Top 5 Myths About Veterinarians
While most people have a pretty good understanding of what veterinarians do and why to bring your pet to us, I do hear some myths repeated over and over. Some are old urban legends, while others seem to be a little newer. In any event, in an attempt to set the record straight, let’s dive in and count down these Top 5 Myths About Veterinarians:
#5. Veterinarians are on the dole from certain pet food manufacturers and get kickbacks for selling their products.
This is simply not true. The reality is that pet food sales in general is one of the least profitable things we do. Most general practitioner veterinarians feel it necessary to carry a certain number of therapeutic, or “prescription,” diets (more on this term in a future post). Some of these diets are instrumental in treating and sometimes diagnosing such maladies as kidney disease, food allergy, bladder stones, liver disease, and many others. Because these diets require very specific formulations, strict quality control and testing, they are only reliably made by a few manufacturers. Therefore, these are the ones you typically see at most vets offices. Because clients often want to purchase maintenance diets for their healthy pets as well, it just makes sense for us carry those lines from one of these companies, as they are quality diets as well.
There is significant money being made in the pet food market, but it’s not being made by vets! There are seemingly hundreds of new pet foods being marketed and sold, some good, some questionable. Most of them are manufactured in the same 2-3 manufacturing plants in the US, with varying degrees of quality control, formulation consistency and ingredient quality. There are huge profit margins on many of them. Vets, however, as previously stated, tend to be obligated to carry the therapeutic brands, which are manufactured in their own private, quality controlled plants. Because of the costly production of these therapeutic diets, the minimal markup we are able to charge barely covers the costs of ordering, tracking, stocking, storing and sales. Most vets I know would rather not deal with the headache of carrying these diets, but we do as a convenience to our clients, and to guarantee that our patients are getting the right quality therapeutic diets when needed. As for these mythical kickbacks, besides being specifically illegal, I assure you, they are an urban legend. I have been in practice for over 20 years and sold an awful lot of pet food – if there have been kickbacks, somebody owes me a big check, because I’ve never received one, been offered one, or heard of any of my colleagues receiving one in my entire career…
#4 My breeder/groomer/dog food salesman/trainer etc. has a lot of real world experience with pets, so his knowledge and advice is just about equivalent to my veterinarians and should be given equal merit.
My mother will tell you that I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was 6 years old. Coincidentally, my wife (also a vet) gets the same story from her mom, as do a great majority of my colleagues. We all drove our parents crazy with pets. Personally, over the course of my childhood, I had dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, cockatiels, turtles, fish, rabbits, and horses. I brought home sick and injured strays and wildlife. I volunteered and worked in shelters and veterinary hospitals up until I graduated vet school. Safe to say most of my colleagues have similar experiences. Additionally, since our passions tended to be towards animals, most of us had hobbies that reflected that. Training, breeding, agility, show jumping, grooming, endurance, flyball, Frisbee, rescue, shelter work etc are just some of the many activities and part time jobs in which many of us participated. So as far as real world experience, I’d bet veterinarians have more than most, without even counting working as vets!
Add to that an average of 4 years of rigorous, competitive undergraduate college, consisting of such courses as animal science, animal nutrition, physiology, anatomy, chemistry, biochemistry, statistics, physics, biology, and microbiology, to name a few, resulting in a multitude of Bachelor’s degrees in Biology, Zoology, Animal Science, etc. Then add 4 years of vet school, with intense full-time course work and hands on clinical work in areas such as internal medicine, radiology, pharmacology, behavior, infectious disease, dermatology, parasitology, endocrinology, reproduction, shelter medicine, cardiology, hospice care, pulmonology, urology, neurology, soft tissue and orthopedic surgery, etc, etc, etc!
Then, to be sure we know it, we had to pass National Boards, consisting of both rigorous written and practical exams, plus individual states rules and regulations. To be sure we stay current and knowledgeable about advancements in care, we are required to maintain a minimum 32 hours of approved Continuing Education hours every 2 years. Every vet I know voluntarily accumulates much more than that.
But by all means, get your medical advice from the equivalent of your dog’s hairdresser, or the cashier at the grocery store. Do I seem a little heated? Well, this is the one that definitely steams me the most, not just because we’ve invested so much time, money, energy and passion into our educations to benefit your pets, but because great harm is done to so many pets by taking the advice of usually well-meaning people, who simply don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s not even counting the massive number of charlatans and snake-oil salesmen out there taking advantage of an unsuspecting public. Simply put, nobody goes through the years and expense of a veterinary education for the money (see Myth #1). We do it because we have a love and passion for helping animals. Nobody looks out more for your pets’ best interest, with the knowledge and experience to back it up, than your veterinarian.
#3. “I wanted to be a vet, but I would never be able to put an animal to sleep.”
While this isn’t necessarily a myth, it is something I’ve heard throughout my career. Of course, nobody likes to deal with the death of a beloved pet, and it is a sad event. But I can honestly say I actually feel pretty good about the many animals I and my team have put to sleep over the years. We don’t put healthy animals to sleep, so if we’re euthanizing an animal, it’s because it is the best of the lousy remaining options. Either the pet is clearly suffering, or its quality of life has degenerated to an unacceptable level, with no realistic hope of improving it. I can’t tell you how often clients have thanked us for the way in which we’ve helped they and their pet get through this important final milestone. We do it in a quiet private office, often with the pet in the owners lap, and we take every step possible to make it a peaceful, respectful process. If we’ve done our jobs, the pet falls peacefully asleep in the arms of a loved one. We shed tears along with the client, as we’ve known a lot of our patients since they were puppies and kittens. Sometimes we shed tears over animals who have no one else to cry over them. But it is a privilege and responsibility that we take very seriously, and are proud of the way we handle it. I have been asked more times than I can count why we don’t treat our human loved ones as kindly…
#2. My veterinarian should be available 24/7.
This may have been true in the past, but for most areas, this is no longer the case. When I started my career, 24 hour call was a necessity, as typically, we were the only option in an emergency. While not ideal, we were at least able to address and stabilize most emergencies until we could treat them more appropriately during normal hours. However, nowadays, there are 24 hour Emergency and Referral hospitals in most areas. These facilities are up and running and fully staffed at all hours, and are able to provide full and continued emergency care at all times. While everyone would like to see their usual vet for emergencies, it is really not in anybody’s best interest. For the vet, it means coming in after already working a full day, giving up sleep or personal time with family, and then dragging in the next morning after a poor night’s sleep and minimal time to recharge. Also, the level of care we are able to provide during off hours is minimal at best. Most machinery is shut down for the night, requiring us to restart and use machines with which are often not familiar, as we don’t typically use them first hand. It means having less than adequate staffing available, and the inability to adequately supervise and care for the animal overnight. A lone vet with minimal support performing an emergency surgery in the middle of the night is a recipe for disaster. It would be the equivalent of expecting your primary care physician to meet you at the office when you’ve been in a car accident or are having a heart attack – not only is it not realistic to expect from the physician, but a fully staffed and operational ER is a much more appropriate facility. Fortunately, we have several great options for 24 emergency care available. Often we will be involved on the phone, directing care and providing patient history and client communication; but a well-staffed operational emergency facility is a far better place for your pet than a darkened, closed general practice with a sleepy veterinarian in pajamas!
#1 Veterinarians are just in it for the money.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, sorry, this one just always makes me laugh out loud. Don’t get me wrong; veterinarians certainly make a salary that many people would be happy to make. But to say we’re in it for the money is laughable when you consider the other professions we could’ve gone into for the same amount of schooling. As I explained previously, veterinarians go through undergraduate and veterinary college at great expense, both in money and time, similar to that of human physicians, and more than the typical dentist, pharmacist, or chiropractor. The average veterinary student today graduates with student debt in the $150,000 to $200,000 range. While human physicians may have similar debt, they typically earn about two and a half to three times the salary of a veterinarian. The student loan debt–to-salary ratio for veterinarians graduating today is one of the worst in any career. Most veterinarians graduating today are in some kind of income based loan repayment program, and are unable to adequately save for retirement, pay for childcare, or even think about owning a home. Veterinarians sacrifice significant earning potential and very real dollars to be in this profession. It’s been a childhood dream for most of us, and we can’t imagine doing anything else. Most of us have several rescued pets running around our houses, have spent countless hours caring for unwanted animals, have spent the night on the floor in front of the cage of a critical patient, and have forced our loved ones to carry on without us while we’ve cared for a sick patient. We’re happy to do it, but please don’t tell us we’re in it for the money…