Policies on physical restraint of animals, canine devocalization approved

The AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) adopted a handful of revised animal welfare policies, including one on "Canine Devocalization" that supersedes the previous policy, approved a new policy on "Canine Hybrids," and referred two other policies back to the AVMA Board of Directors (BOD).

The HOD held its regular annual session July 13-14 in Denver, in conjunction with AVMA Convention 2023.

The policy on canine devocalization now states that the AVMA "strongly discourages" the procedure. According to background materials, the revisions redirect the policy's emphasis from the rare and marginal conditions under which devocalization may be ethically justified, to the need for AVMA to discourage convenience devocalization as a nontherapeutic procedure that not only has no benefits to dogs but also negatively impacts their welfare.

Dr. Matthew Boyle, delegate for Minnesota, speaks before the AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) about the revised policy on physical restraint of animals.
Dr. Matthew Boyle, delegate for Minnesota, speaks before the AVMA House of Delegates about the revised policy on physical restraint of animals. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Delegates also approved revised policies on "Docking of Lambs' Tails," "Tail Docking of Cattle," and "Physical Restraint of Animals." Regarding the tail docking of lambs', language was revised to strengthen AVMA's opposition to excessively short tail docking and to clarify that appropriate pain control should be used whenever lambs' tails are docked.

Revisions to the policy on tail docking of cattle clarify that the procedure may cause chronic pain and that appropriate pain control should be used. Dr. Hunter Lang, delegate for the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), said his association strongly supports the policy as it goes well with the AABP's position on this topic.

The policy on physical restraint has been revised to include statements about consulting with a veterinarian to determine acceptable restraint methods, keeping physically restrained animals under observation, evaluating outcomes of physical restraint methods to assess acceptability and recommend modifications as necessary, and considering alternatives to physical restraint when appropriate.

Dr. Colleen Currigan, delegate for the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), said the updates were much needed and thanked the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) for its work, which resulted in an excellent final product.

The new policy the HOD approved, "Canine Hybrids," supersedes existing policies on "Canine Hybrids" and "Vaccination of Wolf Hybrids." One of the changes in the policy was to emphasize that providing care for a canine hybrid may be considered an illegal act and that in jurisdictions that do permit canine hybrids, veterinarians may be required to verify legal ownership, according to background materials.

Finally, the newly proposed policies "Sheep and Goat Castration" and "Sheep and Goat Disbudding and Dehorning" were both referred back to the Board with a request for further consideration by the AWC.

With respect to the policy on castration, Dr. Andrea Mongini, delegate for the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners (AASRP), said that her association would like to see included an ideal age range based on research, rather than the general statement that these animals should be castrated as early as practicable. In addition, the AASRP would like to have the animal welfare implications of the procedure more clearly delineated.

Regarding the disbudding and dehorning policy, Dr. Mongini said dehorning at 21 days can be traumatic as kids' skulls are thin and doing so could result in brain damage.

"We feel that although this is something happening with producers, we should not be supporting this at a later age," she said.

The HOD approved a new policy, "Safeguarding Care for Animals with Veterinarian-Led Teams," directing the Association to "vigorously defend" against expanding the scope of practice for nonveterinarians, including opposing efforts that would allow them to diagnose, prescribe, and recommend treatment, including performing surgery.

And finally, the HOD voted in favor of a new policy, "Recruiting and Retaining Public Practice Veterinarians," which asks that the AVMA prioritize efforts to address chronic shortages in the federal veterinary workforce.

A version of this story appears in the September 2023 print issue of JAVMA