What to do when you believe a vet has harmed or killed your companion animal


One of the most frequent distresses from people whose companion animals have suffered injuries, or even death, and who fear that negligence by their veterinarian was the cause.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

The best way to protect your companion animal is to know your rights and the veterinarian’s duties. Here are some major points to remember:

1. Seek out a qualified, competent, and caring veterinarian.

2. Do not be reluctant to seek a second or even third opinion regarding the diagnosis of your companion animal. There are specialists for animals just as there are for humans.

3. Monitor your companion animal’s stay at the hospital or clinic. Ask questions if you do not understand what services the veterinarian is tendering. Trust your common sense.

4. If you suspect malpractice, immediately seek an independent and confidential second opinion. If your animal has died, preserve the remains and quickly take the body to another veterinarian (preferably a college of veterinary medicine) for a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

5. Request all medical records regarding treatment, including x-rays if taken.

6. If you have received a second opinion that supports your concern about malpractice, immediately seek expert legal advice.

When Malpractice is the Case

If you suspect that your companion animal was injured by veterinary malpractice, there are several things that you can do.

First, send a complaint to the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong. This is a statutory agency, whose duties include the investigation of allegations of wrongdoing by veterinarians, including malpractice. Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong have the power to suspend or remove a veterinarian’s license, although this rarely happens.

Your complaint to the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong should be short, should fully identify all of the parties, and state the facts as you know them. Demand that the licensing board investigate your complaint and notify you of the results. A few weeks after you mail the complaint, call the board and confirm that they received it and have started the investigation. It is important that the board receive valid complaints and encouragement to monitor the practitioners in their state.

In addition, a complaint should be sent to the Hong Kong Veterinary Association. Again, demand an investigation and response. In some areas, the county veterinary association is not listed in the telephone directory. You can locate the mailing address by calling any veterinary clinic and asking for it.

A second approach to veterinary malpractice is hiring a lawyer to negotiate a settlement or to bring a lawsuit. The biggest problem with bringing a lawsuit is that, even if you win, you usually do not recover very much money. In Hong Kong, an animal is viewed as an item of personal property according to the law, and the courts in Hong Kong limit recovery to the cost of replacing the companion animal with another animal. Because of the low potential for a large recovery, most lawyers are unable or unwilling to take veterinary malpractice cases on a contingency basis, and it is possible that the pet owner would invest more money in legal fees than can be recovered.

In some other countries, courts have recently begun to realize that a companion animal is unique and cannot simply be replaced. Courts are beginning to permit owners to recover the “reasonable sentimental value” of the companion animals to the individual owners, as long as the sentiment is not “excessive” or “maudlin.” This can increase the potential recovery from a few hundred dollars to perhaps a few thousand.

If you are not able to afford a lawyer, then consider going to small claims tribunal, where you can represent yourself. In small claims tribunal, recovery will be limited to “out-of-pocket” expenses. This includes only the money you lost already as a result of the malpractice, and does not include loss of your companion animal’s sentimental value. In any lawsuit, you will still be required to secure expert testimony as to what act of negligence the veterinarian committed.

Finally, you must understand that neither complaining to the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong, nor filing a lawsuit, will alleviate the sense of loss that you feel. You must allow yourself to grieve fully. Check with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to see whether they offer grief counseling sessions, or talk with other owners who have lost their beloved animals.

Complaining about misconduct or negligence by veterinarian

When you buy veterinary care for your pet you are buying a service. By law, a service should be carried out with reasonable care and skill.

The standard of care is judged from what other vets would reasonably do under the same circumstances. Failure to meet this standard is professional negligence.

This post tells you what to do if you have a complaint against your vet for negligence or misconduct.

The vet has been negligent

Negligence must result in harm, loss, injury or damage of some sort. For example, a vet may fail to prescribe the appropriate course of treatment and, as a result, the animal suffers permanent injury or dies.

If you think your vet has been negligent and you want to complain, you will need to decide what outcome you want. For example, you may want:

  • a formal apology
  • a refund
  • free corrective treatment
  • compensation.

Claiming compensation

If your pet suffers pain, injury, inconvenience or you have extra costs because of negligence, you are entitled to compensation.

Before you claim compensation, try and negotiate with your vet first. You may want to get advice about doing this.

If this doesn’t work, you may want to take legal action. You should get expert legal advice early on.

It can be very difficult to prove negligence. Often, it comes down to the personal, professional judgement of your vet about what was the most appropriate treatment in your pet’s case. You may need to get a second opinion. However, another vet might be reluctant to get involved in a complaint against another member of their profession. If they do agree to give a second opinion, they will probably charge for this.

Legal action for negligence must be started within three years of the negligence occurring, or of you becoming aware of it.


Professional misconduct includes behaviour such as dishonesty, taking advantage of your age or inexperience, or acting against your instructions.

All vets must adhere to the code of professional conduct laid down by the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong.

If you believe your vet has been guilty of professional misconduct, report the matter immediately to the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong who will investigate.

If the Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong has found a vet guilty of misconduct, it may discipline the vet but it has no power to compensate you. You may still want to pursue the vet for compensation if your pet has been injured.

To claim compensation, you should try and negotiate with your vet first. You may want to get advice about doing this. If this doesn’t work, you may want to take legal action and should get expert legal advice.

Veterinary Surgeons Board of Hong Kong

Address: 5/F, Cheung Sha Wan Government Offices, 303 Cheung Sha Wan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Telephone number: (852) 2150 6696

Facsimile number: (852) 2730 3256

Email address: enquiry@vsbhk.org.hk
Monday – Friday 8:30 am to 12:30 pm
1:30 pm to 5:45 pm

Saturday, Sunday and Public Holiday Closed

If a criminal offence has been committed

If you think the vet may have committed a criminal offence, report the matter to the police by dialing 999.