Why vets need to raise our voices

It’s time to recapture the term “veterinarian recommended”

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What if you lost your voice and didn’t even know it?

It probably shouldn’t be this way, but I get a headache every time I hear the phrase “veterinarian recommended.” It happens whether the words are attached to a pet owner educational initiative or being used to sell cheap, low-brow pet gadgets made by the millions in China.

My cranial combustion is the result of the constant employment of “veterinarian recommended” in the service of sales. Its impact has been diluted through both overuse and inappropriate use. We as veterinarians might want to use it for good—I know I do—but it’s been tarnished with greed.

Everything and Everywhere

Ironically, our profession used to have a near monopoly on the power of the veterinary recommendation. For decades, the phrase referred to direct, one-on-one contact between a veterinary health care professional and a pet or animal owner, whether discussing a pet food or antibiotic. Then, late in the 20th century, we started to see the freewheeling use of professional recommendations plastered on products and product promotions. This has only worsened in the 21st century, where, for some folks, everything on the internet is true. If they read, “Veterinarians recommend using apple cider vinegar to get rid of fleas,” it must work.

Of course, we’re not the only health care profession to face this issue of implied endorsement. Trident said four out of five dentists recommend its toothpaste, or Pepto-Bismol is recommended by more doctors than any other antidiarrheal product.

Hill’s often promotes “U.S. Veterinarians’ #1 Choice to Feed Their Own Pets.” While I can’t imagine the circumstances where a person would suffer serious health consequences or death from using Crest vs. Colgate, Pepto vs. Kaopectate, or Science Diet vs. Purina Pro Plan, there are many far-from-safe products and procedures hijacking the “veterinarian recommended” claim.

After all, if just one veterinarian recommends that product—even if only to say, “Sure, if I were on a desert island and had nothing else, I might try apple cider vinegar against fleas”—it’s technically true, right?

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Think I’m overstating this? Think of pet foods carrying that title during the 2007 recall where owners were buying foods that killed their pets. Or parasite-control products that didn’t kill the parasites as claimed—allowing heartworm infestation, for example—or vaccines that weren’t protective.

The Future

I was moved by a cover story in the October issue of Veterinary Product News titled “The new NAVC,” where Tom Bohn, the CEO of NAVC, talked about a new focus on advocacy. He discussed the dream of a super PAC, saying, “We’re going to push, really push for things we think are in the best interests of veterinary professionals.”

Godspeed, Tom and NAVC! While I’m a loyal AVMA member and appreciate everything the American Veterinary Medical Association has done and is doing to help our widely varied profession, I feel NAVC is going to bring much more than a one-two punch to advocacy. Like GE, NAVC simply doesn’t do things where they can’t be No. 1.

Like Tom, I dream of a place where our true veterinary voices can be heard and deployed for the greater good of pets, people and our beloved profession. I don’t know what that should look like, or how we’d make it sustainable and authentic, but I can’t get the dream out of my mind.

What I Envision

I’d want a place where we can gather information on a wide range of items—from the mundane to the most important. For example, we might ask questions such as:

  • Do your brush your own dog’s teeth? Cat’s teeth?
  • Do you recommend bathing dogs every week, every two weeks, once a month, four times a year, annually or never?
  • What is the No. 1 thing dog owners give their pets as a treat that causes the most serious damage?
  • Which place do cats most like and dislike to be touched?
  • Looking at the appointment schedule for the day, what is the breed of dog you’d least like to see? Most like to see?
  • Excluding kennel cough, rabies, and Lepto, should pet owners vaccinate most healthy adult dogs and cats for disease yearly, every three years or based on vaccine titers?
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In my mind, it would need to be a place that could make these promises:

  • It would never sell or distribute our contact information to others.
  • Our opinions would be anonymous.
  • It would accept no advertising or sponsorships.
  • We could suggest questions that would be asked.
  • All submitted questions would be vetted by a prestigious group of veterinary health care professionals.

What Do You Think?

I’ve been a veterinary correspondent for almost 40 years now. I am tired of seeing our voices debased and would like to recapture the term “veterinarian recommended.” For that to happen, our individual voices need to come together to create a shout heard far and wide, with major impacts and sustained ripples.

I want to hear from each of you to find out if you share my concern and identify with my vision. Do you have a different, better idea? Do you have suggestions on how we could make this happen and get our authority back from those who are hawking it on every street corner?

Tell me at veterinaryvoices@gmail.com. This is a dream I want to put a deadline on.

Dr. Marty Becker writes every other month for Veterinary Practice News. He is the author of 24 books and was the resident veterinary contributor on television’s “Good Morning America” for 18 years. He is a member of the board of directors of the American Humane Association and is the chief veterinary correspondent for Dogster and Catster magazines, sister publications of Veterinary Practice News. When his schedule allows, he practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint. 

Originally published in the December 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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