Thoughts on CBC Marketplace show "Barking Mad"

 On Friday, October 4th, there was a segment aired by the CBC on Marketplace called “Barking Mad”, which highlighted the costs associated with veterinary care in Canada. The premise of the show was that the producers visited ten veterinary clinics in Toronto with a Bulldog named Marshall, to see about how the chosen vets (who were filmed secretly) would deal with the client’s concerns. The full show can be found here:

We are of two minds about this show, and felt that it was important to put our thoughts out there. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has also issued a press release today, which can be found here:

On one hand, we were glad to see that Eglinton Vet is at the forefront of veterinary medicine and our philosophies mirror many of the things that the CBC felt were important to veterinary care. The show, however, was very imbalanced and focused on a number of negatives, rather than the positive relationship that most veterinarians have with pet owners.  

The first issue raised by Marketplace was that of vaccinations and whether all vet clinics follow current guidelines for their use. They focused on the DHPP and Rabies vaccinations for dogs, as these vaccines are known to be valid for more than one year at a time. At Eglinton Vet, we vaccinate any dogs after their first adult vaccines every 3 years for Rabies and every 4 years for DHPP, and this is a protocol that we have been following for many years. We believe that vaccines should be given to any dog after close consideration of that dog’s breed, lifestyle, health and risk of disease.  One point not made in the show is that the key to any annual visit to the vet is not the vaccines, but the physical exam that our doctors do to check your pet ‘from nose to tail’, and the time spent discussing concerns that you may have.

The second issue highlighted was the protocol followed by many vets in Ontario to test yearly in the spring for a blood-borne parasite called Heartworm. Heartworm prevalence is very low across Canada, but what was not made obvious by the CBC is that the majority of the cases each year are diagnosed in Southern Ontario. They also did not show the rising prevalence of Heartworm over the past several years, which has occurred due to movement of rescue dogs from the U.S. and our changing weather patterns.  Heartworm disease is not something to be taken lightly, as it is life-threatening, and does not show symptoms until advanced. However, it is easy to prevent.

We advise our clients that their dogs should be on heartworm prevention medication each summer. Prior to this, our blood testing protocol does include heartworm screening, but since 2010 has also included screening for tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme Disease. Ticks are moving into Ontario with frightening speed, and bringing with them a host of potential diseases for both dogs and people. We feel that our spring blood testing protocol is an important step in helping to identify dogs with potential illness, and a way for us to recommend the best possible protection for an individual dog each summer.

The third scenario that Marketplace took issue with was one of ten vets who recommended a prescription weight loss diet to the Bulldog in question, who was admittedly not overweight. This morphed into the suggestion that veterinary prescription diets should not have a place in health care for pets.

Over the years, veterinarians have found that specific diets will help pets afflicted with certain diseases. In many cases, the use of nutrition as a treatment means that an animal does not have to go on costly medications to control their medical issues. We do recommend a wide range of therapeutic diets, just as a human doctor might for conditions such as diabetes mellitus, food allergies, kidney or liver failure or weight loss.  This just makes sense.  And, we do use foods supplied to us by companies that have done the necessary scientific trials and safety testing that give us confidence that the foods will be successful in helping us to reach our goals. One of the scariest things about pet care in Canada at the current time is the poor regulation of pet foods found in grocery stores and pet stores. When we do recommend a prescription diet to a pet owner, it is with that animal’s best interests in mind.

On a similar note, Marketplace suggested that vets are scamming pet owners by providing medications through their own pharmacies rather than providing prescriptions to the pharmacies of their choice. They made the valid point that many medications are more expensive from your local vet than yours would be from your pharmacy. However, they neglected to note that many of our medications have been specifically formulated for pets and our knowledge of your pet’s health history means that there will not be any medication errors made.

The last issue to be discussed is that the ten vets who examined Marshall each came up with a slightly different recommendation for an eye issue. What was not made clear was the fact that Marshall seemed to have a chronic eye issue for which he was receiving treatment. On any given day, this would likely mean that his eyes would vary in appearance.

We would argue that one of the reasons that veterinary care exceeds human medical care is that veterinarians do a full examination of your pet each and every time that they come to us for any problem. When was the last time you had a physical exam at any doctor’s appointment? As our patients cannot talk to us, we use our eyes, ears and hands to try to identify problems or proclaim that pet to be healthy. It should be commended that each vet took the time to identify an eye problem and discuss this with the dog’s owner.  It is tough for us when an owner presents a pet that they deem to be healthy and we find a problem such as an abdominal mass, heart murmur or obesity. But this is our job.

Some final thoughts…

Please remember that we encourage our clients to question us and understand the recommendations that we are making for your pet. Do not be afraid of the white coat!

Pet ownership is a privilege that comes with expenses.  In some cases, these may be extensive when accidents or illnesses occur. Pet owners should anticipate and budget for annual costs, or consider wellness plans for their pets. We also recommend pet health insurance as a key to protecting families when problems do occur. Even our vets have health insurance for their pets!

We hope that all of our clients are pleased with the care that their pets receive. We practice medicine with a very high standard of care, with a fully-equipped hospital and a highly qualified team. We know that this is what our clients want for their pets, who are cherished members of their families.