Legal Status of Procedures Undertaken by Laypersons

As veterinary surgeons working with camelids, we care deeply for the welfare of the animals under our care. We are grateful for the expertise of shearers and those providing husbandry services to alpacas and llamas nationwide and acknowledge their role in the husbandry of camelids. However, we feel it is important to re-emphasise the legal status of certain procedures undertaken by laypersons, particularly while camelids are being sheared.

Dental Care

It is not permissible for laypersons to alter the teeth of camelids.

We note that the trimming of teeth is a service offered by many shearers. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2003 (AWA), as well as the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (VSA), if undertaken for cosmetic purposes, this constitutes an unnecessary mutilation and the existing Mutilations Regulations do not provide any exemption for camelid species in this respect. The law notwithstanding, trimming of teeth for aesthetic reasons is wholly unnecessary and potentially harmful to animal welfare.

It follows that trimming can only be undertaken if a veterinary surgeon makes a diagnosis and identifies a clear clinical necessity. For the avoidance of doubt, clinical diagnosis can only be made by a Veterinary Surgeon.

There are exemptions in Schedule 3 of The Veterinary Surgeons Act which allow, in certain circumstances, some procedures to be carried out by the owner on ‘animals used in agriculture’ (commonly referred to as ‘production animals’). We are advised that camelids do not fall under this definition.
As members of the British Veterinary Camelid Society (BVCS), and thus invested in the health and welfare of camelids, this issue is of great concern to us. The risks of altering teeth cannot be understated; it can be painful, stressful and can introduce infection into the pulp cavity, tooth root and jaw bones. If an animal suffers a complication as a result of dental procedures illegally performed by laypersons (including shearers), there will be no insurance to support any remedial veterinary care the animal may need.

The BVCS recognise that these procedures may be occurring at shearing for convenience: having animals restrained for shearing can make dental examinations much easier. We therefore advise that you liaise with your veterinary surgeon to perhaps have animals with concerning dentition examined and potentially treated on shearing days.

Castration

It is not permissible for laypersons to castrate male camelids.

It has come to our attention that shearers have occasionally offered and performed illegal castrations of camelids at shearing, typically using rubber rings as used in lambs under 7 days of age. Castration of camelids is considered an act of veterinary surgery and it would be an offence for anyone other than a vet to perform castration of camelids – under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (VSA). As above, there are no grounds for exemption of camelids under Schedule 3. All camelids require (as a minimum standard) administration of local anaesthetic for prevention and relief of pain when undergoing castration. Furthermore, castration using application of rubber rings is an entirely inappropriate and unreliable method of castration for alpacas.

The BVCS recommends that castration of camelids is not carried out until at least 6 months of age. Discuss with your vet what level of anaesthesia you would like applied in consideration of cost, animal suitability and your own personal wishes.

Administration of Medicines

It is not permissible for shearers to provide or administer vaccines or worming treatments.

We note that both worming treatments and vaccinations are frequently administered by shearers and sometimes those providing husbandry services.
As no medications are licenced for camelids in the UK, they can only be used under medicines legislation referred to as the ‘cascade’. One feature of this is that medicines can only be used under the ‘cascade’ legislation if prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and this responsibility cannot be delegated. Therefore, anyone who is not a veterinary surgeon who provides these products is committing an offence under the VSA and the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013 (VMRs), which falls under the remit of the police and Trading Standards respectively.

Notwithstanding the legal position, there would also be concerns over efficacy. For example, Clostridial vaccinations have extremely short broach times and must be kept within strict temperature requirements. If an external contractor is providing vaccines, it is difficult to guarantee that the cold chain has been maintained and the vaccine is still effective. Moreover, shearing is still a stressful procedure for camelids, no matter how gently it is done. It is therefore inadvisable to administer a vaccination at a time of stress when the animals may not be able to mount a sufficient immune response. Some vets will take a precautionary approach and consider such animals as unvaccinated if they have been treated in this way.

Furthermore, as veterinary surgeons, we do not advise worming animals ‘routinely’ or as a matter of course at shearing which can promote resistance to parasiticides (wormers) which has become a significant challenge in the UK. The type and severity of any worm burden should first be identified by faecal egg counts as worming may not be necessary, or the proposed product may not be effective against an animal’s particular worm burden.

Shearing Injuries

Injuries sustained during shearing should be treated under veterinary advice or supervision.

It has come to our members’ attention that accidental wounds caused during shearing have been sutured (stitched) by laypersons without anaesthetic. This is in contravention of both the Veterinary Surgeons Act and the Animal Welfare Act. Any local anaesthetic used in camelids must be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon.

We are fortunate to have a wealth of experience and expertise in many shearers here in the UK, however we felt it pertinent to remind owners and shearers of the risks of operating outwith their remit and the law, as multiple animal welfare concerns are brought to our attention every season. The upholding of camelid welfare is our foremost priority.

If you have any concerns regarding breaches of the AWA, VMR or VSA, then these should be reported to Trading Standards and the police.

If you require camelid veterinary advice The British Veterinary Camelid Society offers a ‘find a vet’ service to highlight the services of camelid vets in practice via our website at www.camelidvets.org.

Finalised: December 2023