Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vets Invested in Defect, Deformity and Disease


A while back, in a post entitled For Veterinarians, Silence Has Been Golden, I noted the complicity vets have in the diseased, deformed and defective pedigree dogs that we see today:

Pencil it out, and the big money in veterinary care is not in once-a-lifetime vaccines, but in the big stuff: shot hips, wrecked eyes, recurring skin conditions, Cesarean births, and mounting rates of cancer.... The vets are nearly silent about the litany of pain, suffering, shortened life, and rising expense...

For those who think my post was too cynical, I recommend going over to the Purina Care blog, where veterinarian Larry McDaniel writes about the recent New York Times piece on English Bulldogs (for my take on that, see here).  McDaniel writes

I vividly remember a conversation I had with an established Veterinarian when I was starting out in practice in Montana. He told me that one sure fire way to get my practice going was to help establish the Bulldog as a breed in Western Montana. I thought he was joking, but he was serious. All the Bulldog people in the Western Part of the state saw him as the expert and brought their dogs to him. He told me that much of his success was based on the Bulldog.

Is this kind of advice rare in the veterinary field?

Apparently, not at all.   Veterinarian Emma Milne, in the U.K., once gave a presentation about health problems in pedigree dogs to the British Veterinary Association when an opthamological veterinarian stood up and said, point blank:  Why would I want a healthier dog when it's the wrecked Kennel Club dogs that bring in the money? 

Was this being said as a joke?  At the time, some thought so, but maybe not! 

One things for sure, as I noted in my earlier piece:

Just go to your vet and ask if he or she has a written list of breeds they actively caution against.

It's not going to be there.

Fact sheets on heartworm? Check. Even vets in Maine will have that in hope of maybe making a sale to a gullible customer.

But a fact sheet that says "avoid these breeds which are walking cancer bombs?"

A brochure that says "just say no to anchondroplastic dogs and brachycephalic breeds?"

Not there.

Nope.  Still not there.  Some things never change.
.

6 comments:

Leema said...

It make my skin crawl, but I know it must be true. Vets have a lot to gain by advocating the current status quo, across breeds, across disciplines, and with legislation. Why would vets speak out against excessive vaccination? About routine surgery to remove gonads? And about unhealthy dog breeds? All these routes bring them business.

I keep getting told that vets are genuinely in it for the animals, but so far I haven't seen it.

PBurns said...

People are people, pretty much the same in all fields. If there is more money to be made, it's pretty easy to rationalize silence in the face of deformity, defect and disease, and just as easy to rationalize junk billing and pocketing kickbacks ("Hey, that's not a kickback, that's free dog food they give me because I do a lot of business with them").

P

Viatecio said...

Oh, the vets will TALK about it. I know a few who, when the subject came up, SAY that they have told people to never get a Bulldog or any similar brachy breed, but like you said, there are no brochures or client education on the topic.

My suspicion is that this is to prevent people who actually own the breeds from soiling their pants out of offense. They don't want to know that their preshus goggies have issues--after all, they've never had so much as a cough in their lives, right? THey MUST be healthy, and the kyootness overrides any health problem whatsoever, anyway. It's like dividing by zero: when you have someone who can't see the problem when it's right in front of them, there is NO POSSIBLE SOLUTION.

Yes, vets will talk out their mouths about why to not get a brachy breed, but the problem is that they cannot turn away clients they already have with those dogs. I'm not sure the client would appreciate knowing that they're going to a vet who doesn't at all care for their pet--and here it comes down to, well, the dog is here and it needs care. If the owners CAN afford it, keep them coming back. It's a combination of stupid people who are so charmed by hideous beasts and silent vets who are afraid to lose those people as clients (not to forget the $$ issue to which you bring up time and again) that will make the problem stick around for a LONG time.

macsomjrr said...

Just a quick thought (I'm a shelter vet who also does private practice work) about your post. I agree with your point that we shouldn't be encouraging people to breed or buy some of the disease ridden dogs and cats (and other animals) that are the result of selective breeding techniques...

Buuuuuuuuuut...

...as veterinarians we're kinda stuck between a rock and a hard place. I unfortunately do not have a clientele of well-educated, animal centric, knowledgable people (as you seem to be). If I place literature in my hospital warning against purchasing a bulldog, or a cocker, or lab, or whatever then how do you think that is going to make an owner of that particular breed feel as they walk in my door? Answer: Not very confident that I have their pets best interest in mind. Now some (perhaps more educated) owners will understand what I'm trying to say but the majority of owners of that breed are not going to be happy. They love their dog and most likely love that breed. If owner's aren't happy, I'm not getting clients. If I'm not seeing clients, I'm not getting paid. If I'm not getting paid then the $250,000+ worth of student loans (and 8+ years) it took for me to earn my degree isn't being paid for. Unfortunately it's the nature of the beast. Do I like it? No. Am I stuck dealing with it? Yes.

To be fair I do try and discuss this with client's individually during my exams but I usually try to find out what the client wants to here first. Sad but true. I just can't afford not to keep people happy just because of my own personal feelings about animal welfare.

Just a quick two cents... Sorry about the rant and any spelling/grammatical errors but it's late and it's been a long day at the hospital.

PBurns said...

Upton Sinclair observed that "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

You are saying something different, however: which is that there is a time and place and manner to say the right thing.

I would agree.

But where is that time, place and manner?

For veterinarians it is NEVER and NOWHERE.

I am serious. Go out and look for how often veterinarians talk about why people should NOT buy brachycephalic dogs. Look for veterinarians writing articles (or even blog comments) damning the closed registry system and asking for the AKC to change that and being to count health in the ring. Silence and more silence. The veterinary world is not a monolith, of course, but it is pretty close to it on this.

A doctor will get right in your face and talk about the dangers of smoking, diet, alcohol and unprotected sex, and a veterinarian has no problem telling you to do a hysterectomy on your dog or cut off his balls for a fee (and for public good), but suddenly they are sensitive about putting up a poster that tells people many of the health problems that come walking through the door -- skin issues, wreck hips, breathing problems -- are a function of dogs being bread for dysfucntion, deformity and disease? Doesn't that sound a little odd to you?

And, of course, outside the closed coffers of the waiting room, the veterinarians are also silence on the op-ed pages, the magazine columns, and the pages of the doggy publications?

At some point, I would argue, we are back with Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Time, place and manner? Of course. But where is that time, place and manner? With vets, it's never and not now, and certainly not in the office!

P

Rumtopf said...

I came across this post via google, so I know it's a couple years old n' everything.(I'm totally going to be reading more, btw, I like it here :D)

I worked as a vet nurse in the past, I personally advised against specific breeds to those who asked, but no we didn't have any posters up about pedigree dog health. I agree with the above poster's sentiments about trying not to offend clients who already own high-risk breeds with literature in the waiting room, but individually warning clients and encouraging research is the minimum we should do.

We did have vets who actively discouraged people who were asking about particular high-risk breeds. They did list the common health problems and were quite firm with stating that the clients were basically not going to be able to avoid vet bill after vet bill, and a potentially unhappy, short-lived dog if they weren't super careful(and even then, depending on the breed, illness is sometimes just a given). Of course, the clients don't always listen, or they plain don't consult a vet at all before getting such breeds. I was present to hear one vet telling a client, as nicely as she could, "I told you so" when they brought their 3 month old bulldog pup in for skin problems, cherry eye, breathing problems and joint problems etc, the vet had warned them months before. It just broke our hearts to see such a pleasantly tempered dog so young with all those issues and probably more to come, knowing that the breeder had been supported(with a tidy £800-900 per pup) and would likely continue to produce similar dogs. That vet ranted about it all day, we hate the fact that these dogs are suffering for no good reason, not to mention feeling for the upset clients who trusted the breeder.
I also heard a loooot of swearing from another vet when another bulldog was rushed in for an emergency c-section(from a totally unprepared backyard breeder), but he couldn't turn away the animal in need either.

Yet I know these are just a couple of anecdotes, I guess I was just attempting to restore a teensy bit of faith.

Fact is that too many vets out there clearly don't feel the same way, it's depressing and a disservice to clients and patients. More vets need to speak out about it to other vets, and hell yes it would be great if the RVCS/BVA would strictly oversee this issue in the UK too.