Significant surgical procedures

Significant surgical procedures

Policy type: Policy
: 3c
: Current
Date ratified
: 3 December 2009

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) believes that a significant procedure is one that includes one or more of the following:

  1. Entry into the body cavity
  2. Invasion of the periosteum
  3. Significant loss of tissue or loss of significant tissue
  4. The potential, if performed inadequately, to seriously impact on an animal’s welfare and/or function
    and has the capacity to cause significant pain.


Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, no person may perform any significant surgical procedure on an animal unless that person is-
a. A veterinarian; or
b. A person who is acting under the direct supervision of a veterinarian and who is being taught veterinary science at undergraduate level.

The Act does not specify what procedures are, or are not, “significant”, although there is provision under s6(2) for a surgical procedure about which there is some doubt to be declared either significant or not significant.


In determining where the line should be drawn between significant and non-significant procedures, the NZVA has determined that the following criteria are prerequisites to the performance of significant surgical procedures which necessarily restrict their performance to veterinarians or directly supervised veterinary students:

  1. A detailed knowledge of anatomy and physiology
  2. An understanding of the medical and surgical management of complications during and post-surgery including herniation, infection, haemorrhage, adhesions, shock, failure to return to homeostasis, allergic reaction, pain
  3. An understanding of pharmacology including; pharmacokinetics and dynamics, anaesthesia and analgesia, allergic response
  4. An understanding of patho-physiology
  5. An understanding of asepsis and antisepsisThe need for particular facilities, instruments, trained and adequate numbers of staff, suitably prepared equipment, and a pharmacy containing appropriately selected and stored drugs
  6. Access to and knowledge of pre-operative diagnostic facilities including x-ray, imaging, endoscopy, diagnostic laboratory services, knowledge of clinical pathology
  7. Access to specialist help
  8. Ability to provide 24 hour service;
  9. Ability to provide intensive care.

The NZVA is aware that this interpretation includes some procedures which are not carried out by veterinarians viz castration of bovine animals, sheep, goats and pigs under six months; dehorning of cattle under nine months; and develvetting of deer. The latter is specified as a “controlled” surgical procedure, meaning that it can be performed by the animal’s owner or employee of the owner as long as they have veterinary approval to perform that procedure on that species of animal. Castration of the named species up to six months, and dehorning of cattle up to nine months are specifically allowed under the Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code of Welfare 2005, although NAWAC has signalled its intention to promote wider use of analgesia for such procedures, a stance that is supported by the NZVA.


Animal Welfare Act 1999

Animal Welfare (Painful Husbandry Procedures) Code of Welfare 2005