Efforts to develop veterinary understanding of non-accidental injuries and other forms of animal abuse

The Scottish SPCA and partners have launched a survey for vets as part of pioneering work to highlight the critical role of veterinary experts in animal cruelty cases.

The survey, which is a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh Clinical and Health Psychology Department, the Scottish SPCA, The Links Group and Dogs Trust, aims to gather data on vets recognition and experiences of non-accidental injuries and other forms of animal abuse.

Ian Futter

It follows a ground-breaking conference last June which was run in partnership with the University of Edinburgh RD(S)VS. The conference, Taking Veterinary Forensics into the Future, highlighted the vital part vets play in spotting animal abuse and progressing cases through the courts system, as well as the shortage of veterinary forensic expertise in the UK. The survey is based on Dr Helen Munro’s work and is available to vets in the UK and overseas and has been released alongside the briefing document from the conference.

The key findings of the collaborative conference were that veterinary school undergraduates need to be made aware of the importance of their role in supporting animal cruelty cases and the need to remove the fear factor from being involved in such cases. Furthermore, veterinary professionals must work together to fight animal cruelty and we need vets to recognise the link between non-accidental injuries in animals and human violence and abuse.

The survey will establish the extent of non-accidental injuries and other forms of animal abuse that vets see in practice, as well as the types of animals involved and injuries inflicted. It will also explore vets’ perceptions of the links between animal abuse and human abuse.  It will provide an evidence-base on vets knowledge of animal abuse that will be used to develop support for vets in working with abused animals in the future.

Jo Williams, Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Vets are on the frontline when dealing with non-accidental injuries and other forms of animal abuse, yet there is surprisingly little research on vets’ perspectives.  This study will quantify the amount and types of animal abuse seen in veterinary practice. It will also examine vets’ perspectives on the links between animal abuse and human abuse. Animal cruelty can be a form of coercive control in domestic violence and is connected to other forms of human violence including child and elder abuse. Vets have an important role in breaking this cycle of abuse in the community.”

Gilly Mendes Ferreira, head of education & policy at the Scottish SPCA, said: “The nature of the Scottish SPCA’s work means we work with veterinary experts on a daily basis and, particularly with cruelty cases, we are reliant on their knowledge to progress our investigations. Veterinary evidence is pivotal to any court cases we lodge, and it is important to us that vets feel they have the confidence and knowledge to provide this.

“After the success of the conference, it’s exciting to see things moving forward with the release of the survey and briefing document. We’ve identified a number of themes, such as increased training in veterinary schools, raising awareness of the lack of available professionals and establishing an up-to-date database of qualified specialists, that we will progress through the survey and a working group comprised of experts and key bodies.

“We can only make a difference and break the cycle of animal cruelty and human violence through collaborative work with key professionals and we hope vets will take the time and pass on their views.”

Speaking on behalf of The Links Group, Paula Boyden of the Dogs Trust said: “Through the Links Group, and generously supported by MSD Animal Health, we have been delivering veterinary undergraduate training for a number of years. It is important that we now build on Dr Munro’s work to further this and support the veterinary profession in dealing with cases of non-accidental injury. I am delighted to be part of this much-needed research.

The survey can be accessed here.

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