Sometimes writing a weekly column can be challenging. I keep my eyes open for news items and consider topics that are a bit different and informative. Just when I began working on a piece, a topic arose that I felt it would be irresponsible not to address. In doing so, I may step on a few toes, which is not my intent. I always attempt to “elevate the conversation” as per this publication’s rallying cry and reputation.
The Indianapolis Star (www.Indystar.com) just completed a multipart part investigative report, “Pets at Risk.” The report explored the process of creating veterinary drugs, from inception, testing and marketing, to the veterinarians who prescribe the drugs once they receive FDA approval and are placed on the market. The report also addresses possibly related death of pets resulting from use of some prescription medications through interviews with bereaved pet owners. It concentrates in particular on a widely prescribed monthly flea/tick/heartworm/ anti-parasitic medication.
The report is very critical of the drug industry for bringing some of these drugs to market, and of veterinarians for prescribing the drugs. I strongly urge you to read the report yourself and determine which side of the argument you come down on. I reserve sharing my opinion, preferring to use the report as an opportunity to discuss some major concerns and suggestions.
First, I offer my condolences to all in the report who related the loss of their beloved pet. Such losses are lighting rods of emotion and should be kept in perspective. One of the undeniable truths of the report is the fact that drug development and studies for pets are performed much less expensively than human drug development and studies. The reason for this is cost control for the end product. One of the reason human drugs are so expensive is the extensive developmental process. The report cast a harsh light because the same is not done for pet drugs and its was postulated that this is simply because of greed on the part of the drug companies and the veterinary industry in particular.
It has been my experience that although most people consider their pets as family members, many often consider them no more than a monetary inconvenience. In many cases, pets are fed the least expensive food available and provided medical attention only when required and then begrudgingly. I don’t have to imagine the outrage that pet owners exhibit when required to pay human equivalent prices for medical services and drugs. In the past week I have experienced an owner who refused to have basic blood work done for a pet with chronic arthritis, and on a drug that can possibly cause liver and kidney damage with long-term use. Biannual blood profiles are recommended as part of the treatment regime and was agreed upon only because I would not prescribe the drug if the blood work was not done.
There also was the owner who declined to keep the follow-up appointments for her pet with eye problems, and finally brought her in when it was apparent the dog was blind in one eye. When I encouraged her to take the pet to a veterinary ophthalmologist in an effort to save the sight in the concomitant eye, she vehemently declined stating she did not want to pay the expense of seeing a specialist and the cost of drugs from a pharmacy. I made an appointment for her, but ultimately she did not keep it.
I share these examples not as exhibits of outrageous behavior, but as fact. In most cases, veterinary care is a matter of socioeconomic factors, selected and actual. Our true sense of our pet’s value may know no emotional bounds, but in many cases does have economic limits. My ability to practice and provide the best medical care for your pet is often determined by a client’s ability and desire to pay for it. If needed, I can have an ultrasound or MRI scheduled for your pet in a matter of hours, but not many are willing to incur the expense.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I understand the economic realities of life and the fact that many people go without in respect to their own medical needs. But remember that in most cases when someone is pointing a finger at the veterinary profession for being greedy, three fingers are pointing back toward them for not understanding the true economic realities of life.