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Know your vet: how to ensure your pets receive the best medical care

Dr. Albertus Coetzee of West Acres Vet Clinic and his team in action.

You wouldn’t take advice and medication from a doctor who isn’t registered, would you? Similarly, you need to know that the person you’re trusting with your beloved pet’s health is legitimate, qualified and will give them the best possible care.

This is where the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) comes in. As the regulatory authority for the veterinary and para-veterinary professions – covering veterinarians, veterinary nurses, animal health technicians, veterinary physiotherapists, laboratory animal technologists and veterinary technologists – the Council is here to give pet and animal owners peace of mind by upholding professional standards and ethics.

“The most important thing for members of the public to know is that if you visit a vet or a para-vet who is registered with the SAVC, you have recourse if you have a complaint. We can investigate allegations of unprofessional conduct,” says Dinamarie Stoltz, the SAVC’s Director of Legal Affairs.

However, she says, if you take your pet to a layperson who is not registered with the SAVC, and are unhappy with the service you receive, the Council cannot take action against them. “Be careful of people pretending to be who they are not. If a vet is not registered, there is no oversight from the Council and you have no recourse if things go wrong.”

Mpho Mojanaga, the SAVC’s Director of Registrations, says it is imperative for veterinarians and para-veterinarians to be registered with the SAVC. This starts with impressing on university students the importance of registration with the Council, she says. 

“We try to help them understand the scope of their particular profession. For example, just because they are registered with the Council does not necessarily mean they will be able to perform full veterinary services. Each profession has its own scope of registration within which they are allowed to practice.” Members of the public can find out what procedures the different veterinary and para-veterinary professionals are mandated to carry out by visiting the SAVC website.

Veterinary facilities are also inspected once in a six-year cycle to ensure that they comply with minimum standards, says SAVC Facility Inspections Coordinator Minette Claassen. These are referred to as routine inspections. The SAVC’s Legal Department may also arrange ad hoc inspections, often with no notice being given to the vet, if a complaint has been laid regarding the standards at the practice. State veterinary facilities must also be registered with the SAVC and must comply with minimum standards.

Stoltz cautions against “spayathons” where owners are enticed to get their pets sterilised. “Before you take your pet to such an event, check whether there is a vet on site who is accredited to perform sterilisations and community engagement exercises. These events should be run and overseen by a registered vet and not by a layperson,” she says. 

Be aware that clinical work such as surgical procedures must be undertaken by a registered veterinarian, she adds. And be wary of who vaccinates your pet, as a layperson will in all probability not be able to maintain the proper vaccine cold chain or even be aware of such a requirement.

“It’s important for the public to understand there is a difference between an animal welfare organisation, which attends to basic animal welfare needs, and a registered clinical veterinary practice, which must be registered with the Council,” says Stoltz. 

Red flags and important points for the pet owner to note:

  • Fees are not regulated by the SAVC. That said, it is often difficult to maintain the proper standards without cutting corners, which may compromise the quality of care given to your pet 
  • Handwritten receipts (if any) instead of printed statements
  • Dirty or untidy facilities
  • Staff whose demeanour makes you feel uncomfortable or who do not address your concerns with due diligence and/or respect 
  • Is the veterinary or para-veterinary professional’s SAVC registration certificate displayed? Has their registration lapsed or is it up to date? 
  • Is the facility registered with the SAVC?
  • Only a veterinarian is allowed to dispense scheduled animal (veterinary) medicines to animals, although a pharmacist at a community pharmacy may fill a prescription from a veterinarian
  • It is unlawful for veterinary professionals to dispense, sell or prescribe any medicine for human use, including ivermectin (medication used to treat parasite infections)
  • If a veterinarian knowingly gives ivermectin to a person for their consumption, that vet could face a complaint of unprofessional conduct and, possibly, a civil liability lawsuit should complications arise

An up-to-date list of registered professionals for the different professions, as well as a list of registered veterinary facilities, is available here: list of all practicing professionals and registered facilities – SAVC. If you have any questions or complaints about the service you have received from vets or para-vets, please contact the SAVC at complaints@savc.org.za.

Source: SAVC

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