Veterinary practitioners – key legislative requirements in Victoria

Veterinary practitioners are authorised under the Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (the Act) to obtain, possess, use or supply scheduled poisons for the lawful practice of their profession, i.e. for the veterinary treatment of animals under their care

The Poisons Standard lists all scheduled poisons and contains standards with which dentists must comply, including the labelling requirements for dispensed medicines.

The Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Regulations 2017 contain the majority of regulatory requirements, relating to scheduled poisons, with which dentists must comply.

Safe, lawful and appropriate treatment

In addition to the requirement to ensure treatment is lawful, veterinary practitioners are required to meet professional standards that are contained in other legislation and that are determined by the Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria.

Veterinary practitioners should not issue a prescription or otherwise authorise treatment without satisfying themselves that it is safe, appropriate and lawful to treat the animal with the medication.

This website contains a range of documents, in the section for Documents to print or download, which summarise the legislative requirements and issues that relate to veterinary practitioners plus documents that relate to multiple categories of health practitioner. The following document provides an overview of the legislative requirements that relate to veterinary practitioners.

  • Veterinary practitioners - key legislative requirements in Victoria

The following documents, in the section headed ‘Matters that relate to many health practitioners’ contain requirements that are common to multiple categories of health practitioner:

  • Possession and storage: includes regulatory requirements and matters to be notified to authorities
  • Supply, administration and records: includes software and recording requirements, destruction of Schedule 8 poisons and labelling requirements for dispensed medicines
  • Prescribing: includes regulatory requirements for issuing prescriptions, writing chart instructions, authorising administration and providing verbal instructions in an emergency
  • Handwritten and computer-generated prescriptions: includes details of mandatory components of prescriptions
  • All reasonable steps and other key terms: includes an explanation of the meaning and application of the subjective term 'all reasonable steps', which appears in several regulations, and how it might be applied to certain situations

Treating an animal under one’s care

The Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of Victoria has published guidelines that reiterate the regulatory requirement that, before prescribing, administering or supplying a Schedule 4 or Schedule 8 medicine, a veterinary practitioner must take all reasonable steps to establish the therapeutic need of an animal and should document the clinical justification of that need in the veterinary medical record.

The guidelines also indicate that, before an animal or herd could be considered to be under a practitioner’s care, all of the following conditions should be met:

  • The practitioner must have been given responsibility for the health of the animal or herd in question by the owner or the owner’s agent.
  • The care of the animal or herd by the practitioner should be real and not merely nominal (that is, there must be evidence of personally having contact with the animal or herd for diagnosis and treatment, and of assuming responsibility for the diagnosis, treatment and outcome).
  • The practitioner must have a thorough knowledge of the current health and treatment status of the animal or herd by having:
    • seen the animal or herd for the purpose of diagnosis and establishing a therapeutic need immediately before prescribing or supplying a scheduled medicine; or
    • visited the premises where the animal or herd is kept sufficiently often and recently enough to have acquired, from personal knowledge and inspection, an accurate picture of the current health state on that premises sufficient to enable a diagnosis and to establish a therapeutic need.

Therapeutic need

Veterinary practitioners who supply Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 medicines may be required to demonstrate (through their records) that they have taken all reasonable steps to ensure a therapeutic need and that treated animals were ‘under their care’.

Veterinary practitioners should consider whether they are able to justify supplying veterinary medicines without having had recent interaction with a client, or on the basis of a client’s capacity to assess and determine the therapeutic need of an animal.

Veterinary practitioners must not enter into arrangements whereby they serve only as the suppliers of veterinary medicines who rely on clients or agents to fulfill the responsibilities of a registered veterinary practitioner.

The practice of supplying veterinary medicines to clients, directly or via an intermediary (for example, an artificial insemination technician), is likely to be unlawful if veterinary practitioners fail to:

  • take all reasonable steps to ensure that there is a therapeutic need
  • satisfy the requirement of treating only animals under their care
  • label containers or provide the written advice required by the legislation
  • accurately record transactions.

Additional requirements when treating food-producing animals

Veterinary practitioners who treat food-producing animals need to be aware of additional legislative requirements, including those relating to: 

  • withholding periods
  • animal identification
  • advice notices
  • appropriate labelling.
  Further details about these requirements are also included in the previously mentioned document ‘Veterinary practitioners - key legislative requirements in Victoria’.

Application for obtaining or using etorphine

Veterinary practitioners employed at a zoo or animal park who wish to use the tranquiliser etorphine must make a separate application to the Chief Officer, Drugs and Poisons Regulation and must be authorised, in writing, under the provisions of the Firearms Act 1996 to purchase, carry, possess and use a prohibited weapon (that is, a tranquiliser gun).

Contact details