The events and writing over the past few weeks have caused me to contemplate deeply on the choices we make.
Since I decided to renounce my veterinary license in Canada (not my qualifications), I have received many messages of support and encouragement, which I value very much. Sadly, many people have expressed their frustration with the direction of conventional veterinary medicine and its connection with drug and pet food companies. Some of you have also wondered why the human medical community is much more tolerant of non-doctors participating in the healing process, and today, my plan is to answer this question.
One of the reasons may be that physicians are generally very busy and there is a shortage of doctors. They seem to be more inclined to share the workload with other practitioners and collaborate. Physicians do not seem to mind that people seek naturopaths, chiropractors, osteopaths, herbalists, Chinese medicine practitioners, massage therapists, dental hygienists, nurses, homeopaths, and other professionals. Unlike veterinarians, they do not demand that these practitioners be supervised.
In contrast, many self-regulated veterinary colleges require direct supervision of well-educated chiropractors, and some of them prohibit non-veterinarians from practicing on animals. I have worked with many animal chiropractors over the years and could see they have deeper knowledge of their field than most vets. Despite this, the regulations require that animal chiropractors practice under direct supervision of veterinarians.
This contrast between human and veterinary medicine clearly demonstrates that, strangely, what is considered safe and well accepted in human medicine is not allowed in veterinary medicine “to protect the animal patients.” Do animals suddenly require more protection than human patients?
In the past twenty years, many animal guardians and non-veterinarian practitioners have voiced their concerns, suggesting that the regulations were not there to protect the animal patients but the financial interests of veterinarians. It is hard to argue this because of the contrast between human and veterinary regulations.
Another reason for this increased desire to control may be that traditionally, vets were expected to treat every animal from cows to hamsters and budgies, perform surgery, and be your pets' dentists, behaviourists, and internal medicine experts all at once. Until fairly recently, vets rarely referred to specialists, and most of them were general practitioners and “Jacks of all trades.”
Most people would agree that non-veterinarians should not be allowed to diagnose diseases, perform surgery, or prescribe drugs. Also, animal guardians have always readily shared their experiences with others by talking to each other and, now, through online reviews and feedback. If the freedom of choice exists in the human field, why should it be any different in veterinary medicine?
Of course, we can’t avoid problems completely, just as we can’t eliminate the malpractice of doctors. However, the restrictions and sometimes intimidation of even very skilled and knowledgeable non-veterinary practitioners is, in my opinion, counter-productive and not in the best interest of the animals. This situation has resulted in the loss of public trust in the veterinary profession and lower quality care for the animal patient.
Veterinary medicine and healthcare have evolved since Dr. Herriot’s times, who was the archetypal “Jacks of all trades.”
Today’s animal lovers very much appreciate vets who are able to communicate their limitations and refer them to available specialists and non-veterinarians with the required skills.
My dog, Skai, lived for 16 healthy and happy years thanks to my care, as well as the care of a chiropractor, a physiotherapist, a massage therapist and a rehabilitation practitioner. In fact, the ratio in his care team was one vet (me) to four non-veterinary practitioners.
The video below shows the results of this care when he was 13 years old.
I love the saying that if you love someone, you have to let them go even with the possibility of losing them. Perhaps the following version could be applied in animal healthcare:
If vets love and care about animals, they have to let other practitioners care for them where their own expertise does not reach.
I am convinced that giving animal guardians the freedom of choice will restore the public’s trust in the veterinary profession and, most of all, increase the longevity and health of our animal friends.