Misleading and Unethical Advertising for Alternative Veterinary Medicine

I’ve written before about the unethical and misleading negative advertising that so often characterizes the promotion of alternative veterinary medicine. But I ran across another example that set my teeth on edge and illustrated a particular problem I have with this kind of thing.

Dr. Karen Becker, a prominent CAVM vet who writes for one of the most notorious sites promoting quackery through denigrating conventional medicine, Mercola.com, recently blogged about the much-reported decline in veterinary office visits. In this article, she makes a number of assumptions for which there is little or no evidence, and several accusations about the inadequacy of conventional veterinary care.

The accusations essentially amount to saying that conventional medicine ignores preventative care apart from given vaccinations and selling pest-control products, both of which Dr. Becker frequently cites as significant health hazards for our pets.

Perhaps a reason for fewer vet visits is the new canine vaccination guidelines which will hopefully put an end to the dangerous and unnecessary practice of yearly re-vaccinations.

I suspect another reason (aside from today’s tough economic climate), is because many traditionally trained DVMs practice ‘reactive’ veterinary medicine.

This means they don’t have much to offer pets unless and until they’re good and sick…

…preventive medical care in the mainstream veterinary community has evolved to mean not much more than yearly vaccines and chemicals to discourage pests and parasites like fleas, ticks and heartworm.

There is rarely discussion between vets and pet owners about nutrition (because vet students receive almost no education in the subject), exercise and other physical therapies, or the importance of a strong, resilient and balanced immune system.

This also raises the cliché about conventional veterinarians being ignorant in the area of nutrition, which is nonsense. The definition of ignorance most likely meant here, is simply a failure to agree with specific theories about what constitutes a healthy diet, including the unsubstantiated beliefs often promoted about the benefits of raw diets, the dangers of grains, and so on.

This then leads to the suggestion that alternative veterinarians do a better job of preventative care, because they promote “wellness” therapies.

For some reason the methods used to maintain a pet’s vibrant good health – everything from species-appropriate nutrition to maintenance chiropractic care to homeopathic remedies and herbal supplements – fall into the category of ‘alternative medicine.’

Isn’t it strange that natural modalities used not to cure illness (although they do that, too), but to maintain health are thought of as ‘alternative,’ yet chemical drugs and invasive surgery are considered mainstream health care?

Actually, it isn’t strange at all. There is no reliable scientific evidence for the preventative health benefits of maintenance chiropractic care, homeopathic remedies or herbal supplements. These products are touted as “wellness” care based solely on the personal beliefs of the vets who use them and the beliefs of previous generations of vets and animal owners. This is the same level of evidence that has supported such winning strategies as bloodletting, purging, and animal sacrifice as preventative health measures.

What is strange is that someone with medical training can so blithely denigrate preventative and therapeutic methods proven to work and wonder at the failure of mainstream medicine to accept without proof her belief that these alternative therapies are better.

I recommend twice yearly wellness examinations to my Natural Pet clients.

A thorough nose-to-tail professional checkup every six months is the best way for you and your vet to detect and stay on top of any changes in your pet’s health. This is especially true for older pets.

This is undoubtedly great for the bottom line, but again there is no evidence that biannual or annual wellness examinations recommended for all pets is an effective or efficient strategy for preventing disease or extending length and quality of life. In humans, the evidence in fact is building against the value of annual exams for well people. There is no evidence either way in veterinary medicine, so while I myself think it likely that regular examinations could have some benefit, there is no objective reason for a strong recommendation of this kind. And certainly such visits are not a substitute for the “chemical drugs” and vaccinations that have been far more effective than any other measure and reducing disease and preserving health in our companion animals.

…Proactive vets are typically obsessive about clinical pathology…most proactive vets recommend annual vector borne disease testing instead of waiting until lyme disease has set in, causing incurable auto-immune polyarthritis.

This is a completely irrational and baseless recommendation. Screening tests without an appropriate reason for doing them waste money and cause far more harm than they prevent. There is a strong movement in human medicine now to reduce exactly this kind of misguided thinking. So to imply that the care such alternative vets provide is superior to that of conventional veterinarians because the former recommend unproven preventative measures and unnecessary testing is misleading and unethical. Given the complaints so often made by CAM vets about the purported financial motivation behind many mainstream practices, it is quite ironic that this sort of advertising promotes far more aggressive, and likely expensive, use of approaches with no proven value.

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