Dear Vet, Are You A Dietician?
Vets are great. Vets are fine. But Vets shouldn't tell your pet what to dine!
We love vets. They save lives, treat illnesses and diseases and perform amazing surgeries. Without them, many of our furry companions would not be alive today.
The concern we have is how they continue to advise their clients on nutrition and pet food purchases, when they have had minimal nutritional training.
Most fail to understand the intricacies of not just homemade and raw food recipes, but also grain-free formulations, prescription-diets and pet food manufacturers’ practices. Would a surgically trained veterinarian be able to effectively evaluate the nutrient levels between products? Just as how you would not ask your surgeon to weigh in on the latest diet fad, why should you ask your vet to weigh in on nutrition.
As Susan Thixton, a Pet Food Safety Advocate, puts it:
“Most veterinarians are NOT animal nutritionists. At almost every Vet School across the U.S., dog and cat nutrition classes are known to be very brief, most lasting only a couple of hours in total. Furthermore, most of these classes are taught by representatives from Science Diet, Iams/Eukanuba, and/or Purina pet foods. In other words, most veterinarian’s knowledge of pet food, ingredients, use of chemical preservatives, and so forth – is extremely limited.”
But why then do vets relentlessly push prescription diets as dietary “solutions” to health issues even if they are unsure how it works. Before we answer this, let’s first look at a case.
When our beloved client, Sumo Ong, suffered from chronic pancreatitis, the vets worked quickly to stabilize his condition. #gratefulforvets
When he was discharged, he was prescribed with one of Hill's™ canned Prescription Diet™.
We broke down Sumo’s diet and sought the vet’s rationale in prescribing this particular diet. We know that the goal for a pancreatic patient is to, as much as possible, reduce stress to the pancreas. A highly digestible diet, low in fat and sugar with a low glycemic index would thus be best to prevent a possible repeat pancreatic episode.
For a patient like Sumo, this prescription diet is ideal with high moisture and low fat content. The formulation relies on the use of organ meat (instead of lean cut or muscle meat) such as liver as well as grains and vegetables to keep the fat content low. But the ingredients used were sub-par compared to other commercial options available, much less homemade balanced diets.
This seemingly excessive use of cereals and grains can cause a spike in sugar levels and stress the pancreas to work harder to produce more insulin just like in human patients. This was our main concern.
We offered alternative diets that were made with “better” (meat based) ingredients and also offered a balanced homemade diet which had a lower fat and carbohydrate content.
When we asked for the vet’s opinions and concerns, the vet simply responded “Hill’s diet is a prescription diet formulated by their dietician. If it works for Sumo, I would stick to it.”
This unfortunately is not an uncommon response. Vets often rely on prescriptive diets as dietary solutions to common medical problems such as UTI and allergies. They stick with the “tried and true” methods without a deep understanding of why they work or looking for alternative solutions.
Why? It all starts from the day they enrolled into veterinary schools.
Vet schools often work closely with major pet food companies, such as Hill’s, Royal Canin and Purina, providing pet food programmes to fund students financially, subsidizing the cost of medical instruments and even offering scholarships.
Check out this link from UC Davis, outlining a program funded by major pet food companies for the Vet Med community overseen by student company representatives. Link: https://savma.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/pet-food-program
Also, an article released by a student journalist from The University of Sydney, a reputable veterinary science school, explained how the university allowed pet food manufacturers to give lectures to vet students and openly advertise throughout the faculties.
It's no wonder that vets with such exposure have developed confidence in these "home brands". Perhaps the problem does not lie with the vets themselves but maybe the system they have been caught in and convinced to accept: that processed diets are good and prescription diets best.
But fret not. Just as not all diets are made equal, neither are all vets.
Vets are slowly but surely recognising nutrition as an integral part of disease management. Holistic and integrative vets are just some examples of professionals whom have chosen to question the information they have received on prescriptive diets or commercial pet foods; and turn to alternative sources like whole foods as a possible source of healing.
We are inspired by organizations like Pet Nutrition Alliance who have made it their goal to equip veterinary healthcare professionals with resources on objective nutrient information, assessments and dietary recommendations.
We love vets. We really do. We just want vets to understand our frustration with pet food labels, our worries about processed foods and not be judged or dismissed when pet owners choose to feed homemade meals. We want to partner with and not war against vets to provide the best for our pets.
It’s all about looking for the right person for the job.
Even humans have surgeons and dieticians. Both are equally effective at their jobs. But I wouldn’t seek a surgeon’s advice to lose weight (unless I’m looking at liposuction, haha) nor would I want a dietitian at my operating table.
If your companion is sick and in need of surgery, go to a Veterinarian. If you want nutritional advice for your companion, go to a Nutritionist.
It is true that you are what you eat, just be mindful of who says what.
Until next time, keep your tails wagging.