General Duties of Care for Veterinarians

 By Daniel L. Baxter

The term “duty of care” refers to the way in which you must interact with your clients and patients in order to satisfy the requirements of the law. For California veterinarians, this amounts to:

  • Being a competent care provider.
  • Being humane.
  • Providing care that is consistent with the current veterinary practice standards.
  • Since “current” veterinary practice standards are continuously evolving, the duty of care evolves as well.


    When a veterinarian fails to meet the required standard of care, he or she may be guilty of “negligence.” In order to establish veterinary negligence, a plaintiff must show that:

  • The veterinarian had a responsibility to care for the animal (duty of care).
  • The veterinarian didn’t act in accordance with the appropriate standard of care.
  • The veterinarian’s failure to provide adequate care was a proximate cause of injury, which means that the injury occurred as a direct result of the action and would not have occurred if the veterinarian had acted appropriately.
  • Examples

    1. A client brings her cat Lucy in for her annual shots. An inappropriately high dosage is administered, and the animal dies as a result. In this case, the client can sue for negligence because the veterinarian:

  • Was responsible for providing care to the animal.
  • Did not act in accordance with pertinent standards of care.
  • Was the direct cause of the animal’s death.
  • 2. A client brings his dog Fido in for a checkup. After collecting the necessary information and obtaining consent to treatment, the veterinarian administers an appropriate heartworm prevention medication at the correct dosage. The animal has a severe and highly unusual reaction to the medication. In this case, the veterinarian is not guilty of negligence. Even though the veterinarian’s actions were a cause of the animal’s injuries, he or she was acting in accordance with accepted standards of care, and most other veterinarians would have made the same choices.