The role of the veterinary profession in preventing sickness and suffering in beloved dogs and cats should be central. But because of conflicts of interest, as between selling products for profit and putting the best interests of the animal patient before those of running a business, the problems within the veterinary profession bear similarities to those in the human medical profession, which was recently called into question by the U.S. Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences). Such potential conflicts of interest reach deep into the veterinary teaching curriculum, where the influence of the multinational drug and pet food companies is evident at colleges around the world. The effects are seen in everyday veterinary practice.
Unnecessary vaccinations. Far too many veterinarians administer unnecessary annual vaccinations to animals. In dogs—who are harmed more frequently than cats by this practice—this can result in much suffering from chronic health problems such as allergies, neurological and joint problems, and autoimmune and endocrine diseases. Cats are prone to develop often fatal skin cancer at the site of vaccine injection.
Inappropriate nutrition. Cats suffer more than dogs from poor nutrition because they are obligate carnivores requiring a meat-based diet. Too many veterinarians are profiting from selling dry cat foods high in cereals and soy; these only too often lead to obesity, diabetes mellitus, urinary tract and inflammatory bowel disease, and other chronic degenerative diseases. The veterinarians then profit from treating these diseases and from prescribing expensive special diets that would not be needed if the cats had been fed properly from the start.
But dogs are not without diet-related problems, such as chronic skin and digestive problems, ear and anal gland infections, and a host of other maladies including depression and epilepsy. These clear up once the dogs are taken off highly processed manufactured foods.
Rather than addressing what their patients are eating, far too many veterinarians put them on cortisone/prednisone to stop self-mutilation from scratching and chewing. Then new health problems develop, such as Cushings disease in dogs and cystitis and diabetes in cats.
Veterinary dentistry has become a highly profitable field. An estimated 75 percent of dogs in the United States suffer from periodontal disease, which is also a common affliction of cats. Many of these patients have such advanced dental disease that, when undergoing surgical treatments, they die on the operating table. Highly processed food ingredients that are micro-particulate—especially the high cereal and gluten content of popular pet foods—play a major role in this virtual epidemic in the canine and feline population. Some veterinarians are advising pet owners to have their animals’ teeth cleaned on an annual basis, and that means under general anesthesia that is far from risk-free.
Flea medications. Both dogs and cats suffer unnecessarily from adverse reactions to topical anti-flea and tick drugs that are widely promoted by many veterinarians and are sold over the counter with no effective government oversight.
Breeding and hereditary diseases. Diseases of hereditary origin that result from inbreeding and selection for extreme traits in both dogs and cats add to this tragic burden of man-made diseases in companion animals today.
As a member of the British Veterinary Association since 1962, and an Honor Roll member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, I sought to raise this issue of companion animal health and well-being and potential conflicts of interest in the following letter that I sent for publication in the professional journals of these two organizations. I consider myself fortunate to have a ‘wide-angle’ view on these matters, since I have received many thousands of letters from pet owners over the past 30-plus years through my internationally syndicated newspaper column, Animal Doctor. I have learned about such serious animal health and welfare issues as over-vaccination and diet-related adverse consequences of manufactured pet foods. (For details visit www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.)
Letter to the Editor,
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association,
Sent via e-mail May 26, 2009
EXAMINING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST IN THE VETERINARY PROFESSION
The relationships between the corporate sector, and in particular with drug companies, and private medical practitioners, hospitals, and medical schools, are being called to question by the Institute of Medicine in the US (1).
Is a similar examination called for in the veterinary sector where comparable corporate interests may be at play and affect the quality of care and services animal patients receive? It would seem that there has been a lack of due diligence over the role of diet, specifically, highly processed pet foods (2) in many contemporary health problems of companion animals. The same may be said about the routine application and so called ‘preventive’ treatments with anti-flea and tick topical products that only now are being fully evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency (3). Was due diligence also lacking, in part because of inadequate information and understanding, with dog and cat vaccinations? Until recently the universal protocol of giving dogs and cats annual booster injections of multivalent live and genetically engineered vaccines met resistance when ever questioned.
Corporate sector partnering in academia even includes chairs and professorships named after the donating company at many veterinary colleges. What role such partnering may play in contributing to the grave consequences of poor diets, over-medication, and hyperimmunization in companion animals by deferring to vested interests and by claiming lack of scientific proof of harm from such practices, is an open question. Academia should not be exploited to garner public credibility, nor should the market place become the final arbiter of what is acceptable.
Examining possible conflicts of interest may be difficult, considering the partnership of the American Veterinary Medical Association with Fort Dodge and Merial pharmaceutical companies, and Hill’s Pet Nutrition, who together have pledged $4.5 million in support of AVMA programs and services over the next four years (4). But this difficulty could become a confluence of interests once the health and well-being of companion animals are first and foremost on the agenda. The content of both the JAVMA, and its equivalent with the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) Veterinary Record, increasingly addresses issues concerning animal health and welfare, including nutrition and vaccinations.
In the UK, the government and the BVA have chosen to focus on the health and welfare problems of a genetic origin, primarily in pedigree dogs. Some critics believe that this is a massive displacement, since it is the genetic susceptibilities to dietary diseases and vaccinoses (adverse vaccination reactions) in specific breeds make them the canaries for the canine population at large (5). The appropriate use of vaccines, (6), various preventive veterinary drugs, prescription diets, and the adequacies of manufactured cat and dog foods, also need to be considered if the mandate of the British government is to protect the health and welfare of companion and other animals, not just better regulate breeding practices. British dog breeders feel they are the scapegoats and are taking all the blame for the myriad and costly health problems in today’s canine population. The same can be said for the major ailments in the feline population, where poor diets and adverse drug and vaccine reactions similarly take their toll according to Hill’s former Director of Technical Affairs, veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins Esq.(7)
Of course there are confluences of interest that can benefit all and this would be forthcoming I believe when there is a more integrated approach to animal health and welfare. This could be developed from a bioethical basis (8) by veterinary teachers, researchers and practitioners, a Council for Veterinary Bioethics being one response to the call for an examination of possible conflicts of interest within the profession.
(1) Sternbrook R. Controlling Conflict of Interest—Proposals from the Institute of Medicine. Published at www.nejm.org, April 29th 2009 (10. 1056/NEJMp0810200).
(2) Fox MW, Elizabeth Hodgkins and Marion E. Smart. Not fit for a dog: the truth about manufactured dog and cat food. Fresno, CA, Quill Driver Books, 2009.
(3) AVMA News. Topical flea and tick products come under EPA scrutiny. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2009; 234: 1228.
(4) AVMA News. AVMA enters into multimillion-dollar partnership with companies. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008; 233: 219.
(5) Dodds WJ. Vaccination protocols for dogs predisposed to vaccine reactions. J Am Animal Hosp Assoc 2001; 38: 1-4.
(6) Schultz RD, Ford RB, Olsen J. and Scott F. Titer testing and vaccination: a new look at traditional practices. Vet Med, 2002, 97: 1-13 (insert).
(7) Hodgkins EM, Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life,
New York, Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.
(8) Fox MW. Veterinary bioethics, pp 673-678, in Complementary and alternative medicine, Schoen AM and Wynn SG., eds., St Louis, MO, Mosby, 1998.
Michael W. Fox, BVetMed, PhD, DSc, MRCVS
Fox’s Pen Inc.
2135 Indiana Ave N., Golden Valley, Minnesota
I did not even receive an acknowledgement from the British Veterinary Association, while the Interim Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, which usually publishes my letters, sent me the following letter via regular mail, dated May 28, 2009:
Dear Dr. Fox,
Thank you for your recent letter to the editor. Although corporate influences on quality of care in the human and veterinary medical professions are important concerns, I am afraid that your letter attempts to address too many of these issues in too limited a space. Topics such as the effects of processed pet foods on the health of companion animals, annual vaccination of dogs and cats, corporate sponsorship of academic chairs and professorships, and the British Veterinary Association’s focus on genetic diseases of dogs are so diverse and so complex that it is not possible to adequately discuss them all in a letter. Thus, I believe that readers will be confused as to the main point of your letter.
For this reason, I have elected not to publish your letter. Please understand that this does not reflect a lack of concern about the topic, but simply my inability to understand what you are trying to convey to our readers.
Sincerely, Kurt J. Matushek, DVM, MS, DACVS
What more can I say as a longtime advocate for all creatures great and small? I did not touch on the conflicts of interest in the veterinary sector that deals with farmed animals and which has pandered for decades to the interests of the livestock and poultry industries, placing the health and welfare of these animals in jeopardy. Organized veterinary medicine, that reaped great profits for the drug companies selling antibiotics, vaccines and a host of other drugs, never voiced concern over the proliferation of cruel factory farms, so-called concentrated animal feeding operations that now blight rural America, helped put family farms out of business and now pose significant environmental and public health risks. (For further details visit www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.) Ironically, industrial animal agriculture has helped put the food animal veterinarian, who once served the nexus of productive family farms and ranches across the country, out of business.
It is ultimately enlightened self-interest to use the moral compass of compassion and bioethics to avoid such conflicts of interest. There is no better example of this than in the food animal veterinary sector, where animal welfare and health were sacrificed purely for profit under the erroneous banners of production efficiency, economies of scale, and cheaper food for all. Now there is a shortage of new veterinary graduates entering this sector, and little wonder why, considering the working conditions and the kind of production-based medicine applied to stressed and overcrowded animals that should never be kept under such conditions in the first place.
The corporate takeover of reason and sound science is one thing, but the apologists and instrumental rationalists of the rising biotechnocracy of transnational hegemony are a force that calls for a revolution indeed. And that begins with the spiritual anarchy of us all assuming greater responsibility for our own health and for that of our companion animals. A good beginning is in the marketplace and our kitchens with organically certified whole foods, and in our support of good doctors, animal and human, who practice integrative holistic medicine.
Image: Dr. Fox addressing the 2008 annual convention of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Reno, Nev.—courtesy Dr. Michael W. Fox.
To Learn More
To find a holistic veterinary medical practitioner in your area, a searchable list can be found at http://www.ahvma.org.
Veterinarians wishing to learn more are encouraged to become members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at http://www.ahvma.org.