Legalities of Animal Dentistry Debated in California, Canada

Two legal cases have brought the question of who should perform animal dentistry – veterinary professionals or unlicensed entrepreneurs – to the industry forefront. Veterinary practice acts define animal dentistry as veterinary procedures, but vague legal language has opened the door for misinterpretation or misuse in California and Canada and reinforce the importance of educating clients about unlicensed practitioners whose actions can cause animal injury and death.

The California Veterinary Medical Board (CVMB) has filed six citations over the last three years against Canine Care, a non-veterinary business that offers anesthesia-free teeth cleaning, for violations of that state’s Veterinary Practice Act. The issue came to a head in December when an Attorney General’s office judge heard testimony from the two parties. A decision is expected within 30 days that could award the CVMB $500 per citation and enforce the Act.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the Alberta Court of Appeals ruled Jan. 28 that the Veterinary Profession Act did not include equine dentistry, a verdict that worries small and large animal veterinarians. “The concern is that if dentistry isn’t included in the … [veterinary] surgery and medicine what else isn’t included?” said Clay Gellhaus, deputy registrar for the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. “What else can people do?”

The Alberta VMA may take the case to the Supreme Court and consider revising the Veterinary Profession Act because the judge said the scope of dental practice wasn’t clearly defined, Gellhaus said.

The California case illustrates what can happen when veterinarians are not involved in dental procedures. Canine Care staff members, who are unlicensed and have no veterinary training, have injured two animals and killed a 5-year-old Pekingese while performing dental cleanings, according to the CVMB. “This is a consumer fraud issue,” explained Gina Bayless, CVMB enforcement program manager. “[Clients are] not getting the cleaning procedure they think they’re getting.”

Canine Care has offered non-veterinary training in dental procedures since 1979, and requires “more than 200 hours long…[including] field training with another hygienist,” according to a company website. The owner, who has no veterinary training, developed the curriculum, said Bayless. “They [employees] don’t know how to remove plaque and are using scrapers that can lead to infection,” she said. “And the conditions are not sanitary. They’re sitting down on the floor and removing plaque from an animal’s teeth.”

The company sends employees to at least seven pet shops, grooming stores and pet spas to perform cleanings and offers a franchisee agreement, which indicates potential for expansion, said Bayless. “It’s really frustrating because we’ve tried to educate pet stores and grooming locations about it, but they believe Canine Care over a state agency,” she said.

Veterinary practice teams across the country should be aware of unlicensed, unlawful operations that jeopardize animal health, said Sara Sharp, secretary for the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians. “This is going to be a national issue. There are always going to be people who think they can clean a dog’s teeth,” she said.

The California Veterinary Medical Association wrote letters to Canine Care, advising the company of the law, said Dick Schumacher, executive director. “It’s clear to us and to them that this is an illegal activity,” he said.

While the CVMA and the Alberta VMA pursue legal action to protect animals from non-veterinary dental procedures, representatives advise veterinarians to educate clients about these unlicensed providers. CVMA members can download and print an online brochure for clients and industry-wide pet dental information is available at

NEWStat Legislation & regulation