Monday, December 20, 2010

Purebred Problems: Practically Redundant?

Clients often ask me whether it's true that mixed-breed dogs tend to be healthier than purebreds.

I don't think I needed to complete that notorious, horrific Cornell undergrad Genetics course to be able to answer this question. But perhaps fate led me to endure hundreds of hours in a lab meticulously counting mutated fruit flies just so I could eventually state an empirical truth to prospective purebred dog buyers.

Here is that empirical truth: in general, dogs produced from genetically dissimilar dogs (mutts, mixed breeds) are not going to display or generate anywhere near the number of predictable ailments as purebred dogs who are bred to other purebred dogs.

Veterinarians know this, they experience it daily, and it's one reason why the majority of vets I know have mixed breed dogs. If a mechanic repeatedly saw the same make and model of car coming in for costly repair of the same problems, you can bet he would never buy that car himself, or recommend his close friends and family purchase it. (This is why I want a shirt that says: "Veterinarians don't let friends buy purebred dogs." Hey... Christmas is days away!)

One of the nice things about having worked in a Midwest academic vet hospital, a huge West Coast urban hospital, a tiny East Coast rural practice and an animal shelter is that I feel I've observed the gamut. And from my experience seeing thousands of appointments, I have drawn 3 conclusions regarding purebred animals:

1.) Purebred dogs are everywhere. They are being deliberately churned out nonstop. As fast as we are spaying and neutering, as fast as kill shelters are euthanizing, and as fast as veterinarians and advocates are educating... purebred, inbred, overbred dogs are being deliberately produced, bought and sold.

2.) The veterinary profession as a whole is doing little if anything to publicly discourage the unbridled inbreeding, overbreeding and buying of purebred dogs, even though it contributes hugely and unnecessarily to companion animal illness in this country. I have, however, heard plenty of veterinarians state that these dogs are "good for business."

3.) The term "responsible breeder" is a relative one at best. To make my point clearer, I have conveniently broken breeder/buyer irresponsibility down medical-style (i.e., with the same gradation system used for heart murmurs, where Grade VI = loudest.) Yes, I went there.

Grade VI: BLIND INTERNET PURCHASE. A man purchases his first dog ever, an English bulldog with multiple inherited defects, from a Missouri puppy mill (but the internet said it was the secret headquarters of world-class Russian champion show dog breeders). NO. ONE. EVER. THINKS. PUPPY. CAME. FROM. A. PUPPY. MILL. BUT. IT. DID. He convinces his neighbor to buy female from same place (its littermate, incidentally) and has them mated. The artificially-resuscitated-at-birth puppies are sold without shots or deworming before they're even old enough to be weaned. Half the puppies later die of parvovirus.

Grade V: PET SHOP. Breeder mass-produces puppies in a giant, inhumane puppy mill, where breeding mothers are condemned to spend their lives crowded in spaces the size of shoeboxes. They are then "shot out back" or dumped when their fertility declines. The puppies are shipped off like Fed Ex packages to mall pet stores across the country. NO. ONE. EVER. THINKS. PUPPY. CAME. FROM. A. PUPPY. MILL. BUT. IT. DID. A girl at the mall shopping for designer jeans and Lady Gaga cd's impulsively buys one of the puppies. She drops it at the already over-filled local shelter when it is ordered out of her college dorm room.

Grade IV: DROVE TO THE MIDWEST AND PICKED IT UP SOMEWHERE. Private person who probably doesn't own a full-on puppy mill still deceitfully sells dogs to people who are never welcome to see their facility/dogs. If they do see the dogs, it's "just the mother and father." NO. ONE. EVER. THINKS. PUPPY. CAME. FROM. A. PUPPY. MILL. BUT. IT. DID. Puppies may have shots and deworming, but not uncommonly have other parasites, inbred disorders, or may not be purebred at all. Breeder tells buyer that the puppy's incessant diarrhea is from stress and not to worry about it. The breeder becomes completely unreachable when genetic problems are diagnosed at the first puppy exam or when the purebred dachshund that arrives via plane is an obvious dachshund-chihuahua mix.

Grade III: MY AUNT'S DOGS HAVE PUPPIES EVERY YEAR. Person or family purchases and/or otherwise acquires dogs of the same breed, keeps them at their home or property, and watches the dogs breed. Enjoys having dogs, enjoys the money they make from selling dogs, but knows knows little or nothing about inherited disorders or breed facts. May breed multiple breeds. If two different kinds of purebreds accidentally breed with each other, they can potentially sell the offspring for even more money by simply combining the names of the two dogs, i.e. yorkie-poos, labradoodles, or, if you've seen Dumb and Dumber, bull-shihts. Gives first shots and first dewormings themselves, sells the puppies without a vet check via word of mouth or the local newspaper. May give reproductively capable animals away after breeding but does not spay/neuter them first. Consequently, these animals may be subsequently bred by the enchanted person who just got a purebred dog for free.

Grade II: LOCAL NEWSPAPER. Somewhat more serious breeder who has a working knowledge of a breed's history, uses, characteristics and inherited disorders. Has years of experience working with the breed and may be involved in showing dogs. Although most genetic diseases do not appear until after puppyhood, breeder has a veterinarian check the puppies to sign off that they do not currently have evidence of illness or genetic disorders. Gives shots and deworms prior to sale. Still brings genetically afflicted animals into the world, but the owner gets a refund and/or a replacement puppy if this happens by the first exam. Purchaser usually has no idea that a healthy puppy can still turn into a trainwreck moneypit down the line.

Grade I: HAVE YOU SEEN THE MOVIE "BEST IN SHOW?" Professional breeder who is obsessed with a certain dog breed. Has veterinarian(s) check breeding animals for problems to which they are predisposed (even though at breeding age these problems probably haven't even developed yet). May invest in OFA registries, artificial insemination and breed registries, etc. Life revolves around the dog breed, highly selective matings and sales. Breeding animals no longer used may be spayed/neutered and adopted to homes. This type of breeder proudly believes his or her dogs have an appearance, personality or working trait which makes them superior to other puppies. (Appearance superiority means the dog looks exactly or almost exactly like thousands of other people's dogs. Personality superiority means the dog will have the same or nearly the same personality as thousands of other people's dogs. A superior working trait might mean that the dog, which is probably being purchased as a plain old home companion, will spend hours each day bored on a couch when its intensified instincts would prefer it to be herding, chewing, retrieving, digging, swimming or attacking other animals.) These breeders may actually win the favor of some veterinarians, unless they contradict the veterinarian on health issues or repeatedly insist on augmenting medical advice. Their expert breeding still produces dogs more prone to disease than mutts. Their breeding and sale of intact animals still contributes to animal overpopulation, the number one cause of dog death in the country.

When I steer people away from breeding and purchasing purebred dogs, it's not just because approximately 1.7 million dogs are already killed in shelters each year. It's not just because mutts make just as good if not better companions than purebred dogs. And it's not just because I've seen thousands of little souls trapped in defective bodies they didn't ask for. I also steer people away from breeding and buying because I empathize with clients. I don't enjoy seeing well-meaning people misguided, duped, frustrated, upset, or faced with problems they didn't expect and can't afford to properly manage. Especially when the overwhelming majority of them falsely believed they were making an investment and getting something "better" when they bought a purebred dog. Do I think purebred dogs should be universally outlawed? No. Do I think 90% of people who buy into this country's rampant breeding and obsession with purebreds would be just as happy if not happier with an adopted mutt? Yes, absolutely.

I'll add that a pet insurance company in Seattle recently released its findings on the most expensive dogs based on veterinary visits/insurance claims submitted since August 2000. The medical ultra-high-maintenance list, printed in Veterinary Practice News, included: English Bulldog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Rottweiler, Great Dane and the French Bulldog. Mixed breed was not on the list, and it never will be.

You might be asking...what about purebred cats? Intentional cat breeding is less rampant, but creates the same problems. I'll never forget the time a woman began crying uncontrollably in my exam room because her purebred Burmese cat (anything ending in -ese tends towards poor immunity and/or inherited disease in my experience) had unresolved diarrhea for years on end. She had visited numerous vets, ruled out every parasitic and dietary cause, acquired an entire shopping bag full of medications and alternative supplements, and she had never once seen improvement. Following her bawling breakdown, I looked this woman in the face and told her to stop buying purebred cats.

Here are just a few of my most recent anecdotes :

1.) A man told me he paid $600 for a purebred "American Staffordshire Terrier" puppy. It was no different or better than any of the pit bull puppies sitting in shelters across the country in terms of appearance or personality, and it had Demodectic mange (an ailment associated with a genetically weaker immune system). 3 months later, the Demodex improved but was not completely resolved, as this condition can take months upon months to clear. At this point, the client told me he'd "had it" and wanted to "get rid of" the puppy. The breeder did not return any calls after he heard the diagnosis and was asked to cover cost of treatment.

2.) Another man told me he paid  $5000 for a "purebred" dog known as a "pocket pit", which is supposedly slightly smaller than a "regular" pit bull. Interestingly enough, at 4 months the dog looked no different than every other pit bull puppy I see. Keep in mind that of the approximately 1.7 million dogs killed in shelters, between 50 and 60% are estimated to be "pitbulls" of various sizes.

3.) At their first vaccine appointment, I cautioned the owner of two sphinx kittens that the breed was prone to skin infections and immune problems. One kitten returned the next day with a vaccine-induced cellulitis. It returned two more times for other ailments before the second vaccine appointment just 3 weeks later.

Let's end this post with a game for veterinarians (or really bored non-veterinarians): the game is called... "I name the condition, you name a dog breed that comes to mind."

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (aka dry eye)
Intravertebral disk disease
Recurrent hotspots, lymphoma
Gastric dilitation and volvulus (aka bloat)
Cancer (wait, that's every purebred dog's predisposition)
Luxating patellas, defensive biting
Recurrent ear infections
Shar Pei ears (think carefully now)
Dilated cardiomyopathy
Perianal fistula, hip dysplasia, pannus
Dermatitis, dying under anesthesia
Inexplicable howling, running away from home

If your thought was aligned with mine more than 7 times, consider relaying mutt adoption information to your clients from this day forward, if you don't already.

I'll leave you with a compelling photo of two wonderful, beautiful rescues. People constantly ask me what kind of dogs they are and where I "managed to find them." They both sat in shelters for weeks to months and narrowly escaped euthanasia before I adopted them. Look at the little white one (the Ethical Veterinarian mascot)...I'm sure I could tell most people she was a "pocket pit" and they wouldn't know the difference.

Bring on the mutts!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

AVMA Revises Veterinarian's Oath to Emphasize Animal Welfare

Rumor has it leaders at the American Veterinary Medical Association started reading Ethical Veterinarian and became terribly intimidated!

For the first time in its 56 year history, the famous(ly lacking) Veterinarian's Oath will finally claim a veterinary obligation to promote animal welfare. To the average person, this may seem like strange cause for celebration, since the term animal welfare would seem to denote the whole purpose of the veterinary profession. However, animal advocates know it's a small victory; parts of the veterinary profession have long viewed a concern for the non-medical treatment of animals (a huge part of animal welfare) as a potential threat to animal industries with whom they are allied.

Despite the AVMA Council on Veterinary Service's recommendation to reaffirm the old Veterinarian's Oath without changes, the Executive Board recently followed the Animal Welfare Committee's advice instead. It approved changing a section of the oath to the following:

"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health AND WELFARE, THE PREVENTION AND relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge."

I'm obviously delighted that the AVMA is finally acknowledging that animal welfare should be a priority within the profession. I'm also impressed that the Animal Welfare Committee has pointed out its own "reactive, rather than proactive, approach to protecting animal welfare." Admitting this weakness is laudable and a great starting point for improvement.

However, I do have some other sentiments.

First off, it's unfortunate that this amending of the oath comes so embarrassingly late. Late like wishing someone a happy belated 30th birthday the day before their 70th birthday. It is also happening right after non-veterinary animal advocacy groups swept through the country, putting state animal welfare laws in place and banning horrendous practices that the AVMA had just condoned. In the years that it has taken the veterinary profession to reach this point of labelling itself committed to animal welfare, animal advocacy groups have been busy revolutionizing public awareness of animal welfare, putting forth cogent arguments regarding animal welfare and leading animal welfare reforms.

If we back up a little and look at the big picture, philosophers, ethicists and lawmakers have been discussing the treatment of animals for centuries. For decades, American animal activists have been productively laboring to win better treatment for animals. Other intellectuals and professionals in society are not afraid to discuss concepts like animal rights, speciesism, and nonhuman family members. Mainstream culture is even beginning to embrace these ideas. And yet, our national veterinary professional organization has just finished debating whether or not to formally pledge itself to "animal welfare," a conservative term that has been used in public policy since the 1800's.

And even with the oath's new reference to animal welfare, we can't forget that many of the AVMA's positions still stand in direct opposition to animal wellbeing. Changing words doesn't mean it will change its policies. After all, the AVMA still condones declawing and gestation stalls, among other things. What is it going to do about these positions now?  I hope it alters them, rather than persisting in its delusions that these practices are somehow aligned with animal welfare. But I wouldn't bet on it. I'd be more inclined to believe the AVMA is changing the oath so it can stake a better claim at being an "animal welfare" authority next time it goes toe to toe against the animal advocacy movement.

Even if it is becoming genuine about animal welfare, we must recognize that the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee's interpretation of "animal welfare" is undeniably biased in favor of industry, despite its repeated assertions to the contrary. In a recent presentation on its animal welfare approaches, an AVMA Animal Welfare rep stated, "Animal (and human) welfare requires consideration of:..." and among just a few factors listed were, "producer concerns and economics" and "consumer expectations." Producer concerns, economics and ever-becoming-more-vile consumer expectations are not the determinants of whether or not an animal is experiencing wellbeing. Nor can the word "human welfare" be used interchageably with "human interests" As long as the AVMA is letting economic factors (you know how much I love that photo) play so heavily into its judgement, it is never going to make significant changes for animals. The AVMA will, however, have a stockpile of lame excuses and rationalizations for allowing animal abuse to continue.

All in all, the AVMA still has a long way to go, and I certainly still do not regard it as any kind of visionary animal protection organization. In all honesty, it is a business organization that advocates for veterinarian livelihood moreso than animal wellbeing. For this reason, we should not expect it to be a serious player in fostering change for animals, though I do have fantastical ideas that it will one day become a serious player.

For now, let's just take a moment to be happy that the oath has become more animal-friendly and that at least some leaders in the AVMA seem motivated toward a degree of change. At this moment, the AVMA's oath revision is analagous to a 4 year old kid stating his first word ever as "pasketti" instead of "spaghetti." It's unbelievably late, and it doesn't technically mean anything. But it gets a smile of out me, because perhaps we're getting somewhere.

Here is just a parting reminder.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Large Animal Industries Scream for Medical Attention (While Committing Suicide?)

I recently read a November article in the Washington Post entitled "Vet Students Choosing Pets Over Farm Animals." It described how an AVMA survey of 2010-graduating vet students found that only 2% intended to work with large "non-pet" animals once in practice. According to the article, from 1998 to 2009, the number of small animal veterinarians increased from 30,255 to 47,118 while the number of farm animal vets dropped from 5,553 to 5,040. Three possible reasons for the small animal preference were mentioned in the article: the average companion animal salary is slightly higher, there is risk of greater physical injury in large animal medicine, and drives to farm call appointments are time-consuming.

The Post article explains how the large animal veterinarian shortage is being called a "food safety crisis." For this reason, pending federal legislation seeks to bolster the field of large animal medicine. In addition, at least some vet schools have changed admissions criteria in order to increase the number of students with large animal interest.   

I should point out that none of the large animal medicine disadvantages listed in the article represents the primary and simple reason most students have no intention of working in this field. It's because they were not raised on or near farming operations; that is the main determinant, because modern agribusiness has its own culture-specific view of those animals that's completely disparate from that in companion animal medicine. 
In small animal medicine, most patients are regarded as non-verbal family members; it's a stone's throw from human pediatrics. In large animal medicine, on the other hand, the animals are viewed mainly (if not entirely) as production units, meat, or soon-to-be pieces of meat. In general, the purpose of  large animal medicine isn't to interact with and enjoy animals; it's to ensure the most cost-effective, herd-preserving course of action that creates maximum animal productivity and economic gain.
And in this age of factory farming, concern for and interaction with individual animals is less than ever - it's rarely like this any more. So if Farmer John and Bessie the cow are being replaced with "giant agribusiness operation" and "heifer #706", can we really expect the James Herriot-appeal of large animal medicine to persist? 

It's silly to paint a picture in the media or elsewhere that large animal medicine is just like small animal medicine, except that the animals are larger. For the most part, small animal veterinarian "types" do not just become large animal veterinarian "types"; the cultural and value backgrounds are so incongruous, it's like expecting a Democrat to transform into a Republican or vice versa just because both are politicians.
Seeing this Post article made me flash back to a time not long ago when I was a vet student writing articles for the Student AVMA journal Vet Gazette. Of the 3 animal protection articles I submitted, only the one regarding farm animals was not published. I bring this up because I wrote it in response to this Vet Gazette "student forum" question:

"The need for food animal veterinarians has become an important topic within our profession and our nation. Why do you think graduating veterinarians are moving away from this field and how can this issue be addressed? What would convince you to become a food animal veterinarian if you were inclined towards a different field?"

Here are some excerpts from my response, just dug up from the dark, crowded depths of My Documents and re-read by me for the first time since its submission years ago. (My middle school English teacher would have yardstick slapped me for using that passive voice.) I've taken the liberty of inserting an "OUCH!" after each statement. Reading them now, I still stand by all of these statements, even if some seemed very direct.

Value conflicts between the worlds of food animal and small animal medicine are ever- increasing. As small animal medicine continues to move forward almost equally with the advances of human medicine and medical technology, large animal practice is appearing less like medicine and more like a specialized form of animal production consulting. (OUCH!)

I have also observed time and time again a tendency (of large animal veterinarians and producers) to attack evolving values of society if they interfere with economic gain. This habit is not helping the image of the food animal world. The more agribusiness moves toward ‘factory farming’, the less veterinary students will show interest in working with these animals. Interaction with animals, a huge part of the profession’s appeal, is severely  restricted by the nature of modern agribusiness and its confinement practices. (OUCH!)

In a typical swine confinement facility, the environment usually reeks of urine, and sows packed into gestation stalls are unable to turn around or even move much at all. They remain that way for months on end with no relief... these animals are often orthopedic nightmares and display stereotypical behaviors caused directly by the production environment. While few veterinary students are actively promoting animal welfare reforms to change these production methods, even fewer students are considering switching careers to swine medicine. Unfortunately, its practices can be repulsive to compassionate, animal-loving people who have not been conditioned from an early age to accept them. (OUCH!)

Making an effort to recruit more students with food animal interest and offering financial assistance may bring more food animal veterinarians into the profession. However, it will not change the larger problem, which is that veterinary medicine has the very real potential to become a house divided against itself. (OUCH!)

I knew that the SAVMA Vet Gazette did not want to hear about the larger issue, and that my view would not be published. But look at this, ladies and has been published elsewhere.

Until next time... here is some interesting advice.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Declawing Bans Also Passed in the Face of Veterinary Opposition

Prop B's success prompts me to mention another animal protection effort that succeeded despite fierce opposition from its state veterinary medical association. Legislation to ban cat declawing passed last year in San Francisco and 6 other California cities even though the CVMA publicly expressed disapproval. Now, before you make that cliche quip that San Francisco is not representative of anything but itself,  know that upwards of 25 countries have also outlawed declawing and labelled it an act of animal cruelty.

Declawing has become an ethics poster issue for veterinarians. In a way, that's unfortunate, because declawing is a problem created by veterinarians for veterinarians. In other words, the veterinary community winds up quibbling internally over its own issue when it could be weighing in on other issues that cause massive animal suffering elsewhere in society.

As a person who repeatedly comes face to face with severe animal abuse and neglect, I would not place outlawing declaws high on my list of priorities for practical animal protection, even though I will not perform them. It is true that declawed cats can still have a relatively good quality of life. It is true that I would rather be a declawed housecat than a starving stray, a dogfighting dog, a puppy mill breeder, a circus elephant, a battery caged hen, a gestation crated sow, a male dairy calf, or a pit bull mix in a high-kill shelter.

However, even if declawed cats don't typically suffer as badly as some other animals, declawing is ethically significant. It's significant that doctors can be paid to amputate an animal's digits when the procedure has no medical justification. People do not bring their toddler into a doctor's office and appeal to their physician because little Joey's fingers keep picking up crayons and scribbling on the walls. A "real doctor" would never even consider amputating Joey's distal phalanges for that reason. Especially when there will always be other potentially destructive body parts that cannot be amputated.

We know declawing doesn't contribute to animal welfare as a whole or to the health of the individual animal. On the contrary, it induces pain; cats don't get a consolation prize weeklong supply of happy juice for nothing. Declawing also puts cats at greater risk of injury, predation or death if they do escape outside.

Because declawing jeopardizes the natural interest and well-being of the patient, it follows that any veterinarian performing it needs to have a "but it is in the best interest of the patient"-type statement ready in order to justify it.You already know what The Statement is, because it's uttered in automaton fashion whenever and whereever the declawing issue comes up: "I would rather declaw a cat than risk having the owner relinquish it to a shelter, dump it somewhere, or worse!" There's also this occasional addendum to The Statement:  "I've had clients be threatening." 

You don't have to be a psychologist to recognize The Statement for what it is: a weak attempt at rationalization based on a relatively improbable scenario. It does not justify the overwhelming majority of declaws, which are performed even when possible relinquishment is not a factor. 

The Statement's addendum about clients being threatening is even more improbable. I've had numerous people of all different values and walks of life approach me about the possibility of declawing their cat. Not one of them has shot through the hospital door with an uzi, assaulted the first person wearing a stethoscope, and said, "Let me pay you hundreds of dollars to cut off my cat's toes, or I'm droppin' her at the pound... where she'll surely be killed!" It's not that dramatic, and we know it. If it was, we'd be trained in self-defense as well as surgery. Even if a client did act this way, we're not here to give in to and reinforce people's bad behaviors; we're here to set an example for society's treatment of animals. It is possible to deal with bad behaviors gracefully.

What normally happens when clients ask about declawing is just that...they ask about it. So I tell them the known facts. I tell them that declawing involves amputating bone, that it's a procedure with a significant amount of postoperative pain, and... most people stop me right there (has anyone had this experience?) to say they thought only the claw was removed and they are not actually interested in doing that to their cat. In terms of analogy, they thought declawing was to nail trims what waxing is to shaving. No, not's more like cutting off your legs so you don't have to worry about waxing or shaving.   

Even clients who assert their wish to declaw rather than inquiring about it seem to change their minds when I state that I do not personally perform them and explain why. I've never once been forceful with my opinion nor have I needed to be. I don't question my mechanic when he recommends changing my timing belts at a certain mileage. Do you?
But obviously, not all veterinarians discourage declawing and some are upset that non-medical people (i.e. lawmakers) are now "telling them what to do medically." But, again, whether or not to declaw a cat is not a medical issue when it induces pain, alters an animal and there is no medical reason to do it. It's an ethical issue. Lawmakers, activists and the general public are increasingly overruling the veterinary profession on ethical issues. It's deja-vu of many other animal protection vs. veterinarian battles out there (see all my previous blog posts). Perhaps veterinarians need to start re-evaluating what we condone. Again, these are ethical issues.

But for those who prefer to jam a square peg into a round hole by debating declawing on scientific rather than ethical grounds, I'll talk about research studies. A large case-control study published in JAVMA back in 1996 found in its multivariate analysis that declawed cats were 89% more likely to be relinquished to animal shelters. (That's a large percentage, but part of the study did contradict what was found in the univariate model, making it "difficult to interpret.") In this same study, inappropriate elimination was found to be 80% more likely in declawed cats. There have been other studies since that have found an increase in unwanted behaviors after declawing. The most recent retrospective study I know of to date found 18% of cats developing increased biting and 15% developing inappropriate elimination (two potential causes of shelter relinquishment) after being declawed.

However, the AVMA has this political statement on its website: "There is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups." Studies like the 1996 case-control study and the retrospective study aren't mentioned by the AVMA, allegedly because they are case-control and retrospective.  However, researchers cannot ascertain development of behavioral problems in a household or whether shelter relinquishment occurs using the same type of study used to determine something like whether or not catecholamine levels rise post-op. Who is going to relinquish cats in a controlled experiment to a shelter? The scientists? And here is my answer to the AVMA regarding whether or not case-control studies should be left out of mention in the future:

British physiologist and epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll and other researchers after him used large case-control studies to demonstrate a statistically significant association between tobacco smoking and lung cancer. Opponents dismissed these studies for many years, insisting that it did not prove causation. Technically, it didn't prove causation, but the correlation was so strong researchers would have been foolish to ignore it. Cohort studies subsequently proved that tobacco smoking is the cause of almost 90% of lung cancer mortality in this country.

My point is that declawing may actually even increase a cat's chances of ending up dumped, euthanized or in a shelter. I hope you will consider that the next time you hear a veterinarian utter The Statement.

This was a long post and you're a trooper if you made it through. In the words of my hero Rod Serling.... thank you and good night.

Friday, November 12, 2010

In Memory of an Ethical Veterinarian: Dr. Dean Wyatt

Sadly, this past weekend we lost a true member of the ethical veterinarian community. The President of the Humane Society of the United States recently gave a beautiful tribute to Dr. Dean Wyatt, the federal veterinarian who courageously testified last year against USDA slaughter plant inspection practices. Dr. Wyatt's tips to the Humane Society years earlier led to a slaughterhouse investigation that incited major calls for reform within the industry.

Here is an article from last year discussing Dr. Wyatt's testimony before the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He was quoted as saying:

"I truly believe that the USDA inspector is the only advocate animals have in slaughter plants. When we turn our backs on the helpless, when we fail to speak on behalf of the voiceless, when we tolerate animal abuse and suffering, then the moral compass of a just and compassionate society is gone."

The humane world and community of ethical veterinarians honor Dr. Wyatt and thank him for devoting his life to the well-being of people and animals. He serves as an inspiration to us all.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

*It Happened in the Hospital* Part 1

In celebration of Missouri Prop B's dramatic, down-to-the-wire, 51% of the vote-gaining victory, today we'll indulge in some hospital stories. Because I have enough of this material to fill an encyclopedia-sized tome, I'll stick to only what I saw this past week.

*A lady told me that her very large dog had a tendency to bite when examined, so I might want to nuzzle him. I may be a dog whisperer, but I don't think so.*

*A very sweet elderly lady told me that when she first got her cat as a stray, she picked all eighty-five fleas off him. "Eighty-five?" I asked, "Did you count them?" She said, "Oh yes. Eighty-five."
All right then. She probably did it in less than an hour eat your heart out, competition!  *

*While I was standing in the lobby writing up my records for a previous appointment, the door to Exam Room 1 kept opening a crack, closing again, opening a crack, and closing again. It was odd, but I just assumed the client was eavesdropping on my conversation with the other doctor. (Clients get a kick out of me talking about non-medical things, like my quarter mil of educational debt or former prostitutes running for NY governor.) However, when I stepped into Exam Room 1, I became immediately aware that this woman's obese, gremlin-faced Boston Terrier was trying to intentionally suffocate her via creation of a noxious gas chamber. Hence her need for intermittent ventilation.
The dog's buggy eyes said to me, "This is what she gets for taking me to the doctor!"  I slickly avoided palpating his abdomen, so as not to worsen our ambiance.  The woman had made the appointment partly to gain weight loss insights for the dog, but confessed that her husband had just given him a lion's share of Italian dressing-marinated pork chops. If for no other reason, it's good to avoid this kind of feeding in order to improve one's own air space.*

Until next time...
Remember to treat the underlying cause.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Missouri Veterinary Medical Association Opposes Strengthening Puppy Mill Legislation

Veterinarians and animal advocates know Missouri is the most culpable state when it comes to out-of-control dog breeding.  It has many more large confinement dog breeding operations (puppy mills) than any other state.  According to an estimate recently quoted in the New York Times, 1 out of every 3 dogs sold in pet stores nationwide comes from Missouri.  That's not even counting puppies sold directly over the internet.

Even if puppies originating from puppy mills don't have intestinal parasites, entropions, cryptorchid testicles, or demodex, it doesn't change the frustration when clients unknowingly purchased them from puppy mills.  Puppy mills--and Missouri puppy mills especially-- have been cited extensively for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including neglect, abuse and overcrowding of breeding dogs.  But unfortunately, puppy mills are still thriving.

In an attempt to finally crack down on puppy mills, the ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States and multiple other animal welfare groups are sponsoring Missouri's Proposition B on the November 2 ballot.  Its stipulations are as follows:

A “yes” vote will amend Missouri law to require large-scale dog breeding operations to provide each dog under their care with sufficient food, clean water, housing and space; necessary veterinary care; regular exercise and adequate rest between breeding cycles.  The amendment further prohibits any breeder from having more than 50 breeding dogs for the purpose of selling their puppies as pets.  The amendment also creates a misdemeanor crime of “puppy mill cruelty” for any violations.
A “no” vote will not change the current Missouri law regarding dog breeders. 

Society expects veterinarians--of all people--to support dogs having adequate food, water, space, necessary veterinary care, regular exercise and rest between breeding cycles.  However, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association is opposed to Prop B.

The Missouri VMA can't possibly have medical or ethical grounds for opposing such basic humane dog care.  Does it just disapprove of the 50 breeding dog limit?  Well...this doesn't make sense either. As veterinarians, we are expected to steer clients clear of irresponsible breeders, and the number of dogs at a facility is a pretty telltale sign of whether or not the person is "responsible."  As we know from experience, telltale signs should not be ignored if we are trying to fix a problem

"Responsible breeders" are expected to know their breeding dogs' names, interact with them, and be keenly aware of their genetics and personalities, as well as their deworming and vaccine schedules. For the first 8 weeks of life, their puppies are expected to have human interaction. Let's not kid ourselves...50+ caged dogs in a outdoor breeding operation is clearly not conducive to "responsible breeder" characteristics.

Nonetheless, the Missouri VMA is against Prop B, and so is this couple.  Her t-shirt sends a message that the family dog would cease to exist if Prop B passes.  (She must not be aware that there are millions of other dogs in animal shelters and rescues across Missouri who are begging for homes.)  If true, this shirt would seem to convey that the majority of Missouri puppies do come from facilities with greater than 50 dogs and/or who violate basic humane standards of care.  I'd say the shirt is an example of shooting oneself in the foot, but other opponents of Prop B  have been completely won over by this kind of nonsense.

Joe the Plumber must not have read the proposition before signing onto and perpetuating propaganda.  It seems obvious to read the proposition, yet plenty of people continue to argue for and against views that have nothing to do with the proposed legislation.  Or they state the reason they're opposed to providing dogs with basic care is because they care about dogsClick here and here for the opposition's statements. The former I recommend you read for yourself, and the latter is the Missouri VMA website. 

Among the reasons the Missouri VMA is supposedly opposed to Prop B:

"The issue of the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act has come about because breeding facilities that are unlicensed are not being regulated or inspected."

"Cases of neglect and bad conditions have come mainly from unlicensed breeders who are not overseen by state inspection."

However, these statements are not at all factual or honest, especially coming from a professional organization.  In actuality, government reports and audits have documented repeatedly and extensively that many licensed Missouri facilities have been far from satisfactory in inspections.  And so-called enforcement of humane conditions has done very little.  Just a case in point: even with 500+ pages of Animal Welfare Act violations on file with the USDA, Missouri kennels (like S and S Family Puppies, Milan, MO) have remained both state and federally licensed.

Even if it's true that unlicensed breeders are the primary problem, is that really reason for a veterinary professional organization to oppose legislation targeted at dog breeding facility abuses in general?  Perhaps opposition to Prop B has more to do with the state culture or other societal interests.

The ballot plainly states: A “no” vote will not change the current Missouri law regarding dog breeders.  However, it is clear that change has been needed for decades.  Thousands of dogs spend their lives in torturous cramped confinement and endure overlooked neglect.  It is the duty of veterinarians to support something that will change this.  The problem is obvious and can't be ignored.

If Prop B passes, the Missouri VMA may frown.  But Missouri breeding dogs will certainly have something to grin about.

Friday, October 22, 2010

And Now...Egg Industry Speaker Recommends AVMA Abandon Concept of Human-Animal Bond

In the October issue of Veterinary Practice News, a veterinarian and regular contributor openly slammed the egg industry. It was similar to my blog content, sans the distracting hyperlinks. Her disillusionment was incited by her visit to a so-called animal welfare symposium at the American Association of Avian Pathologists (AAAP) Conference.

Here's what she said about the keynote "animal welfare" speaker at this symposium: 

"...he urged us to tell the American Veterinary Medical Association to “abandon the concept of the human-animal bond.”

Apparently this speaker suggested veterinarians use the term "human-animal interface" instead. I don't think this should make us less guilt-ridden about treating billions of animals like inanimate, unfeeling machines. We just cannot continue to ignore the animal abuse that is rampant in animal agribusiness.

Click here to read the full article. Or, if you're feeling lazy, here's the article's conclusion: 

"We deserve the kind of lashing dealt out by the likes of HSUS"

Yep, it's pretty close to what I would have written. Except I would have changed the title "Animal Welfare Speaker Lays an Egg" to the more accurate"Egg Industry Representative Masquerades as Animal Welfare Speaker and Condones Animal Abuse." Alas, not everyone is as  blunt as I am. I have to give Vet Practice News some credit for printing the article at all. They had to have known it would make the egg industry very angry.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mercy for Animals Undercover Video: Hy-Line Hatchery in Iowa

Warning: this is a pretty serious post. I can't imagine laughter when I think about this topic ... I can only imagine millions of small children crying spontaneously (the way they do on airplanes and in restaurants, only louder).  Santa Claus may exploit elves, but wait until children see what the Easter Bunny supports in order to get Easter eggs.

If you haven't seen this video yet, please take the opportunity to do so. 

This is footage of a modern egg hatchery, where every day, nearly 150,000 animals are conveyed alive into a grinding machine called a macerator because they are male, cannot lay eggs and are therefore worthless to the egg industry.  In my observation, the average consumer is oblivious to egg production practices, but becomes disturbed when watching videos like this.  This video alone already has over 2 million views, so I imagine there are a lot of disturbed people out there.

In its rebuttal, here, Hy-line asserts that maceration is acceptable because it is "supported and approved by the scientific and veterinary community." 

Does the veterinary community really support grinding up live animals en masse? Does it actually approve of a practice that makes people gasp and sit in sullen post-viewing stupors?  Well, in actuality, over 90% of practicing veterinarians in this country will never in their lives set foot in a commercial egg hatchery.  The poultry sector has long been on its knees begging for veterinarians, and we know only a tiny fraction even become affiliated with the industry.  In veterinary school curriculums, poultry medicine is a relatively brief topic and does not typically include references to production practices like debeaking, maceration, or even battery cage confinement.

So how can industry reps claim veterinary support and use it as a get out of jail free card?  It's simple--the AVMA's own euthanasia guidelines do indeed list maceration as an "acceptable method of euthanasia" for "newly-hatched poultry."  The guideline does not say "newly-hatched birds."  After all, if a veterinarian were to put a client's baby parakeet into a macerator-type device to euthanize it, he or she would be ostracized as a probable sociopath and certainly a malpractitioner. 

Industry folks have on their list of pet peeves the tendency of animal advocates to compare farm animals to companion animals "as though they're the same." Physiologically speaking, chickens have the same capacity to experience pain and suffering as parakeets; therefore industry veterinarians are making an assessment of humane treatment based solely on cultural and industry factors. That doesn't sound medical.

It's no secret that organized veterinary medicine makes different allowances for agribusiness, including in the realm of "euthanasia." One of the "advantages" of maceration listed in the AVMA's euthanasia guidlelines is that "large numbers of animals can be killed quickly."  That doesn't exactly sound medical, either. 

In veterinary medicine, there is obviously a double standard (independent of science or physiology) in judging humane treatment of companion animals versus that of farm animals.  This double standard has been passed on to society in large part by veterinarians.  After all, we ultimately set the standards for animal health and well-being.  If organized veterinary medicine is going to perpetuate a double standard in the vicious cycle between an unconscientious industry and uninformed consumers, it's inevitable that outside forces will move in to break the cycle. And that's what animal advocates are doing.

Organized veterinary medicine and industry veterinarians were aware of factory farming practices at their inception decades ago. Now that these practices are being revealed to the mainstream, they are not necessarily adopting a "better late than never" approach or lending much support to animal advocacy either.  As animal advocacy groups achieve more support and more legislative successes, much of organized vet med continues to back industry in the national showdown. Together with industry, it has been trying to strike down or limit state-directed advocacy campaigns designed to curtail the most reprehensible agribusiness practices.

As veterinarians, we should be coming to our own conclusions about what is humane and ethical, using our own senses. So many of us will work tirelessly and compassionately to save one animal's life. And yet, we seem to be represented by a minority in the profession who stand by and allow billions of other animals to suffer inhumane treatment and be commodified to a grotesque degree. Again, here is what we're allegedly supporting.  


We should question whether we are compromising our personal values and those of society so that an industry can reap enormous profitsThe fact is that societal change to relieve farm animal suffering is happening.  Even its standard practices are in violation of basic ethics, so change will continue to happen even without veterinary support.  But in the end, it would be regrettable if veterinarians were remembered as being obstacles to this change rather than its facilitators.

Even if the Easter Bunny does turn out to be a villain, it doesn't mean veterinarians have to be.  After all, we want kids to look up to us, don't we?