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XL Bully dog ban

Following a rise in attacks and fatalities caused by XL Bully dogs, the UK Government has recently added this breed to the list of dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in England and Wales.

To support these changes, the Government will require owners of XL Bully dogs in England and Wales either to apply for a Certificate of Exemption, or to arrange for their dog to be euthanised by an RCVS-registered veterinary surgeon.

The Scottish Government announced on 11 January 2024 its intention to introduce similar legislation, although further details are awaited (see below).  

Estimates for the number of XL Bully dogs nationwide vary widely, so we expect this ban to have a potentially significant impact on veterinary teams in some areas.

We have therefore produced the following information and advice to support you in navigating these changes and potentially difficult situations as best you can.

On this page:

Summary of the ban

Full details of the ban are available on the Defra website and there is additional official guidance for vets but, in summary, the changes will come into force in two stages.

Stage 1

From 31 December 2023, in England and Wales it will be against the law to:

  • sell an XL Bully dog
  • abandon an XL Bully dog or let it stray
  • give away an XL Bully dog
  • breed from an XL Bully dog
  • have an XL Bully in public without a lead and muzzle

Stage 2

From 1 February 2024, it will be a criminal offence to own an XL Bully dog in England and Wales unless it has a Certificate of Exemption.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

UPDATE [11 January 2024]: the Scottish Government has today announced that it will introduce tight safeguards on XL Bully dogs in Scotland to make it a criminal offence to own the breed without an exemption certificate. The legislation will mirror what has been introduced by the UK Government in England and Wales, although no deadline dates have been announced as yet. 

We await a response from the Northern Ireland Executive regarding its intentions.

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Owner options

Owners of XL Bully dogs in England and Wales will have two options: either to keep the dog by applying for a Certificate Exemption, or to arrange for their dog to be euthanised by an RCVS-registered veterinary surgeon.

1. Keeping an XL Bully dog

To keep an XL Bully dog, an owner must apply for a Certificate of Exemption by 31 January 2024.

Full details of the process an owner must follow to apply for a Certificate of Exemption are set out on the Defra website.

The requirements include that the dog must be permanently neutered, or that a vet has confirmed the dog is already neutered, by certain dates, depending on the current age of the dog (see 'Neutering' section below).

2. Euthanasia

An owner may choose not to keep their dog, and instead take it to be euthanised by an RCVS-registered veterinary surgeon by 31 January 2024.

The dog must not be sold on, rehomed, given away, abandoned or allowed to stray.

Owners can claim £200 compensation towards the cost of euthanasia and disposal (see 'Euthanasia' and 'Cost of euthanasia' sections below). 

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Neutering

Owners will need to ensure their XL Bully dogs are permanently neutered, either through castration or spaying, by the following dates:

  • less than 1 year old on 31 January 2024, it must be neutered by 31 December 2024
  • older than 1 year old on 31 January 2024, it must be neutered by 30 June 2024

We understand that Defra’s main objective of neutering is to ensure XL Bully dogs can no longer breed.

Once an XL Bully dog has been neutered, and you have scanned the dog’s microchip, you will need to fill in sections 1 and 3 of the ‘Veterinary confirmation of neutering’ form (VCN01) and email/post a copy to Defra.

The owner is expected to complete the declaration in section 2.

The form, accompanying guidance and address details are available on the Defra website.

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Confirmation of previous neutering

If an XL Bully dog is already neutered, Defra requires that you confirm this ‘through an appropriate methodology, depending on the circumstances’, prior to completing the ‘Veterinary confirmation of neutering’ form (VCN01).

You will need to confirm that the microchip details on the form match those of the XL Bully dog presented to you.

We appreciate that the dog’s microchip might not have been scanned at the time of previous neutering, in which case you will need to examine the animal, as above, to confirm previous neutering.

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Cost of neutering

Defra states that the cost of neutering, or any necessary veterinary procedures to determine whether the dog is neutered, should be covered by the owner.

The Government is not offering financial compensation to owners for the cost of neutering or confirmation of previous neutering.

We understand that difficult conversations may arise with clients as a result of this new government policy, so would advise you to discuss and agree with the owner in advance the costs of such procedures, including any likely follow-up visits.

We would also recommend that support is available to you and your colleagues at the time of these difficult conversations, either through other colleagues in the team, or the following service:

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Impact on workload and morale

We understand that this new legislation might lead to an increase in workload for already-busy practice teams, particularly in the run up to the various deadlines.

In the face of such increased client demands, we would encourage you to plan your practice caseload in advance as far as possible to minimise pressure on your team. You might also wish to liaise with neighbouring practices to share this workload, if you feel this would help.

We also understand that dealing with a sudden increase in euthanasia cases may have an impact on your morale and wellbeing, and/or that of your clinical and non-clinical colleagues.

As far as possible, please endeavour to share the burden of this work with your team, and timetable the procedures when there is likely to be the most moral and physical support available.

We would recommend that anyone finding this situation difficult to cope with in any way should seek support, either from colleagues, or the following service:

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Team safety

XL Bully dogs can be large and, potentially, aggressive, so the safety of you and your team is paramount.

Prior to admitting these animals to your practice, you should ensure that you have adequate facilities, appropriate practice protocols and enough members of your team available for handling such dogs.

The British Veterinary Association has produced guidance on handling dogs that show aggression [Paywall]. 

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Sedation and remote prescribing

To further assure team safety, you may wish to arrange with the owner for the animal to be sedated, prior to attending your practice.

Under our new ‘under care’ and remote prescribing guidance, in exceptional circumstances you are permitted to remotely prescribe controlled drugs for an animal under your care, without a physical examination, providing you have been given and accepted responsibility for it, and you have conducted a clinical assessment.

To ensure the safety of you and your team, we would consider sedation of a large and potentially aggressive dog, prior to attending your practice, to be an exceptional circumstance.

As always, you should consider the risk associated with the quantify of POM-Vs and/or controlled drugs that you decide to prescribe remotely to any given client/household.

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Euthanasia

If the owner of an XL Bully dog does not want to apply for a Certificate of Exemption, they must arrange for their dog to be euthanised by an RCVS-registered veterinary surgeon by 31 January 2024.

From a practical perspective, you should consider the safety of your team and the potential benefits of remotely-prescribing controlled drugs for sedation, when deciding whether to accept such requests. (NB see ‘Sedation and remote prescribing’ section above.)

You should also scan the dog for a microchip and, if you find one, check the relevant database to confirm ownership before carrying out the request for euthanasia. Link to relevant section below

In order for the owner to be able to claim £200 compensation from the Government following the euthanasia of their XL Bully dog, you will need to complete sections 1 and 3 of form VCE01, ‘XL Bully dog compensation: owners’.

On this form, Defra requires the owner to declare that they believe their dog is an XL Bully, after reading the Government's official definition.

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Typing XL Bully dogs and puppies

Prior to carrying out euthanasia, you are not required to declare what breed the dog is. Instead, you are required to confirm that you have performed euthanasia on the dog as described on the form by the owner, in accordance with the owner’s request and based on the owner’s declaration that the dog is an XL Bully type.

You should read, and confirm that you have read, Defra’s guidance to vets and, on that basis, that you are satisfied that the owner’s declaration has been reasonably made.

We understand that breed specifics for XL Bully dogs are not yet clearly defined, so do not expect you to spend significant time deciding precisely whether the dog is or is not an XL Bully.

In the case of puppies, Defra has told us that if an owner is not sure whether their dog is or will grow to be an XL Bully, they can take a precautionary approach and apply for a Certificate of Exemption.

As usual, please ensure you record accurate, contemporaneous clinical notes about your decisions and actions.

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Concerns about euthanising healthy dogs

We understand there will be some members of the profession who do not wish to euthanise healthy XL Bully dogs, either because it is not safe for them to do so, or because they object to it on moral grounds.

There is no obligation in the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for a veterinary surgeon to euthanise a healthy animal. However, the owner’s wishes and circumstances should also always be taken into account, particularly if public safety and/or the animal’s welfare could be compromised should the request be refused.

Where, in all conscience, a veterinary surgeon cannot accede to a client's request for euthanasia, they should recognise the extreme sensitivity of the situation and make sympathetic efforts to direct the client to alternative sources of advice. Further information regarding conscientious objection can be found in the supporting guidance to the CodeChapter 2 Veterinary Care.

If you consider the owner is uncertain about a decision to euthanise their XL Bully dog, you might consider it appropriate to discuss with them the alternative option of applying for a Certificate of Exemption instead.

As usual, please ensure you record accurate, contemporaneous clinical notes about your decisions and actions.

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Cost of euthanasia

The cost of euthanasia and disposal should be paid by the owner to the practice directly.

Under the Government’s compensation scheme, owners of XL Bully dogs who elect to have their dogs euthanised are then entitled to claim £200 towards these costs.

We understand that this level of compensation might not cover the cost of euthanasia and disposal, and that difficult conversations may arise with owners as a result.

We would advise you to discuss and agree with the owner the costs of euthanasia and disposal in advance.

We would also recommend that support is available to you and your colleagues at the time of these difficult conversations, if you need it, via the following service:

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Ownership disputes

In view of the compensation payments available for euthanasia of XL Bully dogs, there may be an increased risk of dogs being presented by people who are not their registered owners.

Before fulfilling a request to euthanise an XL Bully dog, you should scan the dog for a microchip and, if you find one, check the relevant database to confirm ownership.

Where an ownership dispute is suspected, please refer to Chapter 29 of our supporting guidance to the Code, paragraphs 29.31 to 29.41

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Abandoned dogs

Although it will be illegal from 31 December, there may be an increased risk of XL Bully dogs being abandoned outside your practice or elsewhere.

We would advise that you do not attempt to retrieve such dogs unless and until you consider it safe to do so. Instead, please contact your local police force or local dog warden.

Please remember that, from 31 December 2023, it will be illegal to rehome, sell, buy, or transfer ownership of an XL Bully dog to another person, including veterinary practice staff.

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Clinical records

As usual, please ensure you record accurate, contemporaneous clinical notes about your decisions and actions, and the information given, and requests made, to you by owners.

If an owner asks you to change the breed type of a dog that is already entered in the clinical notes as an XL Bully dog, or XL Bully-type dog, you may wish to contact your professional indemnity insurer for advice.

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