Victim to Verdict: The Veterinarian’s Role in Animal Cruelty Investigations

Victim to Verdict: The Veterinarian’s Role in Animal Cruelty Investigations

This article has been provided by Victim to Verdict.

In our practice of veterinary medicine, we routinely assess our patients for discomfort, pain, and suffering. We regularly engage in diagnostic procedures to determine the extent of an injury or the cause of a patient’s poor condition. We use laymen’s terms to explain our findings to our clients or our coworkers, while simultaneously creating a detailed, scientific medical record. Our actions in our everyday practice of veterinary medicine not only demonstrate our allegiance to the veterinary oath we took, but our capacity to carry out our duty as a first responder to animal cruelty, in keeping with that oath. These skills, that have become second nature to us, are the foundation of the veterinarian’s role in contributing to animal cruelty investigations.

States across the country have increasingly been adding laws to their books that either require or encourage veterinarians to report suspected animal cruelty. Colorado requires veterinarians to make a report to authorities when they have a reasonable belief that an animal has experienced animal cruelty (neglect, physical abuse, torture, sexual assault, etc) or animal fighting (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 12-315-120). This state also bestows protection for veterinarians who report these concerns by including immunity from criminal and civil liability when those reports are made in good faith (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 12-315-120). To aid in the veterinarian’s report, Colorado makes it clear in statute that veterinary records (including radiographs and other digital images) shall be made available to the authorities who investigate the concerns reported; the veterinary-patient-client privilege is not a barrier to providing these records in this context (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 12-315-119, 120). These laws stem from an understanding that animals are reliant on their caretakers for their survival needs, often powerless to resist their abusers, and are incapable of reporting or articulating mistreatment that befalls them. They rely on us, as first responders, as experts, to identify when there is a problem and come to their aid—be it through provision of resources and education, or through a report to an enforcement agency.

Research substantiates the fact that animal cruelty co-occurs with other crimes; most frequently overlapping with interpersonal violence. Abuse of a companion animal is one of the four most significant risk factors associated with someone committing domestic violence, and children often interfere to protect their animals from harm, putting their own safety at serious risk. In one study, 89% of women who had pets during a relationship involving domestic violence reported that their companion animals were threatened, harmed, or killed by their abusive partner ( Our report of concern about an animal shines a light on a situation that may be claiming other victims.

As veterinary reporting laws continue to trend legislatively, they need to be coupled with the support that veterinarians, and their staff, require to feel confident in fulfilling their obligations under the law. A recent poll conducted by the Veterinary Information Network, asked over 1,000 veterinary professionals if they felt they received adequate training in recognizing and reporting animal abuse; 73% of respondents did not feel adequately trained or prepared in this regard.[1] Most veterinary schools do not offer training on this subject as part of their core curriculum or otherwise, making the need for training resources on this topic dire.

Understanding how daunting it can be to confidently recognize and report animal cruelty, the collaborators at Victim to Verdict sought to create a training tool that would alleviate concerns and inspire confidence. Their recently launched online, self-paced course provides a comprehensive look at the role of veterinarians and veterinary professionals in animal cruelty investigations, while training on the specific processes and procedures that prevent animal cruelty cases from falling through the cracks. For the next month Victim to Verdict: The Veterinarian’s Role in Animal Cruelty Investigations is offered at a discount and approved for 6 hours of RACE credit. You can find out more about the course, including how to register, and other resources for recognizing and reporting at

Animal cruelty occurs in all areas of the county, at all levels of affluence—prepare yourself to respond when, not if, it walks through your door.  If you ever have any questions about an animal cruelty case, you’re welcome to email the Victim to Verdict team at this address ([email protected]).


Dr. Kris Otteman and the team at Victim to Verdict
ABVP Shelter Medicine, CAWA
Courtesy Faculty, Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University
Contract Forensic Veterinarian, Animal Legal Defense Fund


[1] Wogan, Lisa. “Many Veterinarians Feel Unprepared to Handle Animal Abuse Inadequate Education, Inconsistent Regulations Leave Practitioners Uncertain.” VIN, 23 Oct. 2023, Accessed 7 Mar. 2024.