In Defence of Vets
I don’t always agree with everything that I hear vets have told my clients, but that is usually when they venture into giving behaviour advice when this is not what they have been trained for. However, in the same way that I recognise that vets are not behaviourists and don’t have the knowledge to give appropriate advice in this regard (unless they are veterinary behaviourists of course), I also recognise that I and my colleagues are not vets and we should not be giving medical advice.
However, you will unfortunately find trainers, behaviourists, breeders, rescuers etc who are very happy to dispense medical advice and seem determined to undermine the reputation of the veterinary profession. They would have you believe the following:
Vets are all in it for the money – they don’t really care about your animals
Vets are all in the pocket of dog food manufacturers and are lying to you about what is really good for your dog, because they are receiving payoffs from these companies.
Vets are milking the public with annual check-ups and unnecessary and dangerous vaccinations in order to make themselves rich.
Vets know that all tick and flea treatments are toxic, but again they happily allow our dogs to be poisoned, because they make money off such products.
These are incredibly serious accusations and paint the veterinary profession as greedy, unscrupulous, callous and corrupt. But does this really ring true? Do we really believe this? Let’s look at some of the realities of the veterinary profession:
If you have the intelligence and academic ability to enter this field (one of the most difficult fields to be accepted into from a tertiary education perspective in South Africa), there are many other fields that you would have access to, which are far easier to get into, which you would spend fewer years studying for and where you would make far more money. Why would someone choose a career that is far less glamorous than other options available, unless they had some desire to care for and help animals? Of course, you might get the odd person who is not suited to the profession and enters it anyway, but can we really believe that the majority of vets don’t care about animal welfare?
Just thinking about my own vets, the hours that they work, the sacrifices that they have made with regards to their own families and at times their own health in order to be there for their patients (and the old beat-up cars they drive), their devotion and care cannot be doubted. Of course, you will occasionally have an experience with a vet where they might seem impatient or cold in a particular situation – they are human and they have good and bad days. Their judgement is not perfect and they won’t always get everything right.
As fellow animal professionals, we as trainers should be the first to sympathise with how difficult and emotionally draining working with dogs and their owners can be. People can be incredibly difficult, demanding and uncooperative. Vets have to put up with all of this on a daily basis (often 6 days a week and after hours), as well as the pain of having to watch animals die and in many cases, be the ones to end their lives. This is not something that a person does, unless they have an absolute love for animals and a devotion to improving animal welfare and minimising pain and suffering.
The veterinary profession has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Compassion fatigue and burn-out is commonplace. This is NOT an easy job! Having accusations of greed and corruption levelled at vets is not helpful. Encouraging dog owners to distrust vets and their recommendations with regards to basic husbandry and medical care, not only undermines vets, but also puts the lives of animals at risk.
Let’s be clear that there is no science to support the theories around the dangers of commercial dog food, vaccinations and parasite control that those who vilify vets often buy into. Let’s remember to appreciate our vets for who they are and what they do for our animals. Let’s treat them with kindness and be grateful for the sacrifices they have made to do an incredibly difficult job - one that most of us would not have the capacity to cope with.