Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pimping for Pain at Penn Vet School

Last week, I wrote a post entitled For Veterinarians, Silence Has Been Golden in which I noted that:

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

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.

Gina Spadafori at Pet Connection (who is also a syndicated columnist for Universal Press Syndicate) weighed in on the comments to say:

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.

She then goes on to explain that real-world veterinary silence is due to vets being "trained to work reactively, not proactively."

Of course, I think this is absolute nonsense, as I pointed out. (I still love 'ya Gina)

The medical profession is taught to be a proactive.

If you smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars, your doctor lectures you.

If you are fat your doctor lectures you about that.

If you are a teenage boy or girl, and you go to my family's pediatrician, you will get "the talk" from the doctor (whether or not if you had it with your your parents).

And yes, if you are an Ashkenazi Jew who is marrying another Ashkenazi Jew, you will also get the lecture about genetic testing to avoid Tay Sachs.

And, as I pointed out, the veterinarians are pro-active as hell when it comes to suggesting you get year-round heartworm medication (even when it's snowing outside and medically unnecessary), and medically unnecessary and dangerous teeth cleaning, and medically unnecessary vaccinations.

In fact, there is an entire magazine -- Veterinary Economics -- devoted to pro-active billing by veterinarians. Gina's co-author on a number of books, Dr. Marty Becker, is an Advisory Board member.

Want another example?

Here it is: Joan C. Hendricks, the Dean of the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school who seems to be edging close to pimping for pain in dogs.

And why is Joan C. Hendricks edging close to pimping for pain in dogs?

Well here's a clue: She's the "Gilbert S. Kahn" Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

And who is Gilbert S. Kahn?

Well, it turns out he is a wealthy AKC judge living in Newport, Rhode Island (contact information here), who is also a breeder of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (his 2008 Westminster dog is here at #10) and a retired board member of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

It seems Mr. Kahn might have got a wee bit upset that the breed he judges and which he breeds himself (under the "Charing Cross" prefix) has taken the center ring (along with the English Bulldog) for canine dysfunction.

Upset? I would think he would want to take a bow.

You see, without apologist breeders and judges like him, the American Kennel Club could not continue to salute the inbreeding of dogs or the extreme kinds of morphological exaggerations that leave dogs crippled, barely breathing, with serious heart ailments, and with neurological damage that leaves them howling in pain.

It's not like Gilbert S. Kahn is a man to be ignored in the AKC, is it? No. In fact, the gentleman is the "Chairman" of the AKC's "Museum of the Dog," and a Westminster Judge to boot, which means he is at the center of it all, and is a man they would have to listen to.

Take a bow Gilbert S. Kahn; the disease, dysfunction and deformity we see in the world of pedigree dogs today is part of your legacy. Those ribbons? No one will remember. They will vanish into the wind, tossed out into the trash upon your death, same as your old underwear. But the pain and suffering in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will last forever so long as people like you wink, nod, and look the other way.

Of course Gilbert S. Kahn will say he is doing something.

After all, he is a founder and "Grand Benefactor" of $10,000 or more to the "American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club's Charitable Trust."

I went to the IRS to see what kind of magnificent work the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club's Charitable Trust was up to in 2008. Here's the answer: they paid $45,970 to support the "Ohio State University Rescue Education Survey." This was 100% of what the Charitable Trust did in 2008. And what was this Rescue Education Survey? I have no idea, but it sounds a bit removed from the very serious and pressing health concerns that face Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. There were, it should be said, three more expenses: two checks totaling $27,500 to the "AKC Health Foundation" and one $3,000 check going to the "Rabies Challenge Fund." How any of these donations help solve the very pressing health problems facing Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is beyond me, but perhaps that $27,500 check is for some bit of good.

So what does Joan C. Hendricks, the "Gilbert S. Kahn" Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, have to say?

She writes in a letter posted on the web site of the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club that someone at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school had the temerity to actually discuss dog health to the media and what was said might have reflected poorly on the Cavlier King Charles Spaniel and the wreckage that Kennel Club breeders and show judges (like Gilbert S. Kahn) have left the dogs in.

Well actually, the film footage and the statistics did that, Dr. Hendricks. But never mind....

Now to her credit, Dr. Hendricks does not say the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is not a genetic basketcase. She does not lie.

Instead, she writes to let everyone know that "There was no mention of the efforts by breed clubs and the Kennel Club (UK) to support studies of these health problems in order to find ways to eliminate them."

OK, I'll bite.

Name one thing the Kennel Club has done to suggest eliminating them?

You see, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand the problems in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

This is a breed that was created wholecloth at the the Crufts dog show out of a gene pool of one, and it is so inbred that more than 80 percent of all dogs now have heart problems, and one-third appear to have some form or other of Syringomyelia.

Has the American Kennel Club suggested outcrossing to breed away from these problems?


Has University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School Dean Joan C. Hendricks suggested outcrossing?

No, she has not.

And, to tell the truth, since she is the "Gilbert S. Kahn" Dean of the veterinary school, I am pretty sure she never will. I suspect she knows where her bread is buttered.

Dr. Hendricks goes on to say that "high-quality scientific studies of mixed breed dogs in comparison to purebred dogs are sorely lacking."


Well maybe she needs to read the literature a little more.

You see the veterinary insurance companies are doing this kind of work all the time, and in fact their business depends on it. For example, here's a pretty nice paper on the relative health of various breeds done by the Swedish pet insurance company Agria which now underwrites the British Kennel Club's pet insurance plan.

Over at Embrace Pet Insurance they specifically want you to know that they cover the wreckage of diseases and deformities created by the American Kennel Club's breeding practices. Just tell them your breed, and they will tell you how high your premiums are going to be!

And, of course, if you want to do a study on inbreeding in dogs, it's not hard, as Imperial College in London has shown.

Has the University of Pennsylvania done a similar study using the AKC's pedigree records? No, of course not. The AKC would never let them.

What the AKC wants is not action to improve the health of dogs -- it wants "paralysis through analysis."

And the University of Pennsylvania is playing along.

The way this works is that academics are paid to "study" a problem for decades at a time. Obvious solutions (like outcrossing or changing breed standards) are not to be considered. Instead the goal is to find a for-profit medication which will allow the disease or defect to be maintained without allowing outcrossing and without changing the breed standard.

Look at the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, for example. Heart problems? No problem at all -- just give these little pills to your dog every day, twice a day, for the rest of its life and make sure it does not stray too far from the couch. Whatever you do, do not do an outcross to produce a healthier dog!

You want another example? Fine, here it is. It turns out that University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School Dean Joan C. Hendricks has herself studied English Bulldogs and even co-authored a paper entitled English Bulldog: a Natural Model of Sleep-disordered Breathing.

But has she come out and suggested a change to the AKC's breed standard which is the cause of all that troubled Bulldog breathing? Nope. Not that I can find.

How can a veterinarian spend time studying canine hypoxia in English Bulldogs and still stands silent, hands in pocket, while millions of dogs all over the world gasp for air?

It is beyond me.

Did a solution not come to her mind?

Or was this another case where her bread was buttered on the other side?

ABC News Nightline on the American Kennel Club



Carolyn Horowitz said...

The AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) gives grants for research. Current research grants for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can be found here:

There's a current grant sponsored by the Cavlier Charitable Trust described, below. That's probably what the reason for the check.

Active Grant: 954
Identification of Genes Causing Chiari I Malformation with Syringomelia in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Grant Duration:

06/01/2008 - 05/31/2010


Neurology: Syringomyelia


American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club Charitable Trust, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, USA Health Foundation


Dr. Zoha Kibar, PhD


Cavalier King Charles Spaniel


Background: Chiari-like malformation (CM) is a deformity that occurs in the region where the brain joins the spinal cord and that is present at birth. The lower portions of the brain protrude into the vertebral canal causing a variety of clinical signs. CM is often associated with syringomyelia (SM), which describes an abnormal collection of cerebral spinal fluid within the spine. The symptoms of CM/SM vary in severity from mild pain to more devastating neuropathic pain which includes persistent scratching at one side of the shoulder/neck. Some dogs have other neurological deficits including paresis, poor coordination (ataxia) and spinal curvature (scoliosis) abnormalities. This condition is particularly common in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (CKCS) as compared to other breeds, suggesting the involvement of genetic factors in the etiology of this disease. Objective: In this study, the researchers will identify and characterize the gene(s) defective in this disease. Identification of the CM/SM gene(s) will allow the development of a DNA test that will allow breeders to identify carriers and devise breeding strategies with the aim of reducing or eliminating this devastating condition in the dog. These studies will also help to better understand the pathogenic mechanisms involved in CM/SM for better treatment strategies.

Miki said...

I'm reminded of the comment on page 26 of the Bateson Report that

"[t]he funding provided by organisations such as the Kennel Club, Dogs Trust, UFAW, and RSPCA, by breed societies and from the pet food industry . . . came as relatively small sums over short time-scales and therefore while adequate to support a PhD student, was not adequate to support a post-doctoral fellow or a team of trained professionals."

HTTrainer said...

If cattle breeders can figure out that outcrosses are necessary to improve their livestock and reduce the incidences of genetic problems what makes the dog breeders so much smarter?
The cattle breeders eliminate a problem, but the dog breeders just compound them. I guess they're so smart they're stupid.

Bartimaeus said...

I have been aware of your book for awhile, but finally got around to ordering it last week and found your blog at the same time. As a veterinarian and a skeptic interested in science-based medicine, I really appreciate the points you have made in these posts.
It might also be worth drawing some attention to the infiltration of non science-based medicine into veterinary schools and the AKC. Also known as supplements, complementary and alternative medicine (SCAM). These unproven and dis-proven modalities are also frequently promoted in publications like Vet. Econ. and at conferences as ways to increase practice income.

zron said...

With regard to the study of genetics related to SM in Cavaliers - the goal of this study is most likely how to breed out the problem without outcrossing. And the recommendation of the study will be to breed away from affected individuals and lines. The effect of which is to restrict the gene pool even further. Same scenario in Dalmatians, and other breeds. The problem is that club members will actively prolong and sabotage any suggestion that disfavors any prominent "lines". Whenever anyone suggests action, those in power will say the results are inconclusive and more study is needed. They are phobic about the suggestion of an outcross - ostensibly because of the possibility of introducing some deleterious gene. They view their sacrosanct gene pool as a haven of safety. And breeders will carefully disavow any genetic fault in their line.

PBurns said...

Miki -- Nice reference to the Bateson Report. Yes, this is exactly the technique -- just enough money so that nothing much can be done, but just enough to say something is being done. This is a blocking move, not an action to actionally solve the problem

Zron, you are of course right. A dog that started off with a gene pool of one (obviously a few lesser dogs were added) is going to be constricted even further, thereby increasing the chance of a doubling down on other negative genes. In the case of the Cavalier, the only way forward is to start again with an open registry and a new name for the dog (every variation of which should be trade marked and copyrighted so the AKC can never control it). As to the problems of choking down on gene pools through "gene tests" I have described that in Inbred Thinking at >>

"Unfortunately, testing and culling alone are not a curative for genetic problems. In fact, culling large numbers of dogs from a gene pool only serves to further reduce the size of the gene pool. So long as you are operating within a closed registry, the engine of disaster is still on the tracks ... and only increasing its speed."


Gina said...

Further thoughts on the veterinarian motivation issue (goes with the previous comment, which I figure you'll clear from moderation eventually):


As everyone knows, the Derby winner shattered his leg at the Preakness Stakes, was stabilized at the track and rushed to Penn. There, a team of the best equine veterinarians, farriers, techs, grooms, etc., worked for weeks and weeks to save the horse's life, but had to euthanize him in the end.

So ... afterward, did the world-renowned equine surgeon Dr.
Dean Richardson use his bully pulpit to discuss the problems with the thoroughbred racehorse, which is basically a large, muscular animal bred from a few sires within a closed gene pool to have a big heart and a bigger desire to win who throws it all donwn on one fragile leg at a time at 40 mph, with occasionally fatal results for horse and (less often) for rider?

No, he did not. He went quietly back to putting other horses (and the occasional panda) back together.

Is it because broken racehorses are good business? Actually, since any horse except Barbaro would have been killed at track (as Eight Belles was a year later at the Derby, because her injuries were absolutely hopeless), broken racehorse are bad for business -- both the veterinary business and the business of racing, which is in precipitous decline.

But I suspect Dr. Richardson has all his life accepted as immutable fact that thoroughbred racehorses are fragile creatures, always have been, always will be. And when he can, he fixes them. When he can't, he doesn't think about it very much more.

We all sort of accept things as the way they are until someone shakes us and points out they don't have to be that way.

There's a whole lotta shaking going on now, and that's a good thing. But to attribute greedy or unethical motivations to people who haven't been shaken yet, is neither right nor fair.

PBurns said...

What previous comment? I have grenlighted any and everything you have ever posted.

You and I will have to disagree on "Veterinary Economics" (have you read the publication?)

Vets very clearly look at disease and dysfunction in the pet world as a money maker, the same as a car mechanic looks at a bad car as a mortage payment. When vets are giving and listening to all those lectures about "stregthening the human-animal bond" at conferences, what they are REALLY talking about is how to screw folks out of more money by making the visit about "friendship" so that more goods and service can be sold. Funny how vets are proactive as hell about this. But the vets never noticed that the bulldgs could not breathe? They never noticed they all required caesarians? They never noticed that 80 percent of Cavaliers have heart problems? Give me a break! They KNOW, and they know it's wrong, and they pocket the cash either laughing or shaking their head, but never talking too much about it (ir at all).

Veterinarians dope the hell out of horse and do not talk about it. You know that. They also breed milk cows that cannot breed on their own and do not talk about it. You know that. In fact, that's half their business today -- creating artifice and presenting it as normal. Without veterinairy compicity, Bulldogs and Frenchies would be forced to change or die off, and most Cavalier King Charles Spaniels would be pruned as the rotten fruit they are. Would that be a bad thing? Not for the dogs it wouldn't be!


Heather Houlahan said...

I find it curious that the AMOUNT of the syringomyelia grant is not mentioned.

Not that it matters. I bet it's not much.

Give me the same money, ten healthy Welsh springer bitches to start, access to my choice of twelve-year-old Cavalier studs, real information about those studs' first-degree relatives, and fifteen years.

I'll fix your damn skull-squeeze problem, and your leaky hearts to boot, and you'll have wonderful sturdy small pet dogs in the end. All raised in family homes like guide dog breeding stock.

When the piddling grant money runs out in the first two years, the sale of these nice healthy pet pups -- the "culls" not retained for further development -- will continue to fund the project.

PBurns said...

One hundred percent right Heather. Dogs are not rocket science. As noted earlier, if our farmers can fix their problems, how come the Kennel Club can't? And, of course, the answer is because the farmers are TRYING and the Kennel Club and their apologists (paid and unpaid) are not.


Retrieverman said...

James Serpell is also on the faculty at that veterinary school.

He may be the voice of reason there.

It's very sad to see a veterinarian write such a poorly reasoned post on purebred dog health. It's almost like what happens when a government agency or a politician gets in trouble. "No problem here, we're throwing money somewhere."

I can't believe anyone would say that there are very few scientific studies on purebred versus mixed breeds. I will concede that designer crossbreeds have not been studied very closely, except that golden/Labrador crosses are more successful as guide dogs than either purebred goldens or Labradors.

Heather Houlahan said...

The tricky part would be getting the ten Welsh springer bitches of high quality.

Because why should breeders of nice dogs such as Welsh springers give up their good female broodstock for a project to fix another breed?

I wouldn't let you have a good ES bitch puppy from one of my litters to fix the eyes and jaws and coats and brains of show collies, say.

But it's necessary to start with bitches of another breed, because some of the Cavaliers' biggest problems can show up late in life -- late enough that it would be wrong and dangerous to breed a bitch that had lived long enough to prove she wasn't affected.

So maybe it would be easier to arrange half-interest in twenty good Welsh springer bitches. Two litters per bitch to the project, and their first litter can be purebred springers. Maybe the springer people would go for that kind of arrangement.

The nice thing is, the springer ancestors don't need to be the great working dogs that hunters want to keep in that gene pool, since the project would be about breeding healthy, good-natured pets.

Retrieverman said...

I wouldn't use Welsh springers.

I'd uses the dropped eared version of the Papillon-- the Phalene.

Those are actually toy spaniels, and the original toy spaniels that existed in Europe (including England) were more of the Papillon/Phalene type. When pugs arrived, the Brits decided to make them brachycephalic.

joie said...

Thank you terrierman for this blog entry. Very interesting about the Gilbert S. Kahn/UPenn relationship.

Gentleman Jockey said...

Damn, I have a crush on Heather. Retrieverman, dont you think the inherent sturdiness of a gun dog breed like the welsh springer would be a better fit to "save" a breed like the cavalier?

I mean, toy dogs are rarely asked to demonstrate orthapedic soundness over a multi-year period. How many english pointers have luxating patellas?

webhill said...

"Vets very clearly look at disease and dysfunction in the pet world as a money maker, the same as a car mechanic looks at a bad car as a mortage payment. When vets are giving and listening to all those lectures about "stregthening the human-animal bond" at conferences, what they are REALLY talking about is how to screw folks out of more money by making the visit about "friendship" so that more goods and service can be sold....snip...Give me a break! They KNOW, and they know it's wrong, and they pocket the cash either laughing or shaking their head, but never talking too much about it (ir at all)."

I am BEYOND offended. I am OUTRAGED that someone says this about my beloved profession and colleagues.

I am proud to be a veterinarian. I absolutely do not recommend ANYTHING because of money, EVER. I'm so angry and upset right now I can't even put together a decent sentence, so I will leave it at that. My motivation is to help sick animals, and keep families together (animal and human members) as much as possible. To relieve animal suffering, and to promote public health.

And if you don't know any vets who LOUDLY and REPEATEDLY tell people to stop breeding bulldogs and other genetic nightmares, you clearly do not know very many vets, because almost every one I know does, and in fact there is a HUGE ongoing discussion about this at the biggest online veterinary continuing education center I'm aware of.

OH, I'm so angry at you right now I could just SPIT.

PBurns said...

Spit away Hillary Iraeli, DVM of Ardmore, PA. I assure you it will not impress me much.

You are outraged? You poor thing! Can I suggest an atypical antipsychotic? Perhaps Seroquel?

No doubt you are outraged just like those doctors whom Ignaz Semmelweiss said should wash their hands.

Never heard of him? You can read about him right here >>

And while you are reading, you might check out the links at


and >>

So yeah, I know how the cards are stacked in the arena of health care -- same as they are stacked down at the garage, the auto dealership, and at your local hospital where kickbacks are almost a line item in the budget.

Do I know veterinarians that are good honest people? Sure.

But sorry, I do NOT consider anyone pimping for pain to fall in that folder.

Do you?

As for veterinarians standing up to the AKC regarding standards for brachycephalic dogs and dogs born caesarian, why don't you lead the charge there?

You see, there is NO ACTION being taken by vets to change the breed standards at the AKC.


You want to do an open letter? I will help you organize it.

You want to lead a contingent of veterinarians to picket Westminster next year? I will help you organize it.

But if all you want to do is spit and act outraged, take your act somewhere else.


Pet Insurance said...

Many pet lovers now a days are planning for pet insurance which shows their care towards their pets. There are many advantages of pet insurance, top reasons to go in for pet insurance are Bears the cost of medical expenses, Insuring multiple pets and many more.

PBurns said...

Opinions vary on pet insurance. I am for SELF insuring, i.e. keeping a few thousands dollars in the bank for the dogs. Yes, my dogs have their own account.

To be clear, pet insurance is simply a saving plan for people who do not have the discipline to set one up on their own, or who are young and of limited means and who are willing to lose money on the front end (premiums) to cover the chance of a big loss on the back. Not being critical, but that's the insurance game. Insurance is about profit, and that profit has to come from somewhere.

If you think human insurance is confusing and poorly regulated, pet insurance is far worse.

CONSUMER REPORTS, July 2007, "Why Pet Insurance is Usually a Dog >>


The most important thing you need to know about pet insurance is that it is a form of enforced savings that almost never covers the entire bill. You can accomplish the same thing by paying the same monthly premium to your savings account.

The advantage: If your pet has little cause to visit a vet beyond annual checkups, the amount saved belongs to you, not an insurance company. The risk, of course, is if you run into unusually expensive veterinary needs, though our money-saving tips show how to avoid or reduce those (see 20 ways to cut vet costs).

The problem with pet insurance is all its fine-print pitfalls. Indeed, buying a policy may end up increasing a pet owner's total expenditures on veterinary care by thousands of dollars, according to our analysis of five plans. That's because on top of deductibles required by all the insurers, plus any co-pays, unreimbursed costs, and exclusions--all of which you pay out-of-pocket--you also pay premiums. Seemingly small $11 to $50 per-month premiums can add up to $2,000 to $6,000 or more over a pet's lifetime.

See the entire artice to see how the plans make money >>