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Don’t Believe Everything You Hear—From Your Vet

As a person who has never had any trouble whatsoever questioning authority, it often shocks me to hear friends and acquaintances tell me that they just went along with whatever treatment their vet recommended for their dog without even questioning it. Often they’ll give their dog a medication without even knowing what it is or they won’t even know the name of the condition or illness that their dog has. They just leave the dog’s health and treatment in the hands of the almighty veterinarian. I think this blind obedience stems from the fact that a veterinarian is considered an authority figure, with lots of educational qualifications and experience. But many people fail to realize that vets are just people too. They can have their biases (veterinary surgeons like to do surgery, for example!), and they didn’t all graduate at the top of their class, either.

The importance of questioning authority cannot be overstated. Blind obedience to authority can lead to horrifying consequences, as was clearly demonstrated in the Milgram experiments of the 1960s, in which between 61 and 66 percent of people were willing to administer fatal shocks (450 volts) to another human being just because the authority figure told them that they must do it.

This is frightening on many levels, but for my purposes, I would like to focus on the implications of this mentality for our dogs’ health and well-being. Recently, my rambunctious, fun-loving, 5-year-old dog Dexter’s appetite started to go wonky. I would call him to come for his dinner, and he wouldn’t come! This continued and became worrisome, so I had blood work done, and the results showed a low thyroid reading. The vet recommended an “add-on” thyroid test, which also showed a low thyroid reading. She then strongly recommended that I go ahead and just put Dexter on synthetic thyroid hormone (thyroxine) for the rest of his life, based on the results of those two tests. So I consulted two other vets, including one whom I considered holistic because she does acupuncture and chiropractic, and all three of them agreed.

Because they all sounded so sure of themselves, I did it, but I was very uncomfortable doing it. Dexter didn’t have any other symptoms of a dog with low thyroid levels, and the thought of keeping him on synthetic thyroxine his whole life seemed rather drastic. Actually, it bothered me so much that I decided to seek out a fourth opinion from a holistic vet whom I knew I could really trust―Dr. Monique Maniet at Veterinary Holistic Care in Bethesda, Maryland. She used to be my vet when I lived in Maryland prior to 1996, and I know her to be a perfectionist with a thorough and up-to-date knowledge of all kinds of holistic treatments.

Well, that was the turning point. Dr. Maniet examined Dexter’s record and said, “He doesn’t have hypothyroidism.” She pointed out several reasons why it didn’t make sense and explained that a low thyroid reading could point to many different problems unrelated to hypothyroidism. And as a matter of fact, Dexter was experiencing some other health problems that could have contributed to this low thyroid reading, notably a chronic limp (which is another whole story for later). Dr. Maniet said to take him off the thyroxine, and she gave me a thyroid-stimulating herbal supplement to use for a little while instead. Now, three weeks later, Dexter is back to normal, eating like a champ―no hesitation whatsoever!

I just wonder what percentage of people would have simply acquiesced under pressure, as I initially did, and just put their dog on a lifetime of medication, which would have effectively shut down his thyroid, rendering him totally dependent on synthetic hormones. I’m guessing around 61 to 65 percent.

The moral of the story is this: Take everything your vet says with a grain of salt. You alone are responsible for your dog’s well-being, so if something in a treatment plan seems off, speak up! Ask for alternatives. Get a second opinion and a third and a fourth, if you have to, and by all means, check out the holistic alternatives and approaches. Go online and do some research on your own. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn that way. Take charge of your dog’s health yourself. You, and not your vet, are your dog’s best advocate.

And in case any vets are reading this―I have nothing against vets per se. In fact, I appreciate vets very much. But I just think we need to view them in the proper perspective―as people, not gods.