The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

‘Animal Doctor’ Column and Politics

DEAR READERS: I have received a couple of letters from readers demanding that I keep to the subject of pet care in my Animal Doctor column. The evident reason is that they do not like my “politics.”

As an advocate of One Health (meaning the collective, connected health of humans, nonhumans and the environment), I raise issues concerning financially and ideologically driven political decisions that could harm the environment, animal health and public health. I regard this as my responsibility as a holistic veterinarian, just as it is the responsibility of all citizens to be involved in politics that serve the common good. I consider it ethically imperative to speak truth to power and examine the truths we live by, since a life unexamined is a life unlived. For further details and discussion, see my book “Animals and Nature First.”

Scientific evidence -- essential for our decision-making when it comes to diagnosing, preventing and treating disease -- should inform politics, rather than be discounted, as by some U.S. politicians in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more, see my article “What SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Disease Are Telling Us: A Holistic Veterinary and One Health View,” posted on my website (drfoxonehealth.com).

DEAR DR. FOX: I recently took Harley, my 3 1/2-year-old Labradoodle, for his wellness exam, rabies vaccination and heartworm test. I was told his teeth needed to be checked out and cleaned. They gave me an estimate of $800, which includes a pre-surgery blood workup, general anesthetic and X-rays. We just cannot afford this.

I had a neighbor who is a retired veterinarian look at Harley’s teeth, which Harley did not mind at all. He only saw a bit of scale or tartar on his big upper teeth toward the back, and a little bit on the upper canine teeth. He advised daily brushing and a rawhide dog chew -- a roll or tube, not one with a knot on each end, which some dogs will swallow and choke on. My husband also used a sharpened spoon to easily scrape off the tartar and get under the gumline, which did bleed a bit.

After a few days, Harley’s teeth looked much better. I think it is terrible we have to do our own veterinary care, since vets are charging so much we can’t afford it, or buy into some pet health insurance scheme. -- J.L., Minneapolis, Minnesota

DEAR J.L.: You have raised an important issue. The neglect of oral health results in many serious health problems in dogs -- especially small breeds and dogs with tooth misalignment -- and in cats, who can suffer terribly from a variety of dental problems. In many cases of long-term neglect -- especially in animals fed dry kibble with high cereal-gluten content that literally glues itself between the teeth and triggers gingivitis and other problems -- proper dental care involving general anesthesia is warranted. General anesthesia can put orally compromised animal patients at risk without prior blood work and antibiotic prophylaxis.

I fully endorse veterinarians’ endeavors to educate owners about companion animal oral health maintenance, and to provide the best dental care as needed, but in your case, I see something rotten in the heart of the profession that is money-driven and ethically questionable. The costs of running a veterinary hospital, including the rent, insurance and expensive diagnostic equipment, not to mention the student-loan debt that recent graduates must pay off, can mean that any way to reduce the income deficit is a priority to stay in business.

This economic crisis, aggravated now by the financial and socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, is affecting caring veterinarians both here and abroad. One solution is for veterinary clinics to provide basic care while practicing a kind of economic triage for their human clients and animal patients: sending those who can afford the anticipated costs of diagnosis and treatment, or who have a viable pet health insurance policy, to specialists who have invested in various costly diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. In the U.K., there is the longstanding PDSA -- People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals -- which is charity-supported. Clients must show their tax returns to qualify for discounted or free treatments.

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)