Complementary therapies and the law

  • Where animals are concerned there is no such thing as an “alternative” therapy. There are no alternatives to a proper veterinary diagnosis.

    In the field of human medicine there ARE “alternative therapies”. You can do what you want to your body.

    However, if you own an animal that is sick and you choose to do nothing about it and the animal suffers unnecessarily or dies you will (or should) be prosecuted under the Protection of Animals Act.

    Any sick animal MUST be taken to the vet – there is no alternative.

    Once veterinary diagnosis has been given, your vet will recommend a course of treatment. This may include a complementary therapy – one which is given in conjunction with traditional veterinary care.

    Key points to consider

  • The only forms of complementary therapy that can be given to an animal by anyone other than a vet are the manipulative therapies – eg. Chiropractic, Osteopathy and Physiotherapy.

  • Before any of these complementary treatments are given to an animal its condition must be diagnosed by a vet.

  • The therapy may then only be given if the vet decides it appropriate.

  • It is illegal for any other lay practitioner to treat animals. This includes Aromatherapy, Acupuncture and Homeopathy. These therapies can be given by a vet only if that vet has been trained in their use.

  • Properly trained and qualified animal manipulative therapists are members of their respective professional bodies and should be covered by indemnity insurance (in a similar way to vets themselves) which protects you should anything go wrong. The irony is that “practitioners” who are not properly trained and qualified will not have this insurance and if anything, are more likely to do something wrong – whereas professional animal manipulative therapists with the insurance are, like vets, most unlikely to do something wrong!

    So who can legally treat an animal?


    Subject to the Protection of Animals Act 1911, you as the OWNER of the animal can give whatever treatment you want to your animal. That is, any treatment that does not involve intrusion into the animal’s body. For example you are not entitled by Law to give your animal an injection. You are only able to give an injection if instructed to do so by your vet.

    A Veterinary surgeon

    This is an obvious one! Under the terms of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, a vet is legally able to give any normal veterinary treatment he or she deems appropriate to the animal in question.

    This is an interesting point – we say “normal veterinary treatment” because not even a vet is entitled to give a “complementary” treatment unless he or she has been properly trained to administer that particular treatment. For example a vet can’t give a homeopathic remedy or acupuncture to an animal unless suitably trained to do so!

    Your vet may also instruct a trainee vet, a vet nurse or a trainee vet nurse to administer treatments to an animal.

    Can anyone else treat an animal?

    Under the terms of the The Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order of 1962, the only other types of therapies that can be given (by non-veterinarians) to an animal are the manipulative therapies – Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, Osteopathy.

    Under this act it is illegal for any other non-veterinary therapist to treat an animal.

    The only way that this type of treatment can legally be given to an animal is under direct veterinary referral. To put it bluntly, your vet must give his/her permission before manipulative therapy can be given to an animal. A vet will not give permission for any type of therapist, other than a manipulative therapist, to treat an animal.

    Michael Hunt is a lecturer in animal care

    For more information visit http://www.natural-animal-health.co.uk/

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