic residues are considered in which case the veterinarian, animal, owner, and the public become the relevant relationship. In this case, should primary concern be that of the animal or the public?

Ethical Dimensions

In this section, the long held principles of ethics in veterinary profession as well as dilemmas facing veterinarians in the daily performance of their duties are examined. More often than not, veterinarians are viewed or would prefer to be viewed as a role model in matters of animal welfare, moral standard, and perfect representation of humanity at large. This is exemplified by the presence of a series of rules and procedures that are ingrained in their education system, professional organizations, legislature, and enforceable non-written practices that should strictly be observed in one’s professional life. However, the existence of these procedures notwithstanding, the reality on the ground indicates a number of challenges that make attaining the model more difficult. Most of the challenges arise in the decision-making process where a number of dilemmas exist, and when a decision has been made, the consequences of the actions thereafter have ethical, legal, financial (economic), and social implications.

Perhaps, the core to these dilemmas arises because veterinarians fail to distinguish between ethical and welfare issues. Furthermore, the multitude of players with differing mandates leaves many veterinarians slightly confused on course of action and yet maintaining professional objectives and manages a business profitably.

Tripartite Relationships (Uniqueness Of Veterinary Profession)

The veterinary profession is unique in the sense that veterinarians have, in their primary function, the duty to the animal to protect the life, provide care, and maintain welfare. This is the main preoccupation of all veterinary schools and strives to impart expertise to attain the highest standard possible for graduates. Very little emphasis is placed on other aspects of the profession such as the interaction with clients (animal owners) and professional colleagues. Often, these aspects are imparted onto graduates through “attachments” of veterinary students to practices for varied durations and few hours of taught courses on veterinary regulations and welfare. Regulatory bodies (state controlled, semiautonomous, or autonomous) are responsible for enforcing ethics usually by implementing statutes empowering these organs to do so. For this reasons, professional decisions that are made by veterinarians, irrespective of whether they have ethical implications or not, differ from one individual to another.

On the other hand, the animal that a veterinarian aims to provide care and protect its life is owned by someone else who has the power to decide on its behalf. The triangle of veterinarian-owner-animal modifies the ability of veterinarians to make autonomous decisions specifically for actions that require consent of the owner. Dilemma arises when the decision of a veterinarian that is meant to be “to the best interest of the animal” is not being evaluated as such by the owner.


According to the Oxford dictionary, euthanasia is defined as “The painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.” Although this procedure is prohibited to humans in most countries and still a subject of immense debate among medical professionals and nonprofessionals alike, the veterinary profession permits termination of life to an animal humanely for reasons specifically meant to remove suffering and protect their welfare. Veterinarians therefore are obliged to carry out a procedure that most psychologists agree has lasting effect on the performer. The sequelae to this include stress and possible depression and hence affecting the mental health of veterinarians. On the other hand, the interpretation of the reasons and means of termination has attracted scrutiny of various actors, specifically those in the animal welfare cycles.

Reasons For Termination

For some reasons, situations that require veterinarians to perform euthanasia are usually broader than what the definition prescribes, and this creates a dilemma when making a decision when to or not to perform the procedure. The situation is further complicated by the nature of the veterinary profession whereby owners may have differing opinion from that of a veterinarian. Two scenarios provide an example of a difficult ethical dilemma to a veterinarian:

(i) Cases of unwanted healthy animals whose owners prefer termination of life for personal reasons (e.g., owners moving away and are unwilling to give the animal(s) for adoption, or old age animals)

(ii) Cases of animals whose owners refuse to give permission for euthanasia for personal reasons although the veterinarian judges that it is to the best interest of the animal to perform euthanasia

Means Of Termination

Controversy exists as to which method satisfies “all” conditions of humane means of termination of life of an animal. Recommended methods for termination of life include the use of chemicals/ drugs, physical, or a combination of both depending on the species, age, and circumstances. Most chemicals that are recommended for euthanasia are classified as POM (prescription-only medicines) that are authorized to be used by veterinarians and/or other categories of professionals who are legally licensed to perform this procedure. Their availability in all circumstances is therefore not possible. Furthermore, their efficacy is questionable much as it is in humans.

Physical means such as decapitation, electrocution, and guns are subject for debate primarily because of the physical reaction of the body after application. The need to be particularly accurate in the application in order to achieve the desired effect is hard to substantiate in all conditions.

Complementary And Alternative Veterinary Medicine/Ethnoveterinary

Medicine Conventional veterinary medicine uses regulated agents that have been shown to be effective under conditions of use. Furthermore, not only the effectiveness and efficacy have been scientifically proven to work, but also the side effects, interactions, and mode of actions are known. The recent developments of complementary and alternative veterinary medicines have gained popularity specifically in small animal medicine (probably as a result of increase in use by human subjects). These products have not gone through the rigors of the conventional testing before approval. Furthermore, mode of action, side effects, and interactions are seldomly known.

There is a large body of knowledge of traditional remedies that are also being studied now, but communities (specifically in developing countries) continue using them alongside the experiments being carried out to elucidate their effectiveness, dosages, active ingredients, side effects, and mechanism of action. Is it ethical to prescribe, dispense, and apply these remedies for payments?

Public Health Issues

Veterinarians are tasked with the protection of the public from exposure to intrinsic hazards associated with products of animal origin. Typically, these will be of biological or chemical nature originating from the production process. Increasingly, more experienced farmers are treating their own animals with medications that should only be administered by veterinarians partly because of cost reduction and partly because drug manufacturers are aggressively pushing to market their products directly to farmers. Just as the case with doping in sports, reporting these actions and proving the risk to consumers may be harder to veterinarians.

Also, veterinarians are required to ensure that animals that are slaughtered for human consumption are humanly treated during the process. However, as with the case of euthanasia, there is a gray area as to what constitutes a humane method of stunning. Furthermore, certain religious slaughter requires standards that are set based on beliefs which are difficult to scientifically prove that the methods are humane.

Public Infectious Disease Management Strategies

A special case of mass euthanasia is applied in infectious disease eradication strategy where all animals in contact with infected animal or herd (healthy, infected, and sick) are slaughtered (killed) and disposed off hygienically. Diseases such as foot and mouth disease (FMD) (in FMD-free countries) and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have caused mass killing of animals and carcasses incinerated. Similar measures are indicated in all infectious disease emergency preparedness plans in case a particular disease would erupt and detected early enough. Is there a justification for this strategy where a disease has a known effective vaccine?

Policies to prevent rabies through killing of stray domestic and feral dogs and cats still exist in some developing countries today. Recent researches have shown this method to be ineffective in eliminating rabies, but still this option remains in place in some countries worldwide. Alternative methods of spaying and castrating these animals are advocated and have shown some successes in several countries worldwide, but some factors are limiting wider application of these techniques.

Animal Breeding And Genetic Selection

Technological developments in the areas of animal breeding have enabled humankind to improve productivity of food animals and hence contribute to improving food security to the ever-growing world population. The emphasis on more outputs for less input systems has led to animal breeding programs that harness physiological traits favoring higher production at the expense of animal welfare issues such as lameness, mastitis, and dystocia. Veterinarians dealing with farm animals face a dilemma whether to advice the farmers not to keep these animals in order to control certain illnesses. It is believed that as human population increases and incomes improve, more and more people will need animal protein, and thus, intensification in production will increase, and therefore, this dilemma will continue to exist in the near future.

A further development in breeding and genetic selection is more disturbing and probably more controversial than breeding for production. For years, certain species of animals have been bred and specifically selected for sports and esthetic reasons. Horse, dog, and cat breeds have been bred for a variety of reasons including racing, draft, hunting, fighting, guarding, size, and shape to suit a particular need of a consumptive society. Different health problems have therefore been propagated for generations in particular breeds, and veterinarians have to deal with these ailments. This is an ethical dilemma that has financial and social implications.

Working In Wildlife Ecosystems

The role of wildlife as reservoir of disease-causing agents in humans and domestic animals has increased involvement of veterinarians in activities such as game capture for various reasons including translocation, attaching tracking devices for research, or sample collection for disease surveillance in the wild. This entails tranquillisation of wild animals using aerial or land vehicles to track and darting to administer powerful chemicals for safer handling and manipulation. In doing this, sometimes unintended events occur such as animals being drowned having sought sanctuary in water bodies, predators catching prey, and injuries while fleeing after administration of drugs.

While these activities are important for improvement of quality of life for humans and animals in the long run, ethical dilemmas exist in the short run as to whether these actions are morally justified given the dangers posed to animals.

Veterinary Ethics In Business Setting

The world of veterinary practice is fairly dynamic, whereas in the past, veterinary practices were run mainly along professional lines. Competition from other “for profit” veterinary practices and increasing competition from “not for profit” practices (who may receive tax breaks and charitable contributions) and subordinates (especially in developing countries), monopolistic tendencies from those who enjoy economics of scale, and the aggregation of livestock toward more intensive operations and coupled with economic downturn are forcing more and more practices to follow the business model of practice. Furthermore, the free market competition bandwagon is challenging veterinary associations and statutory bodies to allow more competition between practices then was hitherto possible. As an example, the Danish Veterinary Association was made to allow more competition (clients being given a choice as to who their vets would be and the protection of practices by the creation of monopolistic zones of, or duration of exclusion) by the Danish Competition Council. The decision was later in December 2013 upheld by the Danish Competition Appeals Tribunal (Denmark 2014). Advertising and practice promotion once uncommon in practice are thus spreading especially where competition is high. These realities of practice are likely to increase friction and therefore ethical dilemmas between veterinarians as some may adopt methods to undercut the competition or behave opportunistically toward their clients (moral hazard). In the long run, fair competition is good for the clients as it lowers the going price and motivates practices to improve their cost structure (i.e., lower) and improve quality. A similar trend of events took place in the UK, where in 1976, the Monopoly Commission saw the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ “ethical” restrictions on advertising as being against public interest as it both curtailed competition between practices and was withholding information from clients. Despite the policy being favored by most veterinarians, the RCVS was forced to lift its restrictions in 1984. The word of professionals was being questioned by the public (Woods 2013).

Possible Ethical Challenges In The Future (One Health Initiative)

In recent times, one health approaches are being advocated, and various high-profile scientific conventions have been held worldwide to promote the idea of bringing together veterinarians and medical doctors. The dilemma would be to define ethical standards applicable to both humans and animals. Should the ethical standards applicable to humans be extended to animals?


Veterinary ethics is the application of ethical theories, principles, and rules by professionals and paraprofessionals in resolving ethical dilemmas in the practice of veterinary care. Veterinary ethics is a relatively new concept that has evolved rapidly in the last few decades. Various theories and principles have been defined, and they underpin knowledge and understanding from which actions of veterinarians can be measured and evaluated. As technology and novel innovations develop, the practice of giving veterinary care should also change, and boundaries between ethical and nonethical practice need to be redefined as well.

Apart from development in technology and innovations, the spectrum of influence for veterinarians also widens to include areas traditionally not considered the domain of the veterinary profession. Involvement of veterinarians in such areas as the wildlife, aquatic fauna, and one health approach ushers in new challenges in veterinary practice. These gray areas will demand adaptation of principles and theories and, consequently, the rules and norms.

Furthermore, the increase in global social dynamics driven by growing numbers of educated elite, increased economic status, and ease of communication causes social pressure to accommodate new ethical values to the veterinary profession. Obviously, research will be required to elucidate scientific evidence for effect of new values and the best cause of action, but individual decisions of veterinarians will have to be made subjectively depending on circumstances of an event. Hence, ethical dilemmas are likely to confront veterinarians in their quest to provide appropriate care to the animals.

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