The freedom of choice should apply to our animal's care
I sense that today's article will be harder to write than others because when it comes to the politics of healthcare, I generally like to stay low profile and focus on helping you and your dogs. However, the reason why I decided to dive into the turbulent waters of healthcare bylaws and policies is that I strongly believe in the freedom of your choice when it comes to animal healthcare.
In human medicine, this right is clearly evident. You and I can choose a healthcare provider based on our beliefs, referrals and even online reviews that are usually accurate. Some services are delivered by family doctors, others by specialists or practitioners of other medical modalities.
Generally, I prefer natural and holistic methods of healing, but I also understand that in some situations, conventional medicine is needed. For example, if I broke a leg or was in an accident, I would need the help of a surgeon or an emergency doctor, not my naturopath. The same applies to some serious internal or infectious diseases.
Most family doctors acknowledge the status quo and are honest about their limitations. In most cases, they are happy to refer to a specialist or another practitioner with more specific skills, even though this healthcare provider may not be a medical doctor.
Naturally, one would expect the same freedoms to apply when it comes to our animal friends. Unfortunately, this is not true in many countries, provinces, and states.
If I had all the time in the world, I would go through the bylaws of every country and region to cite the restrictions that veterinary associations and colleges around the world impose on non-veterinary practitioners and animal guardians. However, that is not the purpose of this article.
Just to give you an example, the Canadian provinces of Quebec and British Columbia do not allow any other practitioner than a veterinarian to help animals. In British Columbia, all non-veterinarian practitioners must work under “direct supervision” of a veterinarian. Even worse, in Quebec, the practice of holistic modalities is not allowed.
These non-veterinary practitioners restrictions apply even to experts in their field such as animal chiropractors, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and other animal healers.
In practical terms, in British Columbia, a visit with your dog to a chiropractor or a physiotherapist has to be conducted under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, who, more often than not, has a lesser or zero degree of knowledge about how to conduct or supervise such treatments. In the province of Quebec, such a visit is prohibited by the bylaws.
One must, naturally, ask questions. Why can we freely visit a chiropractor or a physiotherapist or a chiropractor without an MD’s referral? Why can’t we do the same when it comes to our animal friends?
Usually, the associations and colleges claim that such restrictions are to protect the animal patient and ensure its safety. While this may be partially true, most animal guardians feel that there may be another reason— the financial and material interest of veterinarians, who, according to the general public, attempt to dominate the field and put business interests ahead of the patients.
As a veterinarian, I can see both points of view. On one side, there may be the odd non-veterinary practitioner, who does not have the adequate skills to help, however I also know that this may also be the case when it comes to veterinarians. Not all of us are equally skilled and can always provide adequate solutions.
On the other hand, I have been using and referring the services of non-veterinary practitioners, for more than two decades, with fantastic results. Most veterinarians are not adequately trained in techniques, such as chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture, and others. How can we then supervise skilled practitioners who have years of education in their field including animal certification program and specialty?
My dog Skai is 14.5 years old, and one of the reasons why he can still hike and play, besides getting natural raw and cooked food and supplements, is that I take him to a chiropractor, a physiotherapist, and massage practitioner on a regular basis. I have also seen the same benefits in many of my patients and see no reason for these practitioners to be directly supervised by veterinarians. I also know that most of the practitioners would be thrilled to explain their technique and collaborate with vets, and their treatment modalities generally have very low side-effect potential.
What I also worry about is that if veterinary colleges and associations continue their attempts to prohibit non-veterinarians from practicing on animals, our patients will not get the care they need. I am also concerned that the general public will see this as an attempt by veterinarians to protect their turf, which can generate distrust in our profession.
The freedom of choice should not be any less for our animals than it is for humans.
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© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM