States are cracking down on harm to animals. California is no different: see Fines for Pet-Patient Harm to Increase.
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However, there is a big emphasis in making Veterinarians mandatory reporters of harm. By mandatory reporter, this means imposing an affirmative duty upon Veterinarians, Registered Veterinarian Technicians, and Veterinary Support staff to report on the owners of their animal or pet-patients when they reasonably believe there has been cruelty to the animal.
Unfortunately for most abused animals, neglectful owners rarely provide veterinary services for their animals. But on the rare occasion where an animal who is obviously being abused is brought in to your practice, members of the veterinarian practice may have a duty to report the animal’s owner.
California Business and Professions Code 4830.7 requires that any veterinary licensee who has reasonable cause to believe an animal under its care has been a victim of animal abuse or cruelty, as prescribed in Section 597 of the Penal Code, shall promptly report it to the appropriate law enforcement authority of the county, city, or city and county in which it occurred.
This statute also protects the doctor from civil liability: No licensee shall incur any civil liability as a result of making any report pursuant to this section or as a result of making any report of a violation of other sections of Penal Code 597.
So what is animal abuse?  How do you know when it’s reached the level that requires you to report?
Penal Code section 597 makes it a crime for any person to maliciously and intentionally maim, mutilate, torture, or wound a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kill an animal.  The code section also makes it illegal to overdrive, overload, or drive when overloaded, overwork, torture, torment, deprive of necessary sustenance, drink, or shelter, or to be cruelly beat, mutilate or kill an animal.
This code section even goes so far as to make it illegal to subject the animal to needless suffering, inflict unnecessary cruelty, or in any manner abuse the animal, including failing to provide the animal with proper food, drink, shelter, or protection from weather.
So what does this mean for you as the veterinarian?
The applicable statutes are very broad in their view of what is abuse.  If you suspect an animal is being mistreated by their owner, it is up to you to be aware of the situation, and report any abuse you find.