Delegates update AVMA policies on diets for cats and dogs, animal loss support services

HOD approves slate of policy changes, including those on dog and cat population management and noncommercial pet transport safety

Updated January 09, 2024

The AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) amended several AVMA policies addressing a range of veterinary-related issues, from raw diets for dogs and cats, to dog and cat population management, to animal loss support services, and safe, noncommercial transport of pets in motor vehicles.

Dr. Libby Todd speaks from the podium
Dr. Libby Todd, chair of the AVMA House Advisory Committee, presides over the AVMA House of Delegates regular winter session, held January 5-6 in Chicago in conjunction with the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference. (Photo by Lucy Kennedy)

All but one of six resolutions were passed during the HOD’s regular winter session, held January 5-6 in Chicago in conjunction with the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference (VLC). Delegates referred a new AVMA policy on “Mitigating Hazards in the Veterinary Workplace” back to the originating entity, the AVMA Council on Veterinary Service, for additional development, explaining their concern that the draft policy overreaches federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines and increases exposure and risk of litigation.

The HOD approved minor word changes to most of the remaining resolutions before adopting them as AVMA policy. They are as follows:

  • A revised policy on “Safe Non-Commercial Transport of Pets in Motor Vehicles” recognizing the scarcity of scientific data available to determine the safety of individual animal transport products. Recommended by the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee (AWC), the policy continues to emphasize the animal health, welfare, and safety risks of transporting pets without appropriate restraint, whether that is in the interior or cargo area of vehicles.
  • A revised policy on “Dog and Cat Population Management,” which stresses that the management of dog and cat populations is an ongoing process. This includes interventions for owned dogs and cats, which contribute to free-roaming and stray populations. Proposed by the AWC, the committee explained that such a holistic approach aligns with the most recent updates to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) Terrestrial Code Chapter 7.7 on Dog Population Management. The policy has expanded content describing effective dog and cat population management interventions, such as connecting owners to resources within their communities and encouraging new owners to establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) for their pet.
  • A revised policy on “Safety Testing,” submitted by the AWC, emphasizes the “3Rs” of animal research—replace animals with non-animal methods when scientifically appropriate, reduce the number of animals used, and refine testing methods to reduce or avoid pain and distress. The policy also supports continued efforts to develop, validate, and approve alternative testing methods. The updates further specify what is needed in studies where animals are used, and more clearly states who is involved in the ethical review of such animal use.
  • A revised policy on “Raw Diets for Cats and Dogs,” recommended by the AVMA Food Safety Advisory Committee, emphasizes that in addition to cooking and pasteurization, alternative methods that reduce or eliminate the risk of illness due to pathogenic contaminants may be considered. The policy also advises that apparently healthy dogs and cats can develop subclinical infections from pathogenic organisms contained within raw or undercooked animal-sourced protein and pose a risk to other animals and people, especially young, elderly, pregnant, and immunocompromised individuals.
  • A revised policy on “Animal Loss Support Services” that supersedes the policy on “Guidelines for Pet Loss Support Services” with updates recommended by the AVMA Steering Committee on Human-Animal Interactions (SCHAI). The committee explained in the resolution’s background information that the content of the former policy on best practices for pet loss helplines was no longer relevant because these programs are now regularly offered by national organizations, and the internet has proved to be an appropriate platform for some of these services. It was also recognized that human stress can be associated with end-of-life transitions and death for multiple types of animals, so the new version of the policy covers research, zoo, agricultural, and wild animals in addition to companion animals.

In other actions, the HOD elected Drs. Kristin Haas, Hinesburg, Vermont, to the AVMA Council on Public Health (COPH) representing animal health; Brigid Elchos, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to the COPH, representing human medicine; Lloyd Reitz, Paxinos, Pennsylvania, to the AVMA Council on Research, representing private clinical practice; and Jessica Koppien-Fox, Marshall, Minnesota, to the AVMA Council on Veterinary Services, representing private mixed practice.

A version of this story appears in the March 2024 print issue of JAVMA