Did any of you see the recent segment that aired on the TV show 20/20 entitled “Is Your Veterinarian Being Honest With You?” If you didn’t, you can check it out on the ABC News website. I’m interested in what pet owners think about it. I feel confident in saying that veterinarians, myself included, are none too pleased.
To quote the program’s introduction:
We wanted to find out if what this man* says about the veterinary business is true — that some vets, out to make a buck, sell unnecessary shots, tests and procedures to unsuspecting pet owners.
* Andrew Jones, who “worked as a vet for 17 years until he quit the industry after a dispute with his medical board over marketing issues.”
The segment mostly questioned whether or not veterinarians regularly recommend dental cleanings and vaccinations when they are not truly needed. Supposedly in support of this accusation, the segment quoted Dr. Marty Becker as saying, “If it does not have periodontal disease, there's no use putting it through the risk of anesthesia,” which would be bad medical advice … if indeed that was what Dr. Becker said.
Dr. Becker was so upset about the way his comments were taken out of context that he has decided to end his 17 year professional relationship with ABC. The statement he posted on his Facebook page said “Sometimes you have to take a stand, even when it costs you. That time came for me today. I want my veterinary colleagues and all pet lovers to know that nothing is more important to me than pets, their people, and my beloved profession.”
In response to the claims of upselling, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) was also quoted on 20/20 as saying “it's up to pet owners to decide whether to follow a vet's recommendation,” which certainly doesn’t make the profession look very good. However, the organization’s full statement actually read:
“A thorough examination and the recommending of veterinary services based on that examination are the basis of good medicine, and they are designed to produce the best care for a specific pet. With the recommendation of the veterinarian, it is ultimately the pet owner’s decision on what services to provide for their pet. Establishing and maintaining a relationship with a veterinarian will assist in this decision-making process.
Veterinarians are seeing an alarming increase in the incidence of preventable conditions such as diabetes, obesity and dental disease in pets. A regular visit to your veterinarian is the best medicine when it comes to preventing illness, catching minor health concerns before they become major issues and ensuring a happy, healthy life for your pet.”
As is the case in every profession, there are certainly some unscrupulous veterinarians out there, but for 20/20 to provide such an imbalanced portrayal of the true state of veterinary medicine is unconscionable. They deliberately sensationalized their story with disingenuous editing and by glossing over the fact that they had actually found that the “vast majority of vets are ethical and try to do the right thing.”
Shame on you, 20/20.
Dr. Jennifer Coates