Over the years, we have talked to literally 1000’s of pet owners who have expressed their experiences with veterinarians. Some have expressed experiences with Vets that are wonderful, but the majority cause us to just, wonder about Vets. Like human doctors, there are some good ones, but they seem to be few and far between. At the risk of sounding like we have an axe to grind, we want to preface this article with an apology in advance. There's probably a little something here to offend everyone. I’m going to make a pretty bold statement right off the bat about human doctors, surgeons, hospitals, veterinarians, and vet clinics in general so hold on or, now might be the time to just click your way on to another page:
Let’s all be honest with one another by admitting a well-known fact that most of us tend to ignore for various reasons: The truth is and facts have clearly demonstrated, that unless we or our dogs regularly get sick or need some kind of treatment... doctors, veterinarians, and medical institutions will go broke. This has an overwhelming effect on how a clinic or hospital operates in order to pay rent, mortgages, salaries, insurance, and a wide variety of other bills and expenses.
Let me dial it back a notch because we don’t want to be found guilty of throwing out the baby with the bath water. There are always exceptions contrary to the norm and there are some very good veterinarians out there that haven’t succumbed to the almighty dollar. Some veterinarians may be well intentioned, or may have started out with a clean conscience and a pure heart… but over time, slowly find themselves in the grips of a money race and the need to accumulate more of it to buy the finer things in life. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we all do it, right? But when the health and welfare of a living person or our beloved pet is the object of someone’s need to accumulate wealth, IT IS a very bad thing in our opinion.
So with that preface, we decided to put together a list of important guidelines or “feelers” if you will, to help our customers determine if a veterinarian has your Golden’s best interest at heart or is more in that group that we tend to “wonder” about.
First Clue – Dog Food: Veterinarians are medical doctors and have completed many years of education and training to practice in their profession as a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine). They are not nutritionists or dietitians who are experts in dog food and dog food supplements. And yet, the vast majority of veterinarians will recommend you change your dog food usually by your second or third vet appointment. And coincidentally, they just happen to sell the brand they recommend stating that your dog absolutely needs this to have the best quality of life. A Vet will almost always recommend Hill’s Science Diet, or Royal Canin dog food. These are two of the most expensive dog foods on the market, which is why your Vet sells it and makes a handsome profit from these. Quite frankly in our opinion, they both are garbage brands with inferior ingredients compared to other lower priced dog foods. Your Vet will recommend these stating, “formulated specifically for your Golden Retriever” or, “to alleviate allergies,” or, “to aide gastrointestinal problems,” or even, “to prevent seizures.” Keep in mind your Vet is not a specialist of any kind like there are in the human world of medicine, and certainly not a highly trained and certified nutritionist. The majority of their information comes from a sales rep with a slick sales pitch. Your Vet knows you want the best for your pet and that you will spend the extra money on an over-priced dog food to ensure your pet is as healthy as possible.
Key point: Some Vets take advantage of the deep attachment you have to your pet to get the most money out of you.
Our Recommendation: If your Vet hits you up with the expensive dog food proposition, tell them you'll think about it. If other clues pop up, consider finding another Vet.
Second Clue – Birth Control: Most Vets will strongly recommend you to have your Golden spayed or neutered between 6 and 8 months of age. Why? Because they have partnered with the ASPCA to help control the dog population and reduce the number of euthanizations that are performed in animal shelters and dog rescues on a regular basis. Seems like a noble cause, right? But what they don’t tell you is that early spaying and neutering increases the chances of lymphoma, leukemia, cardiomyopathy, bone disease, dysplasia, and various other cancers by 25 percent (especially in Golden Retrievers). This significant increase in health issues is caused by the absence of hormones which are vital during the growing stage of puppies. Spaying and neutering removes the production of hormones altogether from a puppy. However from a Vet's perspective, it is believed that this is an acceptable compromise in order to control the dog population in shelters and rescues. Connect the dots… if your Golden is prone to a 25 percent increase in health issues as it grows older, who is going to profit from this?
Key point: Some Vets look at us as irresponsible pet owners, and see this as an opportunity to create future business.
Our Recommendation: Firmly tell your Vet, “No,” that you’re a responsible pet owner, and that you are going to wait until your Golden is two years old.
Third Clue – Vaccinations: There are many vaccinations a Veterinarian might recommend. The most common vaccinations build immunities for: Parvovirus, Distemper, Adenovirus Types I and II, Parainfluenza, Bordetella Bronchiseptica (kennel cough), and Rabies. Other vaccinations can also be given for Leptospirosis, Lime Disease, Coronavirus, Giardia, and Canine Flu Virus (H3N8). Most state laws only require a rabies vaccination for dogs. It usually takes four vaccination shots including the primary one usually given by the breeder, and 3 boosters given by a Vet spaced 3 to 4 weeks apart. After this series of vaccinations, your pet will have its immunities built up to defend against these infectious diseases. A good question is: “How long do these immunities remain in your dog?” The answer to this is determined by a “titer” test, pronounced TIGHT-er, which determines the level of residual antibodies present in a dog. Numerous studies have shown sufficient antibodies remain for at least 3 or 4 years and up to 8 years after the initial series of vaccinations. But most Veterinarians will recommend and give annual vaccinations. When the time comes to renew your Golden’s rabies vaccination for example, your Vet will ask you if you want the 1-year vaccine or the 3-year vaccine. But there is absolutely no difference whatsoever in the 1-year and 3-year vaccine contents or strength. Only the tag your Vet gives for your Golden to wear on its collar will show an expiration in 1 year, or 3 years. Why then are annual vaccinations recommended by your Vet? The answer is, “cha-ching, cha-ching, let the cash register ring.” The wholesale cost of a vaccine is around $2 to $3 per dose and a Vet typically charges anywhere from $15 to $50 per vaccination.
Key point: Some Vets value their profit more than the health and wellbeing of your pet.
Our Recommendation: After the initial set of vaccinations, get the 3-year Rabies vaccination, and if your Golden frequents doggie day care, doggie parks, or other high risk areas where strange dogs hang out regularly, get the intranasal kennel cough vaccine about every 6 months. As for the other vaccinations, once every 4 to 5 years is more than safe for your beloved furry family member.
Fourth Clue – Heartworm, Flea and Tick Preventatives: Now here is a biggie. There are preventatives for heartworms, fleas, and ticks that have been around for nearly 40 years, are tried, tested, and effective. But they are so generic that it’s hard to make a profit on them. The generic preventative for heartworms is an oral (O) combination of Ivermectin and Pyrantel Pamoate, which are the primary ingredients of Heartgard Plus, Tri-Heart Plus, and Iverhart Plus. These all require a prescription but can be bought on the internet if you can get your Vet to write the prescription. For fleas and ticks, the generic preventative is a topical (T) combination of Fipronil and S-Methoprene, which are the primary ingredients of Frontline Plus, Petamor Plus, ZoGuard Plus, Fiproguard Plus, and Onguard Plus. No prescription is required on these which means you can buy them on the internet and you don’t need to pay a Vet to be involved at all. That kinda sucks for Vets and pharmaceutical companies so what has been their response? Well, the pharmaceutical companies have come up with many new, improved, more effective, easier to administer, and longer lasting preventatives for heartworms, fleas, and ticks. This includes products like Bravecto (oral), Interceptor (oral), NexGard (oral), Trifexis (oral), Simparica or Simparica Trio (oral), Sentinel Flavor Tabs (oral), Revolution (topical), Senergy (topical), Credelio (oral) and Revolt (topical). These all require a prescription which means you have to make a Vet appointment. But have you been taking notice of all the new human medicines on TV these days? They all seem to have these horrible warnings like, “you may lose feeling in your fingers and toes, you may lose your sight, you may go into cardiac arrest, you may die!” They have to disclose all those things because the FDA requires it. However, dogs are considered property, not beings with rights that are protected by our constitution. Therefore, there FDA oversight and precautionary restrictions are not nearly as strict as they are with human medications. In short, all the warnings and precautions of these new pet meds aren’t required to be so blatantly and openly broadcasted to the public. But all the ill-effects and side-effects are astounding! These new meds (that I've listed above) which Vets have been prescribing in recent years almost all have one or more of the following side effects: seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, endless itching and scratching, hives, hair loss, lethargy, shaking, staggering, frequent urination, excessive drinking, and loss of appetite. We get calls from some of our customers stating one or more of these symptoms and the first question we ask is, “What kind of heartworm, flea and tick preventative are you using?” Their answer is always without exception one of those new preventatives listed above. But to add insult to injury, their Vet tells them things like, “Oh, your Golden scratches because of allergies,” or, “the seizures are caused by elevated triglycerides,” and then recommends Hill’s Science Diet or Royal Canin dog food. Pleeeease, make it stop…..
Key point: Some Vets are in bed with pharmaceutical companies as well as dog food companies to increase their bottom line revenues.
Our Recommendation: Yes the newer stuff is easier and more convenient, but is it worth all the potential side effects? Stick with the old stuff that’s been around a lot longer and safer to use. Your Golden will thank you.
Fifth Clue – Anesthesia: Anesthesiology is a very complex and advanced field of medicine that requires even more education, training and certification than a regular doctor or general practitioner. The exception to this is in the field of Veterinary medicine. No advanced training is required. No anesthesiologist is present during an operation. With a veterinarian, the person holding the scalpel is the same person administering the anesthesia. So, should you be concerned? Yes. At some point in their life, every dog is going to have to undergo one or more procedures that require anesthesia. Spaying, neutering, teeth cleaning, X-rays, and various corrective surgeries are just a few of the procedures that will require anesthesia. Not all veterinary practices are actively taking all of the necessary precautions and steps to reduce the risk of death from anesthesia. If a human dies on the operating table due to anesthetic complications, a malpractice suit is inevitable. But with a Veterinarian, you just get the bad news along with some sympathy. We have written an excellent article on anesthesia which can be read here. In it we describe the pre-op tests that should be performed, the various anesthetic agents used to put a dog under, necessary monitoring that is vital during an operation, and the right questions to ask your Vet ahead of time.
Key point: Veterinarians are not scrutinized or monitored the same way as human doctors are in the medical profession which gives Veterinarians far more room for error without the risk of malpractice.
Our Recommendation: Ask all the right questions. Be bold and educate yourself first so your Vet can’t pull the wool over your eyes with a bunch of technical jargon. Your pet is worth you being assertive and possibly having to step on a few toes to get the answers you need in selecting the right Vet.
A List of Questions to Consider When Looking to Find a Quality Veterinarian:
You can download these questions in a text file format by clicking here.
The following questions should not be asked to the person who answers the phone or sits at the front desk and makes appointments. Chances are, they will not be able to provide accurate answers to these questions. These questions need to be asked either to a principal veterinarian or a lead Vet technician on their staff. If you sense that the person you are talking to is becoming impatient with your questions or is getting defensive about you asking these, then that is probably a red flag which should help you make your final decision on what veterinary clinic will get your business and your hard-earned money. Keep in mind that if they agree to answer your questions over the phone, it may well take 30 minutes or more to get them asked and answered. So, they may ask you to write down all your questions and bring them in or email them. That is a reasonable request and shows they are going to make a good effort, but don't give them the portions you see in the light blue text below. Those are only our opinions and advice to the dog owner as your advocate. The Vet clinic may take several days or longer to get back to you with their answers and this could be a good thing. It could mean they are doing their own research on things they haven't thought about in their business practice. But if it's been more than a week, give them another call. After that if the delays in responding continue, it usually means they don't have time for your pointless questions and they already have plenty of other paying customers that don't ask a lot of questions. (We would like to help change that in our society by educating pet owners...)
- "What do you charge for a normal/routine health check-up for a puppy or adult dog?"
Use this for comparison among several Vet clinics.
- "What do you charge for a fecal float test exam (used to find possible intestinal parasites)?"
Use this for comparison among several Vet clinics.
- "Do you recommend and sell Hill's Science Diet, or Royal Canine dog food brands at your clinic?"
Their answer to this question is not necessarily a deal breaker, but if they do carry these brands, it's a pretty good indication that they will eventually be pressuring you to buy one of these very expensive dog foods for your puppy. But look at the ingredients of these. They just don't measure up to even a medium quality dog food, much less a super premium dog food.
- "Do you have a registered, certified, or licensed dog food nutritionist on staff who has received extensive training in dog food nutrition and healthy dog food supplements?"
If they say "No" (it's not surprising, because most vet clinics do not), you should be thinking to yourself, then why do they push these very expensive dog foods on their customers?
- "What age do you recommend a puppy to be spayed or neutered?"
75% of the Vets out there are going to say, "Before 6 to 8 months of age," and some will do it as early as 8 weeks of age. This is a pretty good clue that they have not been dilligent in learning about the vital importance of hormones during a puppy's developmental stage (or maybe they have but won't change their medical practice for monetary reasons? Afterall, the ASPCA supports their position on early spay and neutering.).
20% are going to say, "After the pup turns one year of age." That's a better answer, but not the best. Ask them if they are opposed to waiting 18 to 24 months and if they oppose waiting that long, ask them why. They may give you an answer like, "It could increase the chances of disease to the dog's reproductive organs if it is not done sooner." But there is no supporting evidence of this, and there is really no good reason to have this proceedure done on a puppy that young. ...unless they are suggesting that you and most people are not responsible pet owners... Are they saying that your puppy will eventually get pregnant or cause a pregnancy which will contribute to the overpopulation of unwanted puppies that ends up on the streets? ...something to think about.
The other 5% of the Vets out there know about the harm in removing the reproductive organs and hormone production from a puppy during its developmental stage and are doing the right thing by waiting longer. It will be hard finding one of those in this last 5% category. There may not be any within several hundred miles of you. But, don't let the Vet you finally decide on for your puppy pressure you into this poor medical practice of spaying or neutering your puppy at an early age.
- "What do you charge for dog vaccinations such as 5-way, 6-way, 7-way, 9-way, and 10-way vaccines? What do you charge for a Rabies vaccination?"
Use this for comparison among several Vet clinics. If they are recommending a 9-way or 10-way vaccination, you might also ask them if all those 9 or 10 diseases are prevalent in the area where you live. If your dog is an inside dog and you don't live out in the country, why is this cocktail of virus antigens so necessary for your puppy? Can they offer a 5-way or 6-way vaccine, and do they charge the same amount as they charge for an 10-way vaccine?
- "How often do you recommend a dog should be vaccinated (excluding the Rabies vaccination)?"
They are most liekly going to say, "Annually." Ask them if they are opposed to waiting longer periods of time, like maybe every 4 to 5 years since "titer tests" in dogs have determined that vaccinations last far longer than a year. If they ask what are "titer tests", that's probably a good indication they shouldn't make your short list of trustworthy veterinarians.
- "After a puppy has had their first year Rabies vaccination, do you offer a 1-Year or a 3-Year Rabies booster vaccination?" If they do offer a 3-Year Rabies option ask, "Is there any difference between the Rabies vials that are used and injected into the dog for a 1-Year booster versus the 3-Year booster option? Or are they the same vial and just the Rabies dog collar tag indicates a 1-Year or 3-Year due date?"
Truthfully, there is no such thing as a Rabies vaccine from any manufacturer that is labeled, 1-Year or 3-Year Rabies vaccine. The same vaccine is injected into your dog either way. It's nice to know that the dog tag they provide won't require you to come back for 3 years if you pay the extra cost for that, but does a 3-Year tag cost twice as much to produce as a 1-Year tag? We think you already know the answer to that.
- "What heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives do you recommend?" If they recommend a variety of treatments ask, "Do you also offer Heartguard Plus and Frontline Plus? ...or generically identical versions of these?" If not, ask why not (since these have been used effectively for over 40 years with minimal adverse side effects)?
This is a decision you will have to evaluate on your own. Yes it's true that some of the newer preventative treatments listed in our "Fourth Clue" discussion above are easier, more convenient, perhaps not as messy, or last longer. But is all that worth the possible risk of the adverse side effects that have been well documented by thousands of pet owners in the past 5 to 10 years? And, what if your dog shows no signs of adverse side effects when using the newer treatments, but over years and years of use ends up with some other debilitating disease related to these new chemicals used on our dogs? Is that worth the risk? You have to come to your own conclusions and make an intelligently informed decision that you can live with; just don't let your Vet pressure you into anything you aren't sure about or are not comfortable with.
- The questions you should ask about anesthesia are many. Please read our article entitled, "Anesthesia: What You Should Know For Your Golden Retriever" which can be found by clicking here. Read it! Because sooner or later your puppy will require anesthesia and you will be at the mercy of your Vet who is not under any regulations or pressures from governmental agencies to do everything with the utmost care and precaution so as not to jeopardize the health and well-being of your beloved dog. While reading our article, make a list of questions to ask your Vet when that time comes. You'll be glad you educated yourself and were able to minimize the risks to your furry family member.
Okay. This article could go on for several more pages but I think you get our point. We certainly don’t believe that veterinarians premeditate irresponsible practices or intentionally and knowingly involve themselves in any kind of malpractice. That would truly be criminal. But we do believe many over-step their boundaries in order to maximize their profits at the expense of our beloved pet's health and our pocket books. So what should you take away from all this?
- If you begin to notice several of the above "Clues" occurring with your Vet, this should raise red flags and cause you to "wonder" if you have the right Vet;
- Do your homework and equip yourself to make intelligent decisions with your puppy by researching on the internet, but be thorough because not everything your read on the internet is trustworthy;
- Ask your Vet a series of questions like the ones we have listed above, it ususally doesn't cost extra, but if they don't seem to have the time to answer these or they get defensive about it, that usually means they only want customers who don't ask a lot of questions, and have deep pockets;
- Don’t assume that your Vet has all the right answers. Many times if they don't have an good answer, they may just make up an answer supports their current practices, instead of saying, "I have not looked into that and I don't have a good answer for you." But a little research on the internet will help you get to the truth if you do your own research (but be thorough); and
- Most of all, remember that the phonebook and internet give you a lot of choices.