First, Do No Harm: Oath Naturally Applies to Vets
Oct 31, 2012 02:33PM
● By Dr. Shawn Messonier
Veterinarians, like other medical doctors, take an oath to help their patients and above all, “Do no harm.” One way of harming is through the performance of unnecessary procedures, whether or not it is immediately apparent. For instance, I believe harm occurs when an owner pays for a procedure that may not be medically necessary. The procedure could have a negative impact on the pet’s health now or in the future, and the trust in the doctor-patient relationship is broken as a result.
As a holistic veterinarian, I see many new clients in my practice. Most are seeking a more natural approach to pet care, and many are unhappy with one or more things that were done to or recommended for their pets by prior vets. Their stories vary, but two doubtful procedures are particularly common.
The first procedure my new clients regularly question is over-vaccination of their pet. All of the scientific studies from leading institutions such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners confirm that vaccines are only rarely needed for most pets. Even though current vaccines effectively induce long-lasting immunity, many pets continue to routinely receive annual vaccines. They are unnecessary, potentially harmful and a needless expense.
The more vaccines injected, the greater the chances that problems will develop with a pet’s immune system, including autoimmune diseases and cancers. Instead, a simple blood antibody test, called a titer test, can tell the veterinarian if and when vaccines might be helpful. In my experience, titers tend to remain high for many years following puppy and kitten vaccinations. Most pets I see rarely receive vaccines throughout their lives (other than rabies every three years, as mandated by law), which may account for their sustained good health for as long as 15 to 20 years.
The second problematic procedure is surgery for a damaged cruciate ligament (ACL), the most common ligament problem in the knee joint. Easily injured, it can result in varying degrees of lameness. While pain often occurs upon injury, by the time the pet visits a vet, the pain is often gone.
Surgery is typically required to repair a complete tear of all the ligament’s fibers in order to provide long-lasting stability to the joint. However, in most cases, the pets experience tearing of only a few of these fibers, which means surgery may not be needed at all, and they can recover over time using natural therapies such as cold laser treatments and targeted homeopathics or herbal applications.
Too many veterinarians are too quick to recommend surgery. Recently I examined a limping dog, still able to use its right rear leg 10 days after partially tearing a cruciate ligament. The pet’s original vet had recommended immediate surgery, or else, “The dog will never be able to walk again.” Unsatisfied with this diagnosis, the owner kept researching until he found our hospital and agreed with my explanation that not only was surgery not needed, but would constitute, in my opinion, malpractice for an injury that would likely heal with proper natural therapies. If surgery is ultimately needed for this dog, it can be done at a later date with no ill effects.
The rule of thumb for avoiding needless procedures and treatments is to always get a second opinion. Most ailing pets are not in danger of immediate death, and it’s rare that surgery must be performed right away. Politely questioning any diagnosis or treatment recommendation that feels wrong or like too much, and also asking for a referral to a holistic veterinarian (or seeking an independent source) will help people make the best care decisions for their pets.
Shawn Messonier, a doctor of veterinary medicine practicing in Plano, TX, is the award-winning author of The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats and Unexpected Miracles: Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets. Visit PetCareNaturally.com.