By Dr. Becker
According to dvm360, “It’s no secret that veterinary clients don’t understand the value of preventive healthcare.”
This may be the case for clients of conventional vet practices, but the majority of pet owners in my proactive, integrative practice certainly understand the importance of regular wellness visits. In fact, my preference is to see younger, healthy animals twice a year, and older pets and those with chronic health conditions even more often.
'Partners for Healthy Pets' Campaigns to Promote More Frequent Vet Visits
To encourage more vet visits, a group called Partners for Healthy Pets (PHP) is waging a $5.5 million campaign to convince pet owners that visiting the vet regularly “is essential to responsible pet ownership” – and is “as important as food and love.”
If you’re wondering who is behind the campaign, this is from the PHP website:
"Partners for Healthy Pets is the face of the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare™, a committee of the non-profit American Veterinary Medical Foundation that was created to ensure that pets receive the preventive healthcare they deserve through regular visits to a veterinarian. This alliance of more than 20 leading veterinary associations and animal health companies is committed to a vision of improved overall health for pets."
The list of members/sponsors reads like a who’s who of the veterinary drug industry and assorted pet healthcare companies.
The campaign was rolled out to veterinarians at the AVMA annual meeting in July. According to dvm360, the pet owners being targeted are “urban and suburban women ages 32 to 49 who already have a relationship with a veterinarian but who are not regularly seeking preventive care.” This demographic is being solicited for their $75,000+ household income and a willingness to spend 20 to 25 percent more than average on their pets.
The campaign kicks off this month and will run through 2014, so I imagine many of you will begin to see PHP advertisements encouraging preventive vet visits. You might also hear directly from your DVM, since veterinary practices can enroll in the program and receive information from PHP on how to promote the campaign at their clinics and on websites.
According to Dr. Ron DeHaven, CEO of the AVMA and chairman of PHP…
“This is an unprecedented opportunity for the veterinary care community. It’s a platform for all of us to communicate the importance of preventive care to pet owners, to enhance the relationships we share with them, and ultimately to deliver even higher quality preventive care.”
As a proactive, holistically oriented veterinarian, I’m certainly a huge advocate of preventive care for animals. However, preventive care in a holistic context is very different from what the vast majority of traditional vets consider it to be.
It’s clear from the Partners for Healthy Pets members/sponsors list where the conventional vet community focuses when it comes to preventive care for pets. It’s primarily about vaccines and chemical pest preventives, in a one-size-fits-all approach.
Why Yearly Vaccinations Should Never Be a Reason for Regular Vet Visits
Yearly re-vaccinations are unnecessary and dangerous and should never be used to promote annual veterinary visits. Even the latest canine vaccination guidelines, now two years old, no longer call for annual re-vaccinations. Unfortunately, veterinary compliance with the guidelines is not what it should be. It seems the majority of vets are still promoting annual re-vaccinations.
It saddens me that so many pet owners have been led to believe their dog’s or cat’s health revolves around yearly re-vaccinations.
In my practice, I tailor vaccine protocols to minimize risk and maximize protection, taking into account the breed, background, nutritional status and overall vitality of the pet. With healthy puppies, for example, I generally follow the protocol set by Dr. Ron Schultz. I give a single parvo and distemper vaccine at or before 12 weeks of age, and a second set after 14 weeks. I run a titer test two weeks after the last set and if the dog has been successfully immunized, she’s protected for life.
If titer tests on any pet no matter the age indicate vaccine levels are low, I recommend a booster for only the specific virus or viruses that titered low, and only for those to which the animal has a real risk of exposure.
I do not use or recommend combination vaccines (six to eight viruses in one shot), which is the traditional yearly booster.
Veterinary Wellness Exams Should Be a Review of the Status of Your Pet’s Health
In my opinion, more veterinarians could help pet owners understand the value of regular vet visits by rejecting the traditional notion of preventive healthcare (vaccines and other drugs) in favor of adopting a proactive approach to keeping their pet patients healthy. Being proactive means being focused on initiating change rather than simply reacting to events as they occur.
In my practice I use what I call the Three Pillars of Health as a proactive approach to wellness. These pillars form the foundation for your pet’s health, quality of life, and longevity. Pillar #1 is species-appropriate nutrition. The diet you feed your cat or dog should be balanced and biologically appropriate for a carnivore.
Pillar #2 is a sound, resilient frame. This aspect of your pet’s health involves maintenance of the musculoskeletal system and organs.
Pillar #3 is a balanced, functional immune system. The goal here is to keep your pet’s immune system in balance. It should protect against pathogens, but not be over-reactive to the point of creating allergies and other autoimmune conditions.
What Effective Preventive Healthcare Looks Like
One of the primary ways proactive vets like me keep on top of a patient’s health is by tracking blood work changes over time. Let’s say your cat’s kidney enzymes (BUN and creatinine) are climbing, but are still within normal reference ranges. A reactive vet will wait to see those enzyme levels climb above what’s considered normal before taking action. My approach is to pay attention to any change in those enzyme levels, and long before your kitty is diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, I will suggest lifestyle changes that can prevent the disease from developing.
Another way proactive vets manage their patients’ health is by regularly reviewing diet, supplement protocol, and exercise habits with pet parents. A dog’s or cat’s wellness and nutritional goals change yearly, and over the age of eight can require fine-tuning every four to six months. Cats, in particular, are very good at hiding illness and pain, so it’s not a good idea to wait until there seems to be a problem.
Your vet’s preventive healthcare goal should be to help your pet avoid preventable disease. Unnecessary vaccinations and other traditional chemical “preventions” will not ultimately achieve that goal, and can actually help create disease where none existed.
In addition, your vet shouldn’t wait around until your pet is sick or debilitated and then attempt to fix the problem. He or she should use your regularly scheduled wellness visits as an opportunity to check the status of your pet’s health and take proactive steps to prevent serious disease from taking hold.
This is the true essence of preventive healthcare, and I hope you’ll advocate for it with your own veterinarian.