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XL Bully ban: practical ways to support team vet

12 Dec 2023 | Rosie Allister


With the XL Bully ban coming into force from 31 December in England and Wales, Rosie Allister, Vetlife Helpline Manager, explores how vet teams can support their colleagues when navigating the ethical and psychological challenges that may arise.

XL Bully ban: practical ways to support team vet Image

XL Bully ban: guidance for vets

Stay up to date with the latest resources, webinars and developments on the XL Bully ban with this practical guide for our members in England and Wales. We'll continue to update this resource as new details are released.

The government has announced that a ban on XL Bully type dogs will come into force in England and Wales on 31 December 2023. DEFRA, BVA, and RCVS have published guidance for veterinary professionals. Amidst this, veterinary teams may be facing ethical and psychological challenges from the ban, and supporting clients and communities affected in different ways.

The impact on vet teams

Legislation like this does not affect everyone in the same way, and that’s important in planning support. Some teams are working with vulnerable clients who may struggle to meet exemption criteria and face losing pets, losing access to housing, or other difficulties. Teams may be supporting clients or communities impacted by dog attacks with strong feelings about the ban. Others will be working with shelters where dogs cannot be rehomed, and be required to be involved in euthanasia of healthy animals. Some teams may see clients presenting for the euthanasia of healthy pets, or have workload impacts from neutering requirements, as well as other impacts.

Moral injury

We know that there can be psychological distress for professionals when circumstances we are faced with at work, and our actions (or lack of them), violate our moral or ethical codes. This psychological distress is known as moral injury. Moral injury can contribute to negative feelings about yourself or others, and may contribute to developing mental health problems.

Context matters for the impact of this legislation too. We know many veterinary teams are struggling with staffing and workload, alongside other recent changes. When resources are already stretched or overwhelmed it can be harder to navigate difficulties.

Impact on individuals

Individual factors are important in how people may be affected too. Sometimes, in trying to support colleagues people assume that we all share the same ethics around euthanasia, and may try to tell colleagues of personally held views in an attempt to support. But in support, it’s important first to understand the perspective of the colleague who is distressed. There are a range of ethical views within our professions, and personal and other factors that may be involved. Imposing ethical frameworks at a time of distress may not be experienced as supportive.

Active listening and containment for distress are needed. Offering a space where someone’s experience can be expressed and met with open mindedness and without judgement, then perspective taking and empathy. Reflective practice, structured case discussions considering ethics, and clinical supervision can have an important role, and are already used in veterinary settings.

So, what are the practical ways we can support colleagues?

For teams affected by the ban, prioritising mental health at work is vital. Core aspects of this – workload, breaks, adequate resourcing, consideration around lone working, night working and sleep, being acknowledged and thanked, and time to talk with colleagues are all important.

Clear communication with staff is key. There’s evidence from healthcare that staff exposed to situations in work that may be traumatic may benefit from being made aware of the work they may be asked to do in their role and of the psychological challenges. This needs care from leaders not to under-state or over-state potential for trauma. Regular team briefings and post-shift reviews with team leaders can offer a space for check ins and support. Where someone is affected, one to one support is needed.

Psychologically aware and compassionate leadership is vital. Offering training for leaders in active listening and how people may be affected can help leaders feel prepared to listen and support and know what to do if they are concerned for staff.

Team activities that promote trust and strengthen bonds can facilitate peer support - both formal (trained peer supporters and schemes) and informal (supportive conversations between colleagues). Allowing (and prioritising) time for this and creating spaces where this can happen is an important part of workplace support.

Compulsory deployment to ethically challenging work is associated with poorer mental health outcomes for staff in healthcare. Allowing people to self-assess (in an ongoing way) whether they are able to do certain work may have a role, along with consideration of whether/to what extent opts-outs are possible. Remember, not everyone will be affected in the same way all the time.

In other challenging situations our profession has faced, some people affected have not felt able to use formal mental health support. It’s vital that we work on breaking down obstacles to accessing formal support (and ensuring it is available), so that those who do need it can access it.


To speak to someone in confidence, Vetlife Helpline is available 24 hours a day on 0303 040 2551 or email via [email protected]



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