Board offers guidance on obligations concerning microchipped animals

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Concerns about veterinarians' ethical and legal obligations regarding microchipped animals have led to a revised AVMA Policy on The Objectives and Key Elements Needed for Effective Electronic Identification of Companion Animals, Birds, and Equids.

The Executive Board approved the updated policy, recommended by the Council on Veterinary Service and the State Advocacy Committee, with the aim of providing guidance in an area where statutes and regulations have little to say.

"This revised policy on electronic identification is a big step in providing answers to questions that veterinarians have had regarding responsibilities relating to using microchips to identify animals," explained Dr. Rosemary LoGiudice, director of the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division. "This policy should open the way for veterinarians to routinely recommend to their clients that their animals be microchipped and for veterinarians to implement scanning of all animals as a means of positive animal identification."

In recent months, AVMA staff and state VMAs increasingly heard from veterinarians asking about their duties and rights as to microchipping animals. For instance, are veterinarians liable if they or their staff fail to scan an animal for a microchip and establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship with a client who has found or stolen a microchipped pet owned by another person?

Wording of the revised policy was carefully chosen with input from legal counsel to provide strong guidance without being prescriptive, according to the two AVMA entities. The words "should" was used rather than "shall" or "must" to allow for situations when a veterinarian or staff may not be able to follow the guidance in the policy.

For example, a newly added portion of the policy reads: "A veterinarian is expected to exercise his or her professional judgment on ownership before establishing a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR). In those circumstances that raise suspicion that the presenting person may not actually be the lawful owner of the animal, a veterinarian should ask for documentation of ownership, such as governmental registration, bill of sale, adoption documents, or microchip documentation."

The entire policy is available here.