My Complicated Relationship with Veterinarians

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I have been wanting to put these thoughts on paper for some time. However this plays out, it is simply as organized as I could make it, truly it is complicated and not so straight forward.

FIRSTLY I am a Small Business Owner and a Certified Professional Trainer. My business is mine, legally, ethically, and for all intents and purposes, and not reliant on whether Veterinarians approve of me, like me, or not. My business is 100% based on word of mouth from my clients, for over 16 plus years now. My business and my profession are neither superior or inferior to the veterinary profession. My business and my profession are also not auxiliary to the veterinary profession.

As a Trainer, I work directly with people and their dogs to develop skills on both ends of the leash, foster a good healthy relationship, build understanding and observational skills, and coach my teams to have balance when it comes to the social, emotional, physical, and nutritional well-being of their dogs.

As a Business Owner I am truthful with my clients and support them, and when it is something outside of my skill set, I refer.

THE DIFFERENCE between the Veterinary Profession and a Veterinarian needs to be parceled apart, a bit anyway.

The Veterinary Profession, much like the human health care profession is largely influenced by pharmaceutical companies, vaccine manufacturers, and in this case, the PFI (Pet Food Industry). I take issue with allowing and basically rolling out the red carpet for the foxes who are given free access to the hen house.

Veterinarians are people. They vary in age, gender, skill, knowledge, intuition, personality, relatability , and professional tracks. There are those that have a great deal of experience, and those that are new.

The people who choose this profession also choose whether they want to practice veterinary medicine in a conventional, practical, or holistic way.

PROFESSIONALLY there are some Veterinary offices I refer to and some I do not, and some that come with a cautionary warning.

There are Veterinarians who have skills I greatly admire, and they make it easy for me to refer my clients to them when needed.

There are also Veterinarians that I feel are in the wrong profession.

There are Veterinarians that would never recommend me, and conversely, there are Veterinarians that I would never recommend.

Professionally, I believe it is which business ethically and morally aligns with mine, but also who is at the top of the game with skill and knowledge. Is it about optimal health, solid information and honesty, or selling things that aren’t needed for monetary gain?

In my classes and private training I listen and hear what my clients are saying. The information is all over the board with everything dog related, except one thing, the majority of my clients are desperate for a Veterinarian who will really listen and work with them, not shame or intimidate them. And the majority of my clients go through several if not more Veterinarians in their dogs life time.

So there is that, and that little but rather big something is very real.

OBSERVATIONS that have made me question so much of what is being done in the name of wellness with my clients dogs, are too many to count.

The most disturbing however, and one that has kept me awake on way too many nights, either crying or researching, is over vaccination.

While teaching group classes or working with clients privately, I have seen first hand vaccine injuries and over medicated dogs. Not one or two dogs during my career, but rather one or two or three a week for 16 years. If you do the math conservatively, that adds up to 832 – 1,664 dogs. And truth be told, that number for sure is higher, this is the conservative version. And I am just one Trainer, in one town, in one state in this whole big country. Try to do that math.

Meeting healthy, milk fat, wiggly and curious puppies one week, and then watching a slow decline as they go through the ‘wellness visits’, and watch some develop gut issues, autoimmune this or that, itchy skin, protozoa infestations all of a sudden, and behavioral shifts that are concerning. This actually guts me every time.

ADVOCATING for my clients dogs is something I do almost daily. I make zero dollars doing this, but if a client calls and feels they have been backed into a corner, shamed, or are questioning what they have been told, I either find the information they are needing or refer to a Veterinarian who I know could help.

And then there is getting caught in the crossfire, but I look at it this way, I am a voice for those that do not have one in the human world, my clients dogs. I have received the patronizing phone calls, the authoritarian letters, but they really have no effect on me, because my clients dog is counting on someone, and that it is me sometimes, is a privileged place to stand.

When I am old and the grass is tall, I would like to know that I truly did my best, was honest, and that the dogs that allowed me to be part of their lives could trust me, and the information I gave. This is simple but important.

PERSONALLY as a dog owner, I have had amazing care and incredible advice, and also misinformed care that cost one of my dogs her life, and another with an unnecessary surgery.

I am not one to go to a veterinary office for a scratch, bump, or weird digestive hooha. I truly believe that nutrition is the very foundation of optimal health, so I put a great deal of effort into nutrition, but also the social, emotional, and physical well-being of my dogs. I am super proactive when it comes to the health of my dogs. But when I do go, I have questions, specific questions about whatever it is that I see going on with one of my dogs.

I am observant, I read, I research, I know my dogs intimately, and I have questions because I am always on a path to learning more. I look for a partner in health for my dogs, not someone who wants to sell me things, period.

I do appreciate skilled and knowledgeable Veterinarians, I find that I learn a great deal from them.

I do appreciate the Veterinarians who are holistic and teach me more about herbal use, chiropractic care, and acupuncture.

I do appreciate the Veterinarians with incredible surgical skills, if needed, and only if needed. Honest surgeons.

I do appreciate the Veterinarians who are very cautious with any pharmaceutical and only advise use if absolutely necessary.

I do not appreciate the Veterinarians that parrot back to me a pharmaceutical sales pitch, there is no skill in that. It is simply rote learning, memorizing, which is simply storage of information in the brain. It does not require any understanding of the information being said. To me this is no better than being a pimp to the pharmaceutical industry. Truth.

Over the years I have become more and more particular with who is allowed to see my dogs, and who I want to learn from, and I don’t mind driving. I like walking into a mature clinic, with mature people, who are kind and skilled, and who look forward to seeing me and my dogs.

FRIENDS – I have several close friends who are Veterinarians. These are people who I enjoy, respect, and appreciate. While they work on my dogs from time to time, or help me research whatever it is I want to know more about, they are friends as well.

When I have a sick dog in the middle of the night, or my dam is whelping, or whatever, they always answer my texts.

When they need something from me, be it behavior, gardening, food, or school stuff, I always answer their texts.

We are friends. Raising our children at the same time, competing in dog sports, sharing recipes, going to conferences together, friends with a mutual interest in animals.

IS IT A ME THING? Maybe, quite possibly, after all I am writing this about my complicated relationship with Veterinarians. However, at every training/behavior conference I attend, there are always sessions pertaining to building a healthier relationship with local Veterinarians. So that kind of leads me to believe I am not the only Trainer who has this type of complicated relationship.

I hope this helps, Nancy

22 comments

  1. Interesting, Nancy. Thanks for this very thoughtful post. I am reading a book called “Dopesick” by Beth Macy, and some of the things you mention remind me of some of the things I am reading in this book.

    1. yes, I think when you have a corporation that spends in the 10’s of billions of dollars lobbying in DC, you can pretty much get everyone to push your drugs and products. It would be good, hopefully in my lifetime, to get the pharmaceutical vaccine industry out of our government. I hope you enjoy that book! Nancy

  2. Nancy, I so appreciate your posts. I am a (human) health care professional and feel very much in tune with what you are saying here. Not everyone will research what options are available for treatment or be able to advocate for their pet. Some do know even know the right questions to ask! My Ruby turned 15 yesterday despite having two vets recently suggest euthanasia. They missed something obvious and treatable. Who says it’s only cats that have 9 lives! Finding a veterinarian who will listen and work with you and your pet is key.

  3. So many layers to this. It’s the closest to what I try to explain when I say “i\I don’t trust vets” even as they are the only option I have, and have SO much more knowledge than I do (which I know and understand, but…). When they push drugs my dog doesn’t need (recently, two different vets pushing Vetprofen on two separate dogs (one 13 years, one 5 months) for visits completely unrelated to acute or chronic pain) like they had a mortgage payment to make. I am not averse to using pain relief for my dogs, but this was beyond weird.
    I’m also not a fan of prophylactic, systemic treatments for issues my dogs don’t have (flea treatment and heartworm treatment – I live in an area where indigenous heartworm isn’t an issue) – yet I am somehow the “radical” when I refuse to give my dogs these toxic systemics for parasites they do not have. People here say Frontline topical no longer works for them…gee, I wonder why. (Note: it works fine for me, when I find a need to use it – last time was 2 years ago).
    I like my regular vet, and have a good relationship with him, but continually fend off “recommendations” for care that I know are not necessary or not well informed for my animals. I recently did a titer test on one of my dogs who, aside from rabies boosters every 3 years, hasn’t had vaccines since before I got him at 9 months of age. The distempter/parvo titer results were “Very good.” He just turned 9 years old (and no vaccines for 8 years). And yet they wonder why I am so reluctant to boost these vaccines.
    I tread carefully, and am deeply respectful of the knowledge and schooling vets have, but the wholesale pushing is really, really uncomfortable. And yes, I’m the same way with my own health needs – questioning all recommendations and treatments my own doctors prescribe (which probably saved my lifetime health in a recent health concern). Somehow we become the enemy when we question treatment. It’s frustrating.

  4. Thanks Nancy for putting it into words. The over-vaccination issue has gone on for so long and it’s so important but it seems that the profession hasn’t moved much. I am also at odds with vets, or at least their advice, in nutrition, another big issues still. Then there are little things, like taking off every puppy wart to check for cancer and acting like kennel cough is super-deadly and implies bad cleaning (as the vet coughs and sniffles with their own cold while giving this warning 😝😩). But let’s not also forget that many vets don’t really understand behavior, training or behavioral meds, so they just keep giving bad advice and turning people away from trying meds, meds that might do a good deed for the right case.

  5. Well said, Nancy. Thanks for writing this. It’s definitely a pet peeve of mine. You did this a great justice and hope people can learn from this. I shared it on my FB pages.

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  6. I am just a “regular” pet owner and this deeply resonates with me. I would never say I am smarter than a veterinarian but I do feel as though I may be more informed at times. I have made it my mission to do the best for my dogs, often times going against the grain at the veterinary office. But the more you know, the more you know. And frankly, once you “know,” you can’t “un-know” it. This post is so appreciated!

  7. I am lectured every time I go to the Vet because of the very things you talk about, vaccines, flea & tick prevention. My dogs don’t have a problem so I don’t feel they are necessary. I can tell they think I am some sort of nut because I question them. I always tell them I appreciate them letting me know the risks of not using them but I just prefer to use natural preventatives. Thank you for this post, it makes me feel like I am not alone in my thinking. I would love to find a Holistic Vet but there are none in our area or even in our state that I can find.

    1. Linda you are so not alone, but rather standing in good company with 100’s of thousands of pet owners if not more, and even with Holistic veterinarians who are trying to change the very industry they are part of to something better. Never feel you are a nut for questioning, always question everything. And if you are told you shouldn’t question, pause on that for a moment. And then make different choices. ❤

  8. It is not JUST a ‘you’ thing. We all learn at our own pace and I can tell you for a fact, my knowledge and the way I vet my dogs is WAY different than it was with my first dogs over 20 years ago. Interesting enough I don’t remember my dogs as a kid, being vaccinated at the rate they are today but I digress. I am blessed that I have had, as you mentioned, numerous vets over the life of my dogs. Sometimes the veterinarian practice changes, sometimes the veterinarian themselves takes a new path. Soon after finding a homeopathic vet that I would have followed forever, he left on a different path doing research in his field. I was crushed! Living in the areas we do definitely affects our choices as you know. I have found a nice balance right now, knowing I want a vet that I have a relationship with to help me care for my dogs BUT that respects MY wishes as their Mom. I also try hard to understand that for them, not every client is as knowledgeable (or wants to be) as I am and approach with the same respect I would ask of them. It is a delicate balance to be sure. I also remember that many veterinarians are in the profession to deal with the animals and don’t always have great bedside people skills. Another balance to think about. I’ve had veterinarians that I’ve been willing to drive 3 hours to go see but I ALSO realize I want/need a local veterinarian for emergencies. I am blessed right now with a personal friend and veterinary that has been a godsend….and she is willing to understand if I want a more holistic, homeopathic or TCM approach for some issues.
    I love this article to the moon and back and look forward to the discussion in the comments to follow.

  9. I’ve recently changed to a veterinarian who supports my wish to have titers done on my dogs and only charges me for the actual costs for the tests, along with the blood draw and shipping. Both the 10 year old and nearly 2 year old have good titers and won’t need another vaccine for at least 3 years and hopefully for life. I only wish i could get titers for rabies!

    1. Sheri you should look at the Protect the Pets site Dr. Robb – there is a bill in CT that if it passes it would allow titers for rabies. I know four other states are trying to put bills together that are similar.

  10. Hi Nancy,

    Veterinarian and pet owner relationships vary. There are just as many types of vets as their are owners, all who, at least for the most part, want what is truly best for the animals. Looking for that veterinarian who you can discuss options with, who is not averse to a second opinion and who willing and able to keep their own education up is key. That takes work just like finding the right breeder, trainer, rescue or dog sitter is.

    That being said I take some offense as a dog training professional to a colleague who has essentially bashed veterinarians and their care. Over-vaccination IS an issue, one in which the majority of veterinarians are aware of and are actively trying to reduce, while at the same time trying to find the balance of protecting the animals and their owners from these diseases that are thankfully rare BECAUSE of vaccination. Not all veterinary labs offer titres right now and not all Provinces and States are able to move as quickly as we’d like with the legal ramifications of titres and many (both clinics AND clients) cannot afford them. We have a ways to go, but going after the veterinary profession is not the way to gain traction or inform. They are just one piece of a puzzle that includes many more than just the vet and the client animal.

    We all seem to forget that these COMPANIES MUST MAKE MONEY TO SURVIVE, so yes, this is a callout to the commenter above about “making a mortgage payment”. SURPRISE they do have to make a mortgage payment…and there is nothing WRONG with that. Veterinary hospitals are a service INDUSTRY, not a free service. They are not free to run, free to stock, free to staff or free to educate. They provide services and products and advice and everyone thinks it should be 1/free 2/always correct in an science that requires massive testing to try and diagnose things and where owners don’t want to spend the money to do so and 3/completely bias free.

    Welcome to real world. It’s not free. They are not always right (but they try!) and they sometimes have biases based on their own history and experiences that will absolutely affect their recommendations. JUST LIKE WE AS TRAINERS DO.

    Just like anything else the client needs to realize that it is THEIR responsibility to do some research and to put their big kid pants on and ask questions and advocate for their dog alongside their veterinary healthcare team. The responsibility of the vet is to give the best information and treatment that THEY believe is the correct and in the best interests of the dog given their perspective and knowledge, but in the end it’s on the owner. The owner decides.

    Don’t like your vet? Get a new one. Don’t bash the entire profession, or they will cease to be there when we need them because we never supported them by calling out and reporting the bad and by praising the good. The suicide rate amongst these pros is not the highest for no reason.

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