Veterinarians are not all saints and saviours.

Do we hold the veterinary profession in too much esteem?

In May 2018 a UK veterinarian was found guilty of collusion in a fraudulent puppy smuggling ring involving over 5,000 designer puppies by providing fake certificates stating they were free of disease, wormed and vaccinated and misrepresenting them as coming from family homes, when in fact they were imported from puppy farms. Many of the puppies fell ill or died soon after being purchased, and the vet allegedly made over £75,000 from the deal.

One would hope that this is an isolated case, but sadly, each year, many UK veterinarians fail to live up to the reverence we hold them in. Like all of us they are only human and veterinary life appears to take a heavy toll often turning them from saints into sinners. In 2019 there were over 20 veterinary surgeons brought before the Veterinary Disciplinary Committee for various indiscretions concerning dishonesty, incompetence, lack of empathy, drug taking and cruelty. 

The veterinary disciplinary committee.

Most veterinary regulating authorities around the world have a disciplinary committee. In the UK it is presided over by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and meets several times a year dependent on how many vets are accused of misconduct.

It is similar to a normal court of law, where those veterinary surgeons that have allegedly infringed the code of conduct and ethics or whose personal behaviour might bring the profession into disrespect or may have harmed the animals in their care are hauled up before a committee of their seniors.

Surprisingly, there is a long list each year and the cases heard result in either acquittal or bans from practising, or suspension or heavy censure which perhaps reflects the stresses of the profession.

The following are a selection of recent cases against veterinarians:

In January 2020 a Luton-based vet was removed from the register for repeated clinical failures, despite previous warnings over a four year period for disgraceful conduct in regard to neutering operations.

In July 2019 a veterinary surgeon was suspended four months when found guilty of kicking and stamping on a bull terrier that had bitten him during examination, also for leaving a Jack Russell in a sink alone for a long period without reason and leaving a six week old kitten without bedding or warmth.

A vet was suspended for four months for failing to recognise a kitten could not pass urine, failed to refer it to a specialist and failed to ensure the kitten received care and treatment overnight. Another colleague was reprimanded for the same kitten for performing surgery without adequately considering her condition, administrating detrimental medication and subjecting the kitten to anaesthesia despite its serious condition.

One was suspended for 9 months for causing a “risk of injury or harm to an animal as a result of inadequate care and also dishonesty in subsequently fabricating clinical notes of the dog which was left unable to urinate by itself for lengthy periods while in her care.

In December 2019 a vet was removed from practice for stealing and taking ketamine and methadone while working.

A VetsNow Veterinary Surgeon was suspended for six months for disgraceful conduct having pretended that an owner’s French Bulldog only gave birth to four puppies when in fact it had six pups and the vet and an assistant had kept two of them.

A vet was reprimanded for dishonesty for practising as a vet for over a year when not registered in the UK to do so and posting pictures on social media of animals in her care without the owners consent.

Some of the worst cases over the last few years:

In 2016 a veterinarian was found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to 22 huskies and 8 cats which had been kept in an underground room beneath the surgery in filthy cages, having previously been investigated for his conduct at Nottingham Greyhound stadium and having been struck off and then reinstated;

Veterinary surgeon, veterinarian, dog, operating table

The RSPCA prosecuted a vet in 2016 who was convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to two of her own dogs, one of which she allegedly  euthanized and dumped in her garden before Inspectors could retrieve the dog. She received a fine of £630 with £362 costs and was later banned from practicing as a vet.

A vet was removed from the register following allegations of unreasonably delaying visiting a dog which was lying in the road in severe pain having been hit by a car and allowing the animal to stay in pain longer than necessary. Allegedly the vet preferred to see to clients waiting in his surgery rather than travelling the short distance to the dog’s aid.

Do we hold the veterinary profession in too much reverence?

Many such incidents are  published each year by the College and the media. They make interesting reading as they encompass and highlight the pressures that vets are under particularly the conflicts of interest and the commercial aspects which can get in the way of compassion and animal welfare such as refusing to treat an animal without prior payment, refusing to put a pet to sleep, being rude to clients, failing to examine animals adequately due to time constraints, not maintaining records and operating unhygienic premises.

It could be said that we may view the veterinary profession with too much respect and often fail to question some of their actions, policies and motives when treating our animals. We too readily accept their decisions and high fees and rarely investigate the need for expensive tests and investigations and are embarrassed about requesting a second opinion or considering alternative remedies.

Of course most vets are beyond reproach and we shouldn’t be too hard on them as it is an extremely stressful profession. There is a shortage of vets in the country overburdened by our obsession to own pets particularly dogs which apparently results in many personal health issues and a high suicide rate, but none of this should get in the way of high standards of animal care and an empathy for their patients.

Updated February 2020

Pet obesity is no laughing matter.

We should view obesity in pets as an act of causing unnecessary suffering in the same way as starving an animal.

Obese dog, overfeeding, cruelty, unnecessary suffering

It is a sad reflection of our attitude to animals that we are happy to upload videos onto social media sites like YouTube which ridicule fat animals that are struggling to walk, stand or perform natural behaviours. Many seem to find this entertaining, which is clear by the fact the “Likes” on these videos always out-number the thumbs down.

The video below, which rightly disgusted one of my friends who shared it with me, is as she inferred in her post, a good advert for viewing the act of overfeeding an animal a prosecutable offence. It is just as much causing unnecessary suffering as starving an animal to near death.

“Canine obesity classed as a disease”

Obesity in pets has been in the news recently and countless surveys have shown that just like humans over-feeding and obesity in our pets is on the increase. According to a British Veterinary Association (BVA) survey which polled 1,600 vets, 60% said obesity is the biggest health and welfare concern for UK pets. A recent World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) One Health meeting officially classed canine obesity as a disease.

Prof. Susan Dawson, President of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) stated: “All companion animals deserve a nutritionally balanced diet; in fact it is a requirement of the Animal Welfare Acts”. 

“A case of killing with kindness”

Gudrun Ravetz, President of the BVA has said: “Obesity is a potential killer for pets and many owners show love for their pet through food, but often this is a case of killing with kindness – most animals would instead enjoy playing or interacting with their owner just as much as getting a treat”. Source

In the USA 60% of cats and 56% of dogs are judged as obese. A 2017 study of over 1600 dogs in the UK showed that 65% of dogs over 2 years old were overweight and 9% clinically obese. Source

Dogs under 2 years old fared little better with 37% overweight and 3% obese. Obesity is a life threatening ailment and can lead to a variety of conditions such as shortened lifespan, heart disease, kidney and respiratory problems, strain on joints, arthritis and diabetes.

If the situation is so serious why do we not treat the problem more seriously?

None of the publicity asks the vital question of whether we should consider the act of over-feeding a pet as an act of causing unnecessary suffering or cruelty particularly when it reaches the point of preventing the animal from enjoying its natural behaviours and functioning as a normal dog or cat.

Despite all the evidence that it causes an animal harm and is avoidable we  just view the owners as misinformed and ignorant souls who need educating. We do not take the animal from their care or prosecute them when in many cases it is obvious that the animal is suffering both mentally and physically. We have a similar situation when it involves children.

Obesity in cats, overweight cat,
Cats are just as susceptible to obesity as dogs.

There is a lot of ringing of hands in the veterinary profession of not taking the subject seriously enough and not doing enough to combat obesity in pets particularly dogs, but blaming vets for not weighing dogs and recording notes during consultations is not really the answer.

The fault lies with the irresponsible owners.

Vets are busy enough as it is without having to take on what is the responsibility of the owners who must be aware of when their pet is getting overweight and capable of doing something about it. Surveys suggest that 33% of owners only take their dog for a short walk once a day if they are lucky, 68% do not check they are feeding the right amount for the size of animal, 26% feed leftovers and 30% never check their pets’ weight. Are these the actions of a responsible owner?

I firmly believe that overfeeding a dog or cat and allowing it to become morbidly overweight equates to causing it unnecessary suffering and is an act of cruelty and must dealt with in the same way as an animal that has been almost starved to death. Removal of a pet should also be considered as owners often lack the will-power and ability to diet their pets, which is clear by them allowing it to happen in the first place.

It is no laughing matter for any animal that has been allowed to get in this state.