Veterinarians have a key role in providing medical care for sports horses during and between competitions, but the standard client:veterinarian relationship that exists in companion and production animal medicine is distorted by the involvement of third parties in sports medicine, resulting in distinct ethical dilemmas which warrant focused academic attention. By comparing the existing literature on human sports medicine, this article reviews the ethical dilemmas which face veterinarians treating equine athletes, and the role of regulators in contributing to or resolving those dilemmas.
Major ethical dilemmas occur both between and during competitions. These include conflicts of responsibility, conflicts between the need for client confidentiality and the need to share information in order to maximise animal welfare, and the need for an evidence base for treatment. Although many of the ethical problems faced in human and equine sports medicine are similar, the duty conferred upon a veterinarian by the licensing authority to ensure the welfare of animals committed to his or her care requires different obligations to those of a human sports medicine doctor. Suggested improvements to current practice which would help to address ethical dilemmas in equine sports medicine include an enhanced system for recording equine injuries, the use of professional Codes of Conduct and Codes of Ethics to establish acceptable responses to common ethical problems, and insistence that treatment of equine athletes is evidence-based (so far as possible) rather than economics-driven.