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Ethical dilemmas in practice
Disbudding illegally
  1. Siobhan Mullan

    Siobhan Mullan works part-time in small animal practice, as well as at the University of Bristol. She holds the RCVS diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law.


The dilemma in the February issue concerned a dairy goat farmer interested in becoming a client at a practice (In Practice, February 2010, volume 32, pages 78–79). He was told that he would be taken on as a client providing the vet undertook the disbudding of goat kids on farm, as it was a legal requirement that this was done under anaesthetic by a vet. However, the farmer did not want the additional expense and did not contact the practice again. The farm was still in business, and the vet suspected the farmer was disbudding the kids himself without anaesthesia. Kathy Anzuino commented that there were good reasons for a vet to undertake the procedure, which had been translated into law. By declining to take the farmer as a client, the vet made animal welfare the primary consideration and did not inadvertently condone an illegal practice. A possible way forward would be to find out more about the farmer's reasons for disbudding illegally, as there might be other reasons besides cost and convenience why he did not contact the practice. Although resuming discussions with the farmer might be difficult, the farm would require veterinary input eventually, thus providing an opportunity for further dialogue. If the farmer was still reluctant to disbud legally, the vet could explain that the farmer's actions meant that he or she had little choice but to report the farm. Reporting should remain a last resort, as vets were often in a position of trust and farmers should feel that they could continue to see them as part of solutions to shared concerns.

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