Do you have a veterinarian for your operation?  What does it mean to you to have a veterinarian?  Is he or she someone you call with questions when they arise?  Someone you run and get medication from when something becomes ill?  Is he or she someone who works with you to develop your herd health plans? Are they at your place once or twice a year pregnancy checking cows and fertility testing bulls?

Each producer has an individual set of expectations of a veterinarian and how they define their professional relationship with that veterinarian.  What many do not know, however, is that there is a legal definition of this relationship that becomes critically important when it comes to the use of prescription drugs on a ranch or farm.  This includes a long list of products like Draxxin®, Baytril®, Nuflor®, Banamine® and many antibiotic feed additives, like chlortetracycline or CTC.

The Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship or VCPR is a legally defined relationship between a veterinarian, an animal owner, and an animal or group of animals.  When the requirements of this relationship are met, the veterinarian is able to prescribe the use of certain drugs on an operation using his or her professional judgement.  The following criteria must be met:

  1. The veterinarian has assumed the responsibility for making clinical judgments regarding the health of the patient and the client has agreed to follow the veterinarians’ instructions.
  2. The veterinarian has sufficient knowledge of the patient to initiate at least a general or preliminary diagnosis of the medical condition of the patient.  This means that the veterinarian is personally acquainted with the keeping and care of the patient by virtue of a timely examination of the patient by the veterinarian, or medically appropriate and timely visits by the veterinarian to the operation where the patient is managed (such as regular herd visits).
  3. The veterinarian is readily available for follow-up evaluation or has arranged for the following: veterinary emergency coverage, and continuing care and treatment.
  4. The veterinarian provides oversight of treatment, compliance (by the owner), and outcome.
  5. Patient records are maintained (by the veterinarian).

Unless these criteria are met, a veterinarian is not legally able to prescribe prescription drugs or prescribe the use of a drug in a way that is not defined on the label.  This applies to all veterinary species groups, including small animals, horses and livestock.  When drug use occurs under this relationship with food animal species livestock, the veterinarian is also required to provide a withdrawal time for food products from that animal.

You may have encountered a situation where you have described a set of symptoms of an animal on your place – be it a barn cat or calf or goat or horse – and asked for some medication to treat that animal.  You may have been met with a staff member or veterinarian saying that they are unable to dispense medication without examining the animal.  While it may appear on the surface that they are simply trying to get you to pay an exam or call fee, the VCPR rule is actually what is governing their policy.

While the concept of VCPR may seem inconvenient, compliance with it protects you should there ever be a problem from the use of the drug, including an unintended side effect or violative residue when that animal goes to slaughter.  The best and easiest way to comply with the VCPR is to have a relationship with a veterinarian where they are assisting you with animal health decisions and physically on your place regularly enough to have a good base of knowledge of the operation.  Talk to your veterinarian about their policy with regards to the specific implementation of the VCPR to ensure that everything is in order the next time you have an animal health need.

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