Cosy relationship between veterinarians and pet food manufacturers. Good or bad?

There is a cosy relationship between the veterinarians and pet food manufacturers (and big pharma?) that can undermine the independence of the vets and which might compromise the quality of care that the vet provides.

Cat at a veterinary clinic
Cat at a veterinary clinic. Photo: Pixabay.
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Difference between UK and USA

There must be a difference between the UK and USA because in the UK we have the National Health Service which is free at the point of delivery for humans. In the USA they have medical insurance, as I understand it. And therefore, it is paid for privately as opposed to the NHS which is paid out of taxes. A slight difference, which affects the attitude of customers. Customers are used to receiving medical treatment for ‘free’. They might find veterinarians too expensive as a consequence. They are forced to be private paying clients. This may put them off going to the vet to the detriment of their companion animal’s health.

Veterinarians are businesses. Which is why they put in the reception areas all kinds of products, mainly dry cat food. They are commercial enterprises. They have to make a profit. Therefore, they have to sell products. If they were funded out of taxes like the NHS, they would not need to become shops.

But they probably would in any case. The possible problem is that they might become too attached to large companies who have a hold over them to certain extent. In goes further than that. As I recall, in the USA the big pet food manufacturers are involved in the education of veterinarians. They sink their teeth into young veterinarians at an early stage in their development and set the tone for a long-term relationship.

This, in my view, will tend to create a conflict of interest. There is at least a potential conflict of interest. This in turn creates a bias in a veterinarian’s advice. It probably affects more than just cat and dog food. It probably goes to medications and drugs as well.

However, veterinarians will correctly state that they must provide the best possible service otherwise it comes back to bite them in the long term. For example, with the spot-on flea treatment, Frontline, they don’t get commission on this product in the USA but they are encouraged to sell it as it they receive little gifts to do so. They will deny getting commission on sales of this product. That said, if there are two products of a similar quality, they might choose to push one if they receive small gifts from a pleasant salesman who sells the product in the first place. This is a gentle form of bias which I think is unhelpful. Veterinarians should be entirely objective and completely free of any potential conflict of interest in order to best serve their client which is the animal. Naive? Perhaps 🤔.

We see piles of dry cat food at veterinary clinics. Good or bad?

Although I have altered my view about dry cat food recently, and that I think the quality can be very high despite the fact that it is entirely artificial and by its nature lacks sufficient quantities of water, there is quite a big debate about dry cat food and is detrimental effects on the health of cat companions. Below there are some links and thoughts on some of the topics:

  • Weight gain to the point where health is jeopardised. This is a reference to the addictive nature of dry cat food which is flavoured in such a way that makes it highly palatable and to the point where some domestic cats prefer it over even high-quality wet cat food;
  • Urinary tract problems. Urinary problems are one of the most frequently diagnosed condition; in cats. Vets tell us “Encourage your cat to drink more water”
  • Diabetes – This is a reference to the argument that the high carbohydrate content of dry cat food (it has to be high in carbohydrates in order for the cable to be made) it disturbs the body’s ability to cope with blood sugar levels which can lead to type II diabetes and hypoglycaemia;
  • IBD – Inflammatory bowel disease, it is argued, can also be exacerbated by dry cat food. It is the nature of the product, being so artificial, which can cause IBD in cats. Reverting to a well-prepared raw diet, stored properly, can resolve this health problem. High quality wet cat food can help too. A faecal transplantation has also been used to treat this condition by the way. It’s a question of completely changing the bacteria in the stomach and intestines to one which is beneficial rather than detrimental to health.

These are just four health problems that come immediately to mind but it is not a comprehensive list.

Veterinarians feel that raw cat and dog food threatens their livelihoods
Veterinarians feel that raw cat and dog food threatens their livelihoods? Is that true?

Prescriptions for medicines

As I understand it, in the USA, veterinarians can write prescriptions so that their customers can source the drugs either online or at a pharmacy of their choice. This can save money. In the UK, the typical practice, the default practice is that the veterinarian decides on the medication and then the client buys the medication from that veterinarian at the clinic. A prescription is neither written nor requested. British people are not accustomed to requesting a prescription. I am sure that a lot of clients don’t know about this option. In the UK, veterinarians have been “one-stop shops” for many years. You can, however, request a written prescription and a British veterinarian is legally obliged to issue one on request.

RELATED: Should it be Mandatory for All Veterinarians to Write Prescriptions for their Clients?

Hill’s Science Diet cat food

In this section I criticise Hill’s Science Diet cat food. I feel, though, that I need to write something positive about it. I have developed a bit of an affection for Hill’s Science Diet Dental Care cat food which I give to my cat as a grazing food during the night. It’s a high-quality dry cat food. There is no doubt about that. My cat’s coat is very silky and I think, surprisingly, that my cat’s teeth look pretty good. I don’t know if it is the food which is helping but there it is. The thrust of my argument below is that there is an element of cynicism about the name of Hill’s cat food as it is so heavily linked to the idea that it is scientific and only veterinarians can sell it et cetera. It’s a very clever marketing angle to use veterinarians to promote and sell the product.

Example

I remember about 12 years ago or more going to my vet and after the usual yearly vaccinations and on leaving the surgery he entered into his salesman routine, pointing to row upon row of Hill’s dried cat food and proclaiming how cheap it was to feed a cat on it (25 pence a day I think he said). As my cat was a bit overweight at the time, he recommended r/d, which is more expensive that printer ink! He also recommended that my cat be fed the stuff permanently and exclusively. This is now considered unwise but I am sure many cat owners do exactly as the all-wise veterinarian says.

Hill’s

You know the type of Hill’s food I mean, the c/d, r/d etc. stuff. It all sounds very scientific. It is even called “Science Diet”.  A group of marketing men invented that a number of years ago. I am sure that these marketing men decided then that the way to a pet owner’s pocket was through the ever reliable and trustworthy veterinarian. There wasn’t a better salesman anywhere. People believe the vet. They listen to the vet. What he says goes. Or it used to. Because once a veterinarian sells his soul to making a fast buck people start to stop listening.

The marketing plan was to link the science of veterinary work to cat food – hence the Science Diet name. Even the different labels are very scientific looking (the c/d etc. names all in lower case and a bit fiddly looking).

The beauty of Hills dry cat food (and of course all dry cat foods) is that it can stay on the vet’s shelf almost indefinitely – good business that. And for Hills, the sales advantage is that row upon row of large bags of the stuff in vets waiting rooms gradually indoctrinate us into associating Hills cat food with health.

It all seems to perfect, win-win and all that. The trouble is that is undermines the very foundation upon which the entire veterinary profession is built – trust supported by independent advice unfettered by a conflict of interest, the way it used to be.

I am told that the large pet food manufacturers are not content to simply try and indoctrinate us, the consumer. Through sponsoring veterinary colleges, they also weasel their way into the minds of trainee veterinarians to the point where I expect that even the vets think perpetual dry cat food packed with carbohydrates is good for the cat. This is big brother (big business) running the world.

Should vets behave like doctors? Does a doctor’s surgery look like a health shop? No. |Perhaps vets should do vet’s work and nothing more. Being cynical: here is the really neat thing from the point of view of the vets and the pet food manufacturers. The food they sell causes illness (sometimes) and that inevitably means another visit to the vet. More money, more dry cat food, more insurance. But a less healthy cat. An abuse of the vulnerable by the powerful.

The cosy relationship between the veterinarians and pet food manufacturers must stop.

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Here are some comments written many years ago which I think is still relevant.

Comments for
Cosy Relationship Between Veterinarian and Pet Food Manufacturers

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Mar 16, 2010Animal Nutrition
by: Anonymous Hi Kathy,
We read with interest your blog post regarding dog food and proper nutrition.
As part of the Bil-Jac communications team, we recognize that there is a considerable amount of conflicting information on the web regarding proper nutrition. May we put you in touch with a member of the Bil-Jac Animal Nutrition Team? We have an animal nutritionist (PhD.) who frequently shares science-based information on this topic.Please let us know how we can best assist. Feel free to contact us directly at BilJac@rmdadvertising.comThank you!
Angela Vallera

Mar 03, 2010Thank you!!!
by: Carmen I fully agree with you Michael!.
Vets just think ££££££ if they be the salesman and get the sale! they know what problems lie ahead! They know they’re going to see your cat again..with added problems from Hills’ ‘amazing food’ they’re promoting! and they just love to see your wallet/purse too!.
Vet’s reckon they love animals but they obviously love Hills & other dry food manufacturers more then your cat or my cats!.
!££! Don’t trust everything your Vet says !££!Thank you for posting this its the message i’ve been trying to get across to everyone since I found out the awful truth!.Spread the word! 🙂

Jan 23, 2010Response to last comment
by: Michael Thanks, I am glad you agree. It is a bit provocative but I see no reason to simply regurgitate the same old stuff and the more you use and think about vets the more you see them as pure businesses.Dentists in the UK are similar. It is only when medical people are paid by the state as is the case for doctors in the UK under the National Health Service that you get a truly non-commercial approach.

Jan 22, 2010cozy relationship
by: norminontario Great article. The relationship of puppet and puppeteer has been harming and killing animals for years, all in the name of $$$$$$$$$
I have been saying for many years “there’s no money in healthy pets” The majority of pet owners still put the vet on a pedestal and believe that he/she has the pets’ best interest at heart. In reality he/she wants to get his/her hand deeper and deeper into your pocket.
A once noble profession has degenerated to a despicable application of greed and deception at it’s best. JMHO

Jan 21, 2010I have an opinion
by: kathy I totally agree with Michael. The most important thing is to read the label. I once questioned a per food representative at Pet Smart as to what Animal by Product Meal was. She didnt know. How could they send someone out to represent their food if they couldnt explain to the consumer what the ingredients were. The food was Nutro. At the time I was feeding Bil-Jac to my cats which also was not the best but the woman said it probaly was better than Nutro. Nutro also has begun to take up one whole side of the aisle at Pet Smart. We feed our cats the Blue- Buffalo brand. They make a line called Wilderness. It doesnt have any corn in it and the main ingredient is listed as De-boned chicken. I also give them the Diamond Natural Brand. It also has no corn in it and it has a 40% level of protein. They prefer the Wilderness over the Diamond but I give them about 3 cups of Wilderness a day for the both of the cats. I keep a large Bistro feeder full of Diamond on the side (just in case) they eat all of the Wilderness and Im not there to refill the bowl. I pretty much fill it every night. I feed our Savannah kitten the Wilderness Kitten formula. She eats about two cups of dry every day. She is kept in a large cat cage whenever we are not there. (
for her own protection) I give them wet or canned 2 or 3 times a day. I just split a small can between all 3 of them. Sometimes they eat it right up and sometimes they dont. I give them different flavors every time. I agree read the label.

Jan 21, 2010Thanks
by: Michael Thanks Merrily for the input. The idea of a vet becoming a shop is relatively new. The clock must be turned back. It is a symptom of the modern consumer – greed – ignore nature world.

Jan 21, 2010VetSmart or PetSmart ?
by: Merrily Years ago after spending $5000.00 for surgery on my dog the Vet made it very clear to me that in order to keep my dog alive I would need to feed him Hills CD dog food. Every month I spent $50.00 for this bag of food even though it appeared that my dog didn’t want to eat the stuff.
One day I read the ingredient list and was shocked to see the first ingredient was peanut hulls.
I took matters into my own hands and started feeding a healthy diet to my dog, who went on to live to the ripe old age of 14 years old,which for a giant breed is a very long lifespan.
American vets have become nothing more than pet stores peddling their wares, and declawing cats.
Due to access to the internet pet owners can now find information on their own, and are learning that their Vets are recommending food for their pets that are causing the problems that in turn cause them to need the Vets.
Too many cat owners are still feeding dry food even though information is available to them regarding the feeding of these foods.
Most Vets will fight tooth and nail to frighten you when you ask about feeding raw food to your cat. Just remember you are threatening their bottom line nothing more nothing less.

3 thoughts on “Cosy relationship between veterinarians and pet food manufacturers. Good or bad?”

  1. What a sad way to behave on the part of veterinarians. I do not understand why they find it essential to act as corporate sellouts and sing about commercial food products instead of suggesting natural ingredients which can benefit the pets. The information you have given further intensified by the http://petvethospitals.ca/ my disapproval towards such practices by the veterinarians.

    Reply
  2. Pet guardians are very reluctant to believe that most vets don’t really want to keep their pet healthy. That would affect their bottom line, which is profit.

    I didn’t realize until recently that Hills and Royal Canin provide the 2 weeks of nutritional education in vet school. So guess what products get pushed after the vet has their own practice? This so-called “prescription” food is hardly that. It’s just a marketing ploy. There’s really nothing prescription about it, except that you have to get a prescription, and then pay the price!

    If you’re educated about the harmful ingredients in pet food, and how most of it is made, you’ll see from looking at the ingredient list of Hills and RC that it’s a recipe for ill health. Also, there have been many consumer complaints about these foods sickening and killing their pets. Look it up.

    I’m sorry to break the news, but vets are for the most part, not to be trusted. I realize that we need them for certain things, but please don’t blindly trust a vet. I’ve had people tell me that they really like their vet, that they’re really nice.
    They may be friendly and nice, but remember it’s to their advantage.

    Most vets are totally ignorant about pet nutrition, since that’s not their focus. They’re priority is fixing problems, at least temporarily. But the bottom line is PROFIT!

    We must take responsibility for educating ourselves about pet nutrition, and “Pay now, or Pay later”. It’s easy to find out what’s on a pet food label by using the Internet. You can enlarge the type so you can read it, which is difficult if not impossible when you’re in the store. It’s important to take this step before you do your pet food shopping. It will take some time, but how much time do you want your pet to live? Think about it.

    I’m still doing research, and in the meantime have started giving some raw ground chicken and turkey with TC Raw Pre-mix, ordered online. It’s very easy to do, then put in packages in the freezer. With cats, you may have to introduce slowly with regular canned food.

    Remember cats are carnivores, and if left to fend for themselves outdoors, they will eat whatever creatures they can find that provide for their nutritional needs. Dry food doesn’t do it, and besides that, the food manufacturers use addictive
    sprays, which is like sugar coated cereals for cats.
    It’s not a good scene out there. BEWARE….no one’s looking out for you or your pet….you’re it!

    Reply
  3. Aw, this was a very good post. Spending some time and actual effort to
    make a superb article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole
    lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

    Reply

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