You sure do see some interesting things on the internet. Some of it is good, some of it is equivocal, and some of it is downright messed up. One of the advantages of having my own vet blog is getting to climb up on my soapbox and rant to the ether in response.
So. Here I sit, perusing Twitter, my puppy curled up by my feet. Oh look, another I hate Michael Vick T-shirt. A link to a cute cat. Someone had a bad day with an aggessive dog. And then in between those innocuous twitters was this:
Raw Meaty Bones For Healthy Pets: Why Veterinarians Give Bad …: Raw Meaty Bones. My passion i.. http://bit.lyblahblah (I decided not to link to the blog for various reasons)
Ho hum, yet another BARFER talking about how misinformed vets are about nutrition. Against my better judgment, I clicked the link. Hoo boy.
The summary paragraph of the blog I subsequently arrived at was this:
My passion is to expose and eliminate the unholy alliance between pet food companies and veterinarians. Pet food companies fund and control veterinary education, research, and practice. This unholy alliance keeps pets on a harmful diet of carbohydrates they cannot digest properly and did not evolve to eat.
Now, I’ve heard the old “vets are pet food companies’ sock puppets” before, but “unholy alliance” is a new one. It’s a term repeated enough in the blog to make me suspect a jihad against vets is brewing. I mean, really.
When I hear unholy alliance, I think of terrorists and war, of blood and riots and smoke, of chocolate bars with bacon in them. I never thought to imagine myself, prescribing s/o to a cat with crystals in her urine. I may have to go to confession for the first time in a couple of decades and confess my mortal sins.
What a read. Allow me to share with you some of the diamonds in this plethora of gems:
- “This course is taught by a pet food company representative at no charge to the veterinary college” I’m dying to know which college this refers to- not any of the ones I know of. If it does happen, it’s the exception rather than the rule.
- “Your vet is unlikely to know that dogs are a sub-species of gray wolf, with a wolf digestive system.” Yes, I thought they evolved from rhinoceroses. My bad.
- And the coup de grace: “Unfortunately, your vet is ill-prepared to advise you on any matters pertaining to diet and health, because their education omitted those topics or handed them over to commercial pet food companies. That’s the bottom line.” There you go. YOUR vet. All vets.
At least she resisted the urge to toss in the tired and true “vets get trips to Hawaii from these companies.”
Look, I’m the first person to tell you that the field could use some work. We’re kind of where people were in the 1950s when everyone thought frozen dinners were so amazing. And certainly, nutrition does not play a large role in the curriculum. Neither does ophthalmology, surgery, behavior, or anything else. We have a lot to learn in a short period of time and it all gets a pretty quick run-through. Still, everything I was taught was done so by a DVM authority in the field, not some corporate shill, and I work every day to learn more and grow as a clinician.
What chaps my hide is not the idea that veterinarians are not all experts on optimal nutrition, but the implication that this is due to some malevolent greed on our part, say, some unholy alliance or something. My understanding of nutrition, as well as everything else I do, has evolved with time and experience. Those who still recommend the same old same old do so, I believe, because they feel it’s fine. Whether or not you agree with that, I have yet to meet someone who says, “Oh yes, I firmly believe Pedigree/Science Diet/whatever is noxious but I still recommend it.”
The broad brush of “all vets have the same outdated viewpoint” negates the thousands of veterinarians who are passionate about nutrition and health, who have spent the time doing their own research and pushing for change in the field, and reduces every one to some lackwit demon in a red lab coat tallying up their “points” or whatever the hell they think we get for making recommendations. I said hell. Ha ha!
I noted in the author’s profile that she’s a breeder and a former psychology professor. I could spend the next hour typing up all sorts of nice sweeping generalizations about either of those things based on my own experience and some hearsay here and there, but I’ll resist the urge. I know there are good breeders and psychologists out there.
Have any of the vets or vet students here been taught a course by a pet food company representative? Inquiring minds want to know.
Yeah, the closest we got to a company-sponsored nutrition course was lunch lectures, I think. We had a couple of courses (our anatomy class and our professional development class) that I belieeeve got food-company sponsorships, but that consisted of “your class notebooks have been paid for by Purina” on a note in the front of the binder, never mentioned again.
I mean, it’s not like they weren’t trying to buy our loyalty. Free/cheap pet food, small gifts, I think Royal Canin (or maybe someone else? – lol, guess that’s how well the scheme worked if I can’t remember who) sent a bunch of candy to our nutrition prof, who gave it out during class… but the same is true of every pet-related company ever. Flea/tick control, lab companies, drug companies, you name it. I never found a problem with it, really – I liked it when companies gave us free/cheap products so I could make up my own mind about them (Evo gave our cats some fantastic diarrhea, for example, so even though the idea sounds good I’ll be cautious before recommending it), but everyone who is like “oooo, they give you lunch lectures, you’re in their pocket!” is discounting our ability to think and evaluate as independent people, not to mention our integrity. I learned a lot from the lunch lectures and from the trial products that has helped me understand their products better.
I find the idea of a nutrition course taught by a company rep to be ridiculous; I suspect it’s a layperson’s misinterpretation (willful or no) of lunch lectures.
I giggled at the assertion that we have no idea that dogs are related to wolves. I wonder if this person’s vet knows that he/she is held in such high regard!
Dr. V says
And considering how many clients use these products, I think an optional presentation about the products is reasonable no matter what the product. But they don’t teach the fundamentals of nutrition, no more than Bayer teaches our parasitology course, right?
Correct, of course.
Macula_densa pointed out that our only nutrition course was elective (and, uh, boring, since unlike her I was suckered into it and it was a lot of “how does the body process nutrients?” and not much “how should I decide what food is best for the pet?”), but I’d like to add that we did get a bit of nutrition worked into other courses and into our clinical rotation rounds. It would be interesting to have discussion of RMB/BARF diets in a nutrition class. Alas, I’ve yet to see anything scientific telling me it is better for animals than commercial food; I found this woman’s blog yesterday and was sorely tempted to engage her in conversation re: lifespan of a wild wolf and how “it’s more natural and therefore it’s better!” is a logical fallacy, and see if she could point me towards any sort of scientific backing for her viewpoints. Unfortunately, fraternizing with people who have pets’ true wellbeing at heart would be a violation of the terms of my unholy alliance.
I have to point out to people all the time that we don’t want our pets in the same condition as wolves found in nature.
-wolves ‘naturally’ have GI parasites. That is the norm for them.
-wolves are ‘naturally’ covered in fleas and lice. That is also the norm for them.
Also, let’s consider that raw meat sitting around in a grocery store that’s been handled by numerous people and touching numerous surfaces is not equivalent to a freshly killed carcass. That’s like feeding your pet a petri dish.
Finally, ‘natural’ is a meaningless catch-all phrase. Hemlock is natural. Poison ivy is natural. Enterohemorrhagic E. coli is natural. That doesn’t mean any of it is good for us or our pets.
Let’s see…our 1st year nutrition course was taught by a non-DVM PhD in nutrition who, in his own words, did not get into vet school but was too good for it. He then went on to be bitter towards all of us vet students but nonetheless “taught” us nutrition. He no longer teaches the nutrition course. It’s being taught by a DVM PhD (in nutrition) professor who DID used to work for Purina (ZOMG NO!!! sense the sarcasm people!).
I agree with wikith in that we had many corporate sponsored lunches where representative would come and talk to us (this included pretty much all the major food companies as well as some of the smaller ones, along with all the different drug companies).
I feel like people have the notion that vets are rather wealthy individuals (and maybe part of their income comes from being in bed with food/drug companies). I’m not quite sure where this misconception is from since the median salary for vets is no where near a “wealthy” income. People do realize that although the healthcare system is crap and full of problems, doctors still come out of residency making 2x or greater than what most vets in the country make (I say “most” because I know the median salary is higher in different parts of the country).
Dr. V says
A bitter PhD. We had a few of those too.
Are you telling me that Cookie came from a wolf? And all along I thought because of her demanding ways with entitlement issues that she was really a human in a furry little suit.
Dr. V says
I think dogs are descended from wolves, people, and rhinoceroses.
You forgot kangaroos. Didn’t you know dogs had kangaroo in their lineages? Geez, what kind of vet are you? 😉
I’m pretty much in agreement with everything that has already been said. I believe our nutrition books were paid for by Purina, we had lunch lectures on the varying types of pet foods out there, had a Hills feeding program to help cut our pet food costs, and, oh yeah, the entire class was sent on a class trip to Hawaii by Eukanuba (I wish)… I mean really, where do people come up with this stuff? I’ll be the first to admit I’m no expert on dog/cat nutrition (but I can walk circles around you with bird/reptile/small herbivore nutrition!), but I DO know no one ever gave me money, under the table or not, to talk up any certain brand of pet food. I do tend to recommend the big three: Science Diet, Iams/Eukanuba and Purina, but that’s mostly because that’s what I know. I haven’t done a lot of research on the newer brands of dog foods. Fortunately all the dog/cat stuff I do is on ER, so I usually just defer those questions to the pet’s referring DVM.
Dr. V says
If it weren’t for those feeding programs there would be a lot of malnourished vet student pets, I think. 😉
It’s funny, I think I’ve been on both sides of this fence. I do feel that many vets have not pursued the topic of nutrition beyond the bounds of what is claimed by veterinary nutrition researchers, which are the ones teaching our courses. I have yet to meet a researcher in veterinary nutrition that was not sponsored by pet food companies. I mean, let’s be real: where else WOULD they get funding to do their research? I don’t think the NSF is chomping at the bit to provide funding for companion animal nutrition research.
My point is that I do feel somewhat that a lot of the data we have is from a system that is funded almost completely by parties who have a biased financial interest in it, so that makes me wary of it. The drug industry in human medicine is very similar (although much bigger), and the more I learn about it the more frightened I become by it.
Anyways, vets in practice don’t really have the option of recommending high grade or home-made diets to all their owners because that simply isn’t realistic, so the system the way it is probably services 90% of pet owners just fine. I do happen to be one of the 10% or so (I’m just making up that figure) who prefers whole and minimally processed ingredients, but this also tends to hold true for MY diet, whereas the average American lives off of McDonald’s and frozen TV dinners. I do not expect those people to have the same standards for their pets’ food that I do.
I can completely identify with you on the presumption that vets have no idea what they’re talking about with regard to nutrition. It’s true that some are a bit naive to the intricacies of the pet food industry, but that doesn’t mean they’re dimwits who know nothing of small animal nutrition. Having only been out of school a couple of years, I am beginning to find it offensive how routinely claims are made that we know nothing about a particular topic relating to animals or their health. For all the training and all the studying and all the hard work we put into this field, everyone just assumes they know better than us anyways. At times it makes me wonder why we bother, and I find it frustrating.
And no, I can’t say I ever specifically had a lecture (other than the freebie lunch lectures already mentioned) that was directly given by a pet food company while I was in vet school. However, I never had an actual nutrition course. There was one available as an elective where I went to school, but I didn’t routinely hear good things about it, so I opted out. The things I know of nutrition are based mainly off of my own research.
FTR, wikith, Evo gave my cat diarrhea as well. Having been the one that started the Natura program at my school, I’d love to recommend all their foods since I think highly of the company, but maybe the whole high protein dry food thing doesn’t really pan out as well for kitties as touted? Or maybe it’s just something with that particular food. 🙂
Dr. V says
You raise a really good point about realism and the 90% thing. So true. In my particular area- you’ve heard me complain before- suggesting anything more involved than Nutro is met with amused “OK doc” looks.
Interesting that you didn’t have a required nutrition course, given where you are from. So jealous you had a Natura program at school! You’re awesome for doing that, and it also brings up a great point- how many more vets would be open to that if we had had access to it in school? Shoot, I went from poor undergrad to poor vet school student, I wasn’t in a position to go to a boutique for pet food back then either.
Yes, that program has a lot of great strengths, but a holistic perspective is not one of them. Otherwise, I think nutrition would be a required course.
We got tidbits here and there about nutritional management of various conditions as we were studying the conditions themselves, but that was about it.
I remember as I was graduating, I got into a conversation with the dean (who was about to step down) about the pet food industry, and he invited me to his office to discuss it some more. It turns out he was contemplating writing an expose’ about the pet food industry. He’d had some eye-opening experiences as the dean of the vet school and began to realize for himself that the system needed improvement. He questioned me as to what would improve things at the student level, and I discussed with him the fact that there is not enough emphasis on nutrition, both at the school and in the field in general.
Anyways, yes, that was why I began the Natura program. I felt that if veterinary neophytes had access to that food and familiarized themselves with it, they might be willing to consider recommending it occasionally to the appropriate clients. I do feel that approach is working as you now see booths for them and Wellness at veterinary conferences (i.e. they were at AVMA this year), so more and more they are becoming known in the field.
WOW! I went to a fairly out-dated vet school back in the day. West Texas A&M. And this is no reflection on their current staff or program, but my professors were a bit close-minded when it came to new concepts. I’m just saying in my day…we did not practice any of that “new age nonsense’ to quote one of my professors: things like using massage or alternative healing, herbal and vitamin treatments or taking a more holistic look at animal behavior in treatment. But…our nutrition classes were top of the line. The pre-med students infuriated us because they went off half-trained in nutrition, but the vets got a working over that we would not soon forget. There is nothing to compare with a feeds and feeding class at 7:00 am for making your brain ooze from your ears. And there was absolutely no “pet food” or other endorsement in our classrooms. I can’t say for sure, with the push to add commercial funding to education, that nobody is getting special IAMS textbooks now, but if you ask me vets were the ones leading the charge for alternative care in the last 20 years.
Dr. V says
I vaguely remember all the feed courses. I think I’ve blocked it from my memory. 😉
ITA that vets in general are more accepting of holistic care than some of the other health professions!
I’m a little late to the party (and also a first time commenter, but long time reader), but I just wanted to add that when I first got my puppy Prudence, I was feeding her Purina puppy chow because that was what she was fed at the kennel. I was later told by her groomer (that’s a rant for another day) that she had wheat allergies and need to have a food switch because Purina is the equivalent of rat poison (I embellished.. but that’s pretty much what she said). I did a little research and switched Pru to Orijen (now she is on Acana), keeping my vet updated the entire time. Not once did Pru’s vet get iffy about my switch or try to bully me into picking a specific food. She even informed me that she didn’t really know much about the Orijen brand and did a little research herself. And it’s true, I have had discussion with her about what she considers “bad” human food for dogs (I give Pru skinless, boneless chicken breast and sweet potato) because I don’t think dogs should just be limited to kibble. So, long story short, I just wanted to plug in my two cents to show that not all pet people think vets are mindless, sponsor driven drones. And I mean, seriously, who can really keep up with all the new information on pet nutrition on top of all the surgeries and procedures.