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