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When is it safe to report abuse?Dealing with abuse cases: what can vets do?

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For members of a caring profession, acknowledging that an animal injury may not be accidental can be challenging. But, as Georgina Mills reports, experts are urging vets to consider animal abuse as a possible explanation for some injuries – and to report it.

Fighting dog Hero was brought into Battersea Dogs & Cats Home severely emaciated, his brain and skull visible through his head injuries, which was infected with maggots. Vets had no choice but to put him to sleep. He is featured in Battersea’s current #NotFunny campaign to increase sentences for animal abusers

If you see an animal in your practice who is said to have fallen, what’s your first reaction?

According to Paula Boyden, veterinary director of Dogs Trust, it should be to hear an alarm bell. ‘Animals don’t tend to fall,’ she says, ‘and if they do, they tend to land the right way up.’

As caring professionals, it might be hard for vets to understand why someone would hurt an animal.

They might search for a more innocuous reason for injuries that are presented. But, ‘the most important step in diagnosing a non-accidental injury is to force yourself to think of it in the first place’, says Boyden.

The next concern for vets may be about what their responsibilities are in regard to reporting suspected abuse.

On the face of it, this might seem fairly simple, but abuse cases are rarely cut-and-dried. This has lead to confusion in some veterinary surgeons’ minds about what they can and cannot do, particularly with reporting cases and, in doing so, breaking client confidentiality.

Veterinary Record carried out a quick Twitter poll of 50 vets to probe this professional dilemma. Up to 60 per cent reported that they had suspected a case of animal abuse in their career and had …

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