Tuesday, January 26, 2010

For Veterinarians, Silence Has Been Golden

The American Kennel Club is moving to co-opt the veterinary trade by forming alliances between themselves and the pet insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

The goal of this cross-marketing: To make the AKC a veterinary referral and insurance service.

By doing this it is hoped that veterinarians will be beholden to the AKC, both collectively and individually, and continue to "whistle pass the graveyard" as far as the impact of Kennel Club policies that result in diseased, defective and deformed dogs.

And why not, thinks the average veterinarian?

Yes they got into the vet business because of concern and compassion for animals, but it's a free country and people will do what they want to do.

Besides, taking a stand might cost business. People get easily offended if you talk about their broken dogs and suggest that they might be complicit in the problems, either through omission or commission.

And silence sure has been lucrative!

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.

Best to shut the hell up and pocket the money!

Do all vets feel this way? No, of course not!

But enough do.

And there's no denying that, taken as a whole, the veterinary profession has been extremely timid at challenging the Kennel Club in the past.

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.

Yet every veterinarian knows that certain breeds are a sack of trouble with predictable (and generally rising) rates of pain and veterinary expense.

  • Dachshunds have serious back problems; fully 45% end up with herniated discs.
  • Collies have a huge incidence of eye problems (retinal degeneration, cataracts, retinal detachment, progressive retinal atrophy).
  • Bernese Mountain dogs, Scotties, Flat-coated Retrievers, Deerhounds, and all the Setters have jaw-dropping levels of cancer.
  • Nearly every toy breed (and especially Yorkshire terriers) have dental problems from too many teeth crowding too-small jaws.
  • German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and St. Bernards commonly have life-limiting hip dysplasia.
  • American Cocker spaniels are besotted with cataracts, glaucoma, dry eye, and ingrown eyelashes.

This is just a smattering of the common canine problems out there.

Vets KNOW what these illnesses cost in terms of cash, and they know the PAIN these diseases, defects and deformities inflict on the animals themselves.

And yet the vets are silent.

There is no wall poster in your Vets Office indicting breed clubs for embracing exaggerated and contrived standards.

There is no petition or tract being handed out at your vets office advising patients to boycott the American Kennel Club until that organization turns away dogs with high Coefficients of Inbreeding.

The vets are nearly silent about the litany of pain, suffering, shortened life, and rising expense from breeding dogs within a closed registry system.

And yet, in this case, Silence Equals Death.

Why isn't the American Veterinary Medical Association at war with the American Kennel Club?

They aren't.

And I can tell you why; they are too busy "partnering" and "cross promoting" with these folks.

Imagine a computer virus maker sitting down for breakfast every morning with the folks from "Geeks On Call," and you have the idea.

Now add in long term physical pain and suffering on the part of the mute and helpless, and simmer for 30 years. That's the American Veterinary profession and the American Kennel Club: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

So what if a significant proportion of Doberman Pinschers have a bleeding disorder?

Never mind that a mind-numbing percentage of Dalmatians are deaf.

Who cares if scores of thousands of Toy Poodles with epilepsy are on powerful meds to control their seizures?

Why even mention that thousands of Boxers that are put down every year due to tumors and bone cancer?

You've got a dog with a serious genetic disorder?

Too bad. Bad luck.

No, it couldn't possibly have anything to do with breed standards that monumentalize deformity or small closed registries that result in rising levels of inbreeding.

Not that. Think of something else.

And don't talk about puppy mills either, as the AKC is dependent upon them financially, as they have admitted in their own board meeting minutes.

It must be something else.

It must be nameless, faceless "bad breeders."

It's their fault!

But have no fear, because American Kennel Club breeders are only too happy to sell you another dog just like the one you just "lost."

And have no worries, because the American Veterinary Medical Association is only too happy to tell your vet how he or she can maximize your bill while your dog is being treated.

In the "dash for the cash," both sides have come to the same conclusion: Silence is Golden.



Mongoose said...

Every time you write one of these posts I dread finding out something horrible about shiba inus.

Seahorse said...

Early yesterday my mother had to euthanize her beloved West Highland White Terrier due to thombocytopenia. Appearing in perfect health Thursday, he was dead Monday morning. To say the least, she is devastated. The vets all told her it is not uncommon in Westies, though my reading so far doesn't seem to single them out. He did have other heritable conditions, all linked to his breed. We'll likely never know the trigger of this monster, but in reading it looks as if vaccines might be one. I also wonder about herbicides and insecticides. The yard was sprayed last week with whatever crap Floridians routinely dose their grounds with. Although she allowed it to dry before he stepped on it, he still got yellow residue on his legs, which she promptly washed off. Was it breed, vaccines or pesticides as the trigger? I don't know, but I doubt any of those helped. The result is a charming little terrier felled, and an inconsolable owner emotionally ruined. Oh, and $4k was dumped into treatments that did nothing.

Gina said...

Honestly, Patrick, I talk to a great many different veterinarians all the time, and I don't know any who give a rat's ass about the AKC and not many who hold the group in high regard. Their trade group may be involved in some work there, but if you follow anything, you know that the AVMA has a membership that's not marching in lockstep by any means.

I think it's more that veterinarians, like doctors, are trained to work reactively, not proactively. I mean, seriously, you don't see a lot of human health-care professionals advocating that people with congenital health problems not reproduce, do you? Doctors treat disease when it's presented. So do veterinarians.

But for what it's worth, I was warned and warned well by veterinarians on two breeds: The Cavalier and the flat-coated retriever.

My friend and co-author Dr. Paul Pion*, a prominent veterinary cardiologist and head of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), told me I was a damn fool to even consider a Cavalier. (I got one anyway, and later rehomed him because my Sheltie hated him. That Cavalier is pushing 10 and still in good health. And our blogger Kim Thornton's Cavalier Bella just turned 14.) And an oncologist I talk to regularly winced when I mentioned my plans to get a flat-coat.

But there's a reason why I ignored the advice: Flatcoats are sweet-natured, easy-going, lovely companions and good working dogs. And, in the case of the flat-coat community, there's strong advocacy to do what needs to be done to fix the cancer issue. I believe that will one day in the not too distant future involve outcrossing.

You likely think I'm an idiot, and that's fine, but I love flat-coated retrievers. Living with them makes me very happy, and working to make them healthier while maintaining their working ability is one of the most important things in the world to me.

*Note on Dr. Pion: You need to look at the last two stories from the VIN News Network to get an idea of what kind of heart this cardiologist has. news.vin.com

Viatecio said...

The more I read about everything involved in the veterinary business, the more I realize how difficult the job as a vet tech will be for me, personally.

I am adamantly against the 'training' methods espoused by most veterinarians or veterinary behaviorists, especially those involving cast amounts of cookies and the exclusive use of a headcollar. Personal preference on that decision.

I cannot in good conscience recommend the house brand of food because (despite the fact that it has corn in it and most dogs do fine on it and whatnot) I will more than likely not be feeding it. Again, personal preference. I can make an exemption with prescription foods for certain medical conditions (heart, kidney diets, etc), but not for obesity, dental care, or allergies.

I do not agree with yearly vaccination boosters and will probably have trouble asking people to come back in a year to have yet another unnecessary and expensive jab. It's been announced time and again how detrimental the practice is, and some vets have caught on (for example, the updated recommendations are on my vet's website and newsletter...yet they still recommend yearly!), but so far, they're few and far between as far as I know.

Your post notes perfectly the problems with certain breeds: even our DVM professors say that "[such and such a disease] tends to happen with [these breeds] more than others." Yet there is nothing about educating owners on how to pick a healthier breed within their personal tastes, so that they might not have to spend as much money throughout the life of the dog on maintenance care. (Speaking of money, Seahorse, that would definitely ruin anyone's day to have to go through what your mother did, especially at that cost. Sorry to hear about the loss, no matter the cause...it always hurts to lose a best friend!) And the most ironic thing is that most of the owners who had such problems or live with issues like the snorting/farting, or the inherent back problems, etc, would say "I'd do it all over again." Can't tell people what to do with their money, and I'm all for freedom of choice without forcing education down their throats, but I do wish people would use their brains sometimes.

While I don't like the rabid spay/neuter attitude and oppose the practice in general, I can see why some people lack the responsibility to keep an intact pet and do need it sterilized. But doing every single animal, because it's "responsible"? My responsibility is to a pet's health and well-being...and with studies out there showing detrimental health effects that can be correlated with castration or ovariohysterectomy at least before physical maturation, I find it hard to condone automatic surgery scheduling at the first visit.

I guess my only hope is to find a good vet under whom I can work, but something tells me I'm very limited in that...I'll probably just have to maintain a stiff upper lip when I graduate, do the best I can for the vet who employs me, and at least be glad I'll have a paycheck.

Sorry to get on a soapbox, but this post really did get me thinking about the future and the education taking me there.

PBurns said...

Nonsense Gina. Veterinarians are proactive as hell. Why not read Veterinary Economics (I think Dr. Becker can get you a copy for free as he is associated with it). There are articles in there all the time about being proactive -- on how to be proactive to get people into a teeth cleaning regime (big money maker!) and how to send them cards in January for their annual booster shots (big money maker) and how to space out those shots for more money (big money maker).

Every vet you have ever been to has pamphlets on diseases (and what drugs will fix them), and bulletin boards with the same. Proactive? They are as proactive as hell when it comes to upcoding, double billing, and billing for medically unnecessary services. You know it, and I know it.

Are you foolish for having a flatcoat, a known cancer-bomb? Sure. But it's a common foolishness -- you keep getting the same kind of dog because you think none other have the same personality, never quite paying attention to the fact that all your flatcoats have had different personalities.

You say vets don't care about the AKC. Nonsense again. The AVMA partners with the AKC and the AKC has a pet insurance and a vet referral service. Vets are not stupid and know that silence is golden.

But hell, here's a challenge to prove me wrong. Next Parade piece, why don't you and Dr. Becker blast the AKC and list the top 10 breeds that only an idiot would own and put the bulldog (an AKC top 10 breed) among them. That will be a useful article, and maybe a few vets would pin it to their bulletin board between the Frontline ad and the Comfortis ad. That, at least, would be a start.