Board revises AVMA policies on horse tripping, opioids, public health

The AVMA Board of Directors also adopts a new policy on goat and sheep disbudding and dehorning

The AVMA Board of Directors (BOD) updated and adopted several policies during its April 4-5 meeting at AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois. The policy topics ranged from horse tripping to goat and sheep disbudding and dehorning to the veterinarian’s role in the opioid epidemic.

Horse tripping condemned

The AVMA revised its policy “Horse tripping” to condemn—rather than oppose—the practice. Horse tripping involves roping the front or hind legs of a galloping horse while on foot or horseback—causing it to trip and fall for the purposes of entertainment or sport. Horse tripping often occurs at “charreadas,” or Mexican-style rodeos. The updated policy reads as follows:

“The AVMA condemns tripping, injuring, or causing the death of horses, mules and donkeys for any entertainment purpose or during the training of such equids for any entertainment purpose.”

The AVMA Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) wrote in its recommendation to the Board that attempts to circumvent animal cruelty regulations continue at county and local levels and venues not sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, particularly in the West.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has taken a similar stance on horse tripping, under its overarching policy on Equids Used for Entertainment, Show and for Exhibition. An inquiry was made to AAEP regarding revising this policy to change the word “opposes” to “condemns” and AAEP indicated support for the change.

Goat and sheep disbudding and dehorning

Additionally, the Board approved the new AVMA policy “Goat and Sheep Disbudding and Dehorning.” It reads as follows:

“Disbudding of goats reduces the risk of injury to the goat, other animals, and people. Goats are best disbudded between 5 and 7 days of age. By 14 days of age, the developing horn tissue will have attached to the skull and is more difficult to remove. Therefore, disbudding should occur prior to 14 days of age to avoid having to dehorn. Dehorning of goats over 14 days of age must be performed by a licensed veterinarian and should only be performed where the health and welfare of the animals or the safety of humans are impacted by the presence of horns.

Disbudding and dehorning of sheep are not routine procedures and must only be performed by a licensed veterinarian when medically necessary.

Baby Goat Kids On A Small Farm
The AVMA Board of Directors updated and adopted several policies during its April 4-5 meeting, including the new policy “Goat and Sheep Disbudding and Dehorning.” It says disbudding and dehorning of sheep are not routine procedures and must only be performed by a licensed veterinarian when medically necessary.

Disbudding and dehorning cause pain and distress, therefore the AVMA recommends the use of procedures and practices that reduce or eliminate these effects, including the use of approved or (Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act)–permissible clinically effective medications.

The AVMA encourages research leading to new or improved techniques and approved pharmaceuticals that reduce or eliminate pain and distress associated with disbudding and dehorning.”

The proposed new policy was previously discussed by the House of Delegates (HOD) during its summer 2023 meeting. It was referred back to the Board, which sent the proposed policy to the AWC with questions pertaining to the age at which goats should be disbudded and when horn attachment occurs, according to the recommendation background.

Additionally, per an HOD request, the AWC included language to make it clear that these are not routine procedures in sheep and must be performed by a veterinarian.

Opioids and public health CE

The BOD approved revisions to the AVMA policy “Veterinary Profession's Role in Addressing the Opioid Epidemic” recommended by the AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents (COBTA).

The updated policy includes the following statements:

“Veterinarians should be exempt from participation in prescription drug monitoring programs because routes of diversion of veterinary controlled substances are a minimal source regarding the misuse of opioids and because it is not in the purview of veterinarians to evaluate a client’s prescription history in regard to controlled substances.

“Mandates for veterinarians to participate in such programs are problematic, in part, because there is no effective veterinary prescription software with electronic medical record compatibility equivalent to that available in human healthcare (i.e. automatic PDMP reporting). Remediation of this problem would require funding, resulting in an increased financial burden on taxpayers and clients.”

As COBTA explained in the recommendation, the revisions are intended to directly advocate for veterinary exemptions from prescription drug monitoring programs and to provide a rationale for such exemption. Among the reasons listed, one is that veterinary channels have little to no impact on the misuse of opioids and a second is that veterinarians do not—and should not—evaluate the appropriateness of a client’s prescription history.

In a related action, the Board approved revisions to the AVMA policy “Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine Continuing Education” as recommended by the Council on Public Health.

The revisions remove language indicating veterinary medicine is the only profession at the intersection of human and animal health, because physicians working in public health have responsibilities that include attention to zoonotic disease. Another revision added sustainability to the list of topics for continuing education programs.

Training for first responders

The AVMA Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues recommended, and the Board approved, amending the committee’s charge to include support for academic training in veterinary disaster response and emergency issues as one of the committee’s objectives. An example is the AVMA Veterinary First Responder Certificate Program. Launched by the AVMA in 2022, it is the nation’s first standardized training program for veterinary disaster and emergency planning and response.

These and many other AVMA policies are available on the AVMA website.