Skip to content

Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons

The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons is set out in full below - clicking the linked contents will drop down to the corresponding section. The supporting guidance may also be accessed via the menu.


Principles of practice

Professional responsibilities

Supporting guidance

You may also search the Code and supporting guidance via keywords, using the search box on the right (or below on mobile).


The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is responsible for overseeing the education of UK veterinary students; the registration of UK veterinary graduates and overseas veterinary surgeons; and, the fitness to practise (conduct, health and performance) of veterinary surgeons.

Only those appropriately registered with the RCVS have the right to practise veterinary surgery in the UK.

The RCVS regulates veterinary surgeons in accordance with the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, to protect the public interest and to safeguard animal health and welfare. 

Back to top

Declaration on admission to the profession

Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. For this reason, on admission to membership of the RCVS, and in exchange for the right to practise veterinary surgery in the UK, every veterinary surgeon makes a declaration, which, since 1 April 2012, has been:

" I PROMISE AND SOLEMNLY DECLARE that I will pursue the work of my profession with integrity and accept my responsibilities to the public, my clients, the profession and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and that, ABOVE ALL, my constant endeavour will be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care."

Back to top

About the Code of Professional Conduct

The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct sets out veterinary surgeons’ professional responsibilities. Supporting guidance provides further advice on the proper standards of professional practice.

The Code and supporting guidance are essential for veterinary surgeons in their professional lives and for RCVS regulation of the profession. 

On occasions, the professional responsibilities in the Code may conflict with each other and veterinary surgeons may be presented with a dilemma.

In such situations, veterinary surgeons should balance the professional responsibilities, having regard first to animal welfare. 

Back to top

Principles of practice

Veterinary surgeons seek to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to their care and to fulfil their professional responsibilities, by maintaining five principles of practice:

  1. Professional competence
  2. Honesty and integrity
  3. Independence and impartiality
  4. Client confidentiality and trust
  5. Professional accountability

The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct and supporting guidance should be considered in the context of the five principles of practice.

Back to top

Professional responsibilities

Veterinary surgeons have professional responsibilities in the following areas:

1. Veterinary surgeons and animals

1.1  Veterinary surgeons must make animal health and welfare their first consideration when attending to animals.

1.2  Veterinary surgeons must keep within their own area of competence and refer cases responsibly.


[1. Referrals and second opinions]

1.3  Veterinary surgeons must provide veterinary care that is appropriate and adequate.

[2. Veterinary care]

1.4  Veterinary surgeons in practice must take steps to provide 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief to animals according to their skills and the specific situation.

[3. 24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief]

1.5  Veterinary surgeons who prescribe, supply and administer medicines must do so responsibly.

[4. Veterinary medicines]

1.6  Veterinary surgeons must communicate with each other to ensure the health and welfare of the animal or group of animals.

[5. Communication between professional colleagues]

1.7  Veterinary surgeons must ensure that clinical governance forms part of their professional activities.

[6. Clinical governance]

Back to top

2. Veterinary surgeons and clients   

2.1  Veterinary surgeons must be open and honest with clients and respect their needs and requirements.

2.2  Veterinary surgeons must provide independent and impartial advice and inform a client of any conflict of interest.

[11. Communication and consent] [7. Equine pre-purchase examinations]

2.3  Veterinary surgeons must provide appropriate information to clients about the practice, including the costs of services and medicines.

[9. Practice information, fees and animal insurance] [10. Fair trading requirements]

2.4  Veterinary surgeons must communicate effectively with clients, including in written and spoken English, and ensure informed consent is obtained before treatments or procedures are carried out.

[11. Communication and consent] [12. Use and re-use of samples, images, post mortems and disposal] [8. Euthanasia of animals]

2.5  Veterinary surgeons must keep clear, accurate and detailed clinical and client records.

[13. Clinical and client records]

2.6  Veterinary surgeons must not disclose information about a client or the client’s animals to a third party, unless the client gives permission or animal welfare or the public interest may be compromised.

[14. Client confidentiality]

2.7  Veterinary surgeons must respond promptly, fully and courteously to clients’ complaints and criticism. 

Back to top

3. Veterinary surgeons and the profession

3.1  Veterinary surgeons must take reasonable steps to address adverse physical or mental health or performance that could impair fitness to practise; or, that results in harm, or a risk of harm, to animal health or welfare, public health or the public interest.

[15. Health Protocol] [16. Performance Protocol] [20. Whistle-blowing]

3.2  Veterinary surgeons who are concerned about a professional colleague’s fitness to practise must take steps to ensure that animals are not put at risk and that the interests of the public are protected.

[15. Health Protocol] [16. Performance Protocol] [20. Whistle-blowing]

3.3  Veterinary surgeons must maintain and develop the knowledge and skills relevant to their professional practice and competence, and comply with RCVS requirements on the Veterinary Graduate Development Programme (VetGDP) / Professional Development Phase (PDP) and continuing professional development (CPD).


3.4  Veterinary surgeons must ensure that all their professional activities are covered by professional indemnity insurance or equivalent arrangements.

[Veterinary teams and leaders]

3.5  Veterinary surgeons must not hold out themselves or others as specialists or advanced practitioners unless appropriately listed with the RCVS, or as veterinary nurses unless appropriately registered with the RCVS.

[23. Advertising and publicity]

Back to top

4. Veterinary surgeons and the veterinary team

4.1  Veterinary surgeons must work together and with others in the veterinary team and business, to co-ordinate the care of animals and the delivery of services.

[17. Veterinary team and leaders]

4.2  Veterinary surgeons must ensure that tasks are delegated only to those who have the appropriate competence and registration.

[18. Delegation to veterinary nurses] [19. Treatment of animals by unqualified persons]

4.3  Veterinary surgeons must maintain minimum practice standards equivalent to the Core Standards of the RCVS Practice Standards Scheme.

[RCVS Practice Standards Scheme]

4.4  Veterinary surgeons must not impede professional colleagues seeking to comply with legislation and the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct.

[20. Whistle-blowing]

4.5 Veterinary surgeons must communicate effectively, including in written and spoken English, with the veterinary team and other veterinary professionals in the UK.

[11. Communication and Consent]

4.6 The appointed senior veterinary surgeon must ensure that the training provided to graduates meets the requirements of the VetGDP.

[Veterinary team and leaders]

Back to top

5. Veterinary surgeons and the RCVS

5.1  Veterinary surgeons must be appropriately registered with the RCVS.


5.2  Veterinary surgeons must provide the RCVS with their VetGDP/PDP and CPD records when requested to do so.

[Education] [Registration]        

5.3  Veterinary surgeons, and those applying to be registered as veterinary surgeons, must disclose to the RCVS any caution or conviction, including absolute and conditional discharges and spent convictions, or adverse finding which may affect registration, whether in the UK or overseas (except for minor offences excluded from disclosure by the RCVS).


5.4  Veterinary surgeons, and those applying to be registered as veterinary surgeons, must comply with reasonable requests from the RCVS as part of the regulation of the profession, and comply with any undertakings they give to the RCVS.


Back to top

6. Veterinary surgeons and the public

6.1  Veterinary surgeons must seek to ensure the protection of public health and animal health and welfare, and must consider the impact of their actions on the environment.

[4. Veterinary medicines]

6.2  Veterinary surgeons must certify facts and opinions honestly and with due care, taking into account the 10 Principles of Certification.

[21. Certification] [22. Giving evidence for court]

6.3  Veterinary surgeons promoting and advertising veterinary products and services must do so in a professional manner.

[23. Advertising and publicity]

6.4  Veterinary surgeons must comply with legislation relevant to the provision of veterinary services.

[24. Named Veterinary Surgeons] [25. Routine Veterinary Practice] [26. Working hours]

6.5  Veterinary surgeons must not engage in any activity or behaviour that would be likely to bring the profession into disrepute or under­mine public confidence in the profession.

[27. Miscellaneous]

Back to top