Minnesota Equine Tooth Floaters Lose First Round

The Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine can continue to regulate the floating of horses' teeth as the practice of veterinary medicine, according to the Fourth Judicial District Court for Hennepin County. In a 51-page decision rendered June 20, 2008 (Johnson v. Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine), the Court found a rational basis for state regulation of non-veterinarians who float teeth. The decision came two years after Chris Johnson, a third-generation lay equine dentist, filed a lawsuit against the state board in response to a cease and desist order directing him to stop floating teeth or face possible criminal charges.

Minnesota law allows non-veterinarians who are certified by the International Association of Equine Dentistry to float teeth under the direct or indirect supervision of a large animal veterinarian. An exception also is granted to individuals with substantial on-the-job experience who work with veterinary supervision. Neither exception applies to Johnson, however, and the lawsuit argued that the regulations denied him the right to earn a living at the vocation of his choosing.

Equine dentist at work

Some states allow lay dentists to float horses' teeth. Others require floaters to have a veterinary license or direct or indirect supervision.

Johnson is represented by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based public interest law firm that litigates challenges to state regulation of professions and trades. Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute's Minnesota Chapter, argued the plaintiff's case with attorney Clark Neily. McGrath said that it was unfair for the state board to threaten Johnson and other teeth floaters while ignoring farriers.

The Minnesota veterinary practice act excludes certain herd management activities (including cattle dehorning, docking of sheep, and castration of cattle, swine, goats, and sheep) from the practice of veterinary medicine. Farriers, who are not specifically excluded, have not been prosecuted by the state board, according to McGrath.

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The Court found that there are "true, genuine, and substantial differences between equine teeth floating and other types of animal husbandry," including farrier work, and that the challenged statutes "are devised and directly relate to protect the health, safety, and welfare of horses and teeth floaters." Although the American Veterinary Medical Association considers floating teeth to be the practice of veterinary medicine, more than a dozen states allow non-veterinarians to legally do so.

"Treating one profession significantly different from another is inherently unfair," McGrath said after the decision was rendered. A decision about whether to appeal the decision will be made within the next week

About the Author

Milt Toby, JD

Milt Toby is an author and attorney who has been writing about horses and legal issues affecting the equine industry for more than 40 years. Former Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association's Equine Law Section, Milt has written eight nonfiction books, including national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor. He teaches Equine Commercial Law in the University of Louisville's Equine Industry Program.

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