DIY pet medicine: How much is too much?
Over the weekend, a Fully Vetted reader wrote to ask me how I felt about a website that promotes DIY (do it yourself) veterinary medicine. Titled, "VetWork," this site is one among many that are offering how-to info on vet procedures.
Her question: "Is this OK?"
My answer: "It depends."
Here’s her letter:
Hello Dr. Khuly,
I just ran across an interesting website. It's a blog telling people how they can do some vet stuff on their own. There is a disclaimer at the top that it's not to replace veterinary advice, but some of the things it provides instructions for seem like they may be beyond what the average pet owner ought to be doing. Some things seem okay, like vaccines that many people administer to their own pets (this blog also covers livestock), but other things ... well, I haven't read every post, but I do see there are instructions for how to check for mange (including how to do a skin scraping) and how to draw blood from a vein. Also instructions for IM injections.
While I've heard of people administering their own vaccines, and sub-q fluids (I have helped my mom do this on two occasions, both times we were shown by a vet or tech). But skin scraping? Venipuncture for blood draws? Is that something you would have clients do on a DIY basis?
Skin scrapings? Venipuncture? Urinary catheterization? IM injections? At-home mange treatments? Not so much ... except that sometimes these are OK.
It all depends on a couple of things: Is the procedure being accomplished with the sufficient skill and attention to detail that ensures the animal is not being subjected to significant harm in the process?
If that’s truly the case, I take little issue with DIY vet work. After all, we train clients to administer all kinds of injections, record their observations, and to deduce all kinds of diagnostic conclusions that affect the lives of their pets on a regular basis. One has only to consider the case of the common diabetic cat to see how far clients can (and must) routinely go in order to further their pets' health by applying guerrilla DIY tactics at every turn.
Moreover, so many of my clients are human healthcare workers that it would be madness to assume I had the only key to the kingdom for every single issue. Why not show that ICU RN how to administer enemas to her chronically constipated cat?
But where do we draw the line? Clearly we don’t want Jo(e) Sixpack making on-the-fly antibiotic choices or undertaking kitchen table surgeries, right?
Yet it happens. Really.
How? Because it’s perfectly legal for an individual pet owner to practice medicine on his/her pet. After all, pets are property, which renders them completely distinct from human beings in this regard.
You could never practice medicine on your six-year-old human child or your aging spouse. But you may absolutely do so when it comes to your own dog’s vomiting problem or tail dock, for example. Because as long as you don’t cross that ethereal "cruelty" line ... you’re OK. (Yes, your pet might as well be a toaster with a "do not abuse" sign taped to it.)
But why not? Seeing as veterinary medicine is so expensive (and getting more so every day), does it not stand to reason that we need to protect the rights of pet owners whose access to care might be denied on the basis of their economic wherewithal?
No, we can’t exactly tell a pet owner they can’t draw their own blood and submit it to a lab on their very own. We can’t tell them that their use of a microscope to diagnose parasitism is wrongheaded. But we can sanction pet owners who take matters into their own hands and subject their pets to surgery without anesthesia (I've seen botched wart-removals, among other DIY nasties). And what about multiple weekly turpentine dips to kill mange?
Because when two vet-administered injections would have killed the critters in two weeks, the "recommended" DIY turpentine dipping is a backwater-bats*** crazy solution to the problem.
Hence, a very simple illustration of how DIY can go so very wrong, even when all the best intentions are in place … as is obviously the case in most every veterinary assisted DIY occasion. Yet it would seem that good intentions are not always the recipe to success, as illustrated in this, a favorite quotation of mine:
"It is difficult to say who do you the most harm: enemies with the worst intentions or friends with the best." — Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
Dr. Patty Khuly