True Confessions of a Veterinarian

In my mind, I debated whether I wanted to publicly address the November 22, 2013 ABC 20/20 broadcast segment on “True Confessions of a Veterinarian.” At first, I did not want to give this segment any more public attention. I silently wrote to ABC about my dismay at the producer’s lack of fact checking skills and reckless innuendos about the widespread greed of veterinarians. Using Andrew Jones, a former Canadian veterinarian who surrendered his veterinary license, as a spokesperson for this segment speaks volumes on lack of quality of this production. Honestly, did they think so little of their audience that we would not challenge his motive? However, once I pressed the “send ” button on my computer, I was not satisfied with only expressing my frustrations to the network. I decided that this story needs more attention, not less. This segment has definite teachable moments.

This episode is a perfect example of careless and sensational reporting. To think most veterinarians are practicing veterinary medicine and surgery just to “make a buck” is absurd. I wanted to be a veterinarian before I even knew the value of a buck. I love what I do, caring for pets and educating pet owners. I enjoy being confronted with medical challenges and finding solutions every day. Just yesterday, we had a patient that ingested a substantial amount of marijuana and I know the care this pet received at my practice saved his life. It is an extremely rewarding profession and it irks me that someone would speak so poorly about what I, and so many other veterinarians, do so well on a daily basis to help our furry friends.

For the producers of 20/20 to put hardworking and intelligent veterinarians in the same category as car thieves, and “bartenders who are spiking drinks with Visine” is absurd. Sure, there are some individuals that we wish would be more conscientious in the delivery of their profession. However, to feel that 20/20 must expose veterinary malpractice to save the pet lovers of the world is ridiculous. Shame on ABC for trying to generate this controversy and incite pet owners to be distrustful of their veterinarian.

My least favorite part of the segment was the presentation of two seemingly healthy middle-aged dogs named Maybee and Honey. Each was presumed to be healthy, but their presumptions were incorrect. Maybee, the first dog presented, was simply visually evaluated without any sedation and deemed free of dental disease. Even from my couch, I could see dental tarter on Maybee’s upper canine tooth, which in itself may not be too devastating. However, what I could NOT see was the majority of her dental surfaces and the root structures beneath the gum-line. As my previous Huffington Post blog titled “Invisible Dental Disease” states, 70 percent of dental pathology lies beneath the gum line and is not visible to the naked eye. A quick glance in Maybee’s oral cavity does not reveal her total oral health. Only under general anesthesia can each tooth be properly probed, radiographed, and evaluated. Disappointingly, this segment missed a wonderful opportunity to show its pet loving audience the value of a thorough dental evaluation. I would recommend that Maybee’s owner schedule a complete oral health examination under general anesthesia.

The second patient, Honey, was also falsely labeled “healthy.” Again, from my couch, I could see on my television screen a gingival lesion on her right upper fourth premolar that needed to be addressed. The female veterinarian that they accused of “up-selling” a dental was actually correct in recommending a complete oral examination under anesthesia. This veterinarian was not trying to “make a buck”; she was just practicing good medicine. If 20/20 really wanted to deliver a quality segment, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist should have initially evaluated each patient. In addition, I believe Dr. Marty Becker was quoted out of context. Every veterinarian knows that periodontal disease is not the only reason to have a dental evaluation under anesthesia. Obviously, this producer was trying to get a respected veterinarian to endorse his scandalizing point of view.

My blood pressure rose during the segment that featured a client with a pet current on vaccines. This veterinarian incorrectly recommended vaccinating this pet. I believe this veterinarian was not “up-selling shots” but was just not prepared to see this patient. He failed to read the patient’s past medical history and was not up-to-date on current vaccination protocols. I was frustrated not because I felt 20/20 set this veterinarian up for failure, but that it actually occurred. I work so hard to maintain a high standard of care at my office and this negative publicity has the potential to hurt the entire profession. I was embarrassed that this veterinarian poorly represented to millions of viewers today’s accomplished veterinarian. The show exposed to its audience that not all veterinarians are created equal. All pet owners should interview their potential veterinarian to make sure he/she meets their expectations, just like they would interview their pediatrician before allowing him/her to care for their child. Wouldn’t it of been great if this show spent time educating pet owners on how to choose their best veterinarian?

Vaccinations are necessary for the prevention of diseases. Today, many of the core vaccines on the market can be given every three years. However, not all are licensed for three-year duration as implied in this 20/20 segment. For instance, in cats there are no three-year nonadjuvanted rabies vaccines. The nonadjuvanted rabies vaccine for cats is still given on a yearly basis. In addition, FELV vaccine must be given on a yearly basis to cats at risk. For dogs, Leptospirosis, Lyme, and Bordetella vaccines must be given yearly to dogs at risk.

After writing this blog, I feel better about airing my feelings. Honestly, I did not want this 20/20 segment to get any more buzz or viewers but I did want to make sure that pet owners were not duped by this careless reporting. “Pushing shots,” “preying on pet owners’ emotions” and “up-selling dentals” is NOT what veterinarians do. Your veterinarian and I want to practice the best medicine and surgery possible for your pets. Just like you, we have a deep love for pets.

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