Is it Ethical for Veterinarians to Recommend Pet Foods?
Originally published November 2008 – edited and republished August 14, 2014.
Almost every Veterinarian Clinic across the country offers dog and cat food for sale. Some only offer prescription foods specifically for pets needing a diet to address a disease; however, many others offer for sale maintenance dog and cat foods to their clients. Do veterinarians know enough about pet food to ethically recommend a particular brand of food to their clients?
The Canadian Veterinary Journal website posts medical ethics questions from member veterinarians. In June of 2007, shortly after the deadly pet food recall, veterinarian Dr. Lea Stogdale posted the following ethical question:
“Many veterinarians sell nonprescription pet foods along with prescription pet foods as a service to their clientele. Some pet food companies insist that if their products are sold through a veterinary clinic, then no other brand of pet food can be sold through that clinic. Does the exclusive marketing of only one brand of pet food by a veterinary clinic imply a professional endorsement of that product over all other products on the market? Are pet food companies indirectly using veterinarians’ good reputations to market their products?”
Her question received two replies from veterinarians on the website. Dr. Marion Smart responded:
“When a client purchases any product or service from his or her veterinarian, he or she trusts that the veterinarian has knowledge of its efficacy and safety. Advertisements by the pet food companies and magazine and newspaper columns invariably advise pet owners to “ask their veterinarian” for correct nutritional information. The recent recalls involving Diamond Pet Foods, Medi-Cal, and other pet foods manufactured by Menu Foods has made it clear how complex the pet food industry is, and that blind faith in pet food manufacturers can be a mistake. If a veterinarian is selling pet food, he or she must accept a degree of responsibility for the products’ efficacy and safety. This is particularly true if a veterinarian is endorsing one brand of pet food exclusively at his or her practice.”
The next reply posted to the ethical question, is from veterinarian Dr. Clayton MacKay – Director of Veterinary Affairs, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Canada – one of the most commonly recommended pet diets by veterinarians, Science Diet:
“Professional endorsement of any product or service could take place when the veterinarian has investigated the particular product or service to the best of his or her ability. The professional should use an “evidence-based approach” matched with his or her own knowledge, use, and experience. In fact, most clients want exactly this kind of recommendation, that is why they seek advice from a professional. Pet food companies (like pharmaceutical/biological/equipment companies, etc.), do indeed believe that appropriate recommendations of their products/services are of value in the compliance use by the public/client. However, I am unaware of nutrition companies that demand exclusivity of their product in a particular clinic. For certain, demanding exclusivity is not the practice of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.”
Dr. MacKay’s response, again, a representative of Science Diet pet foods, is interpreted to tell veterinarians that clients WANT the recommendation of a pet food brand from their veterinarian. However, most veterinarians are NOT animal nutritionists. At almost every Vet School across the U.S., dog and cat nutrition classes are known to be very brief, most lasting only a couple of hours in total. Furthermore, most of these classes are taught by representatives from Science Diet, Iams/Eukanuba, and/or Purina pet foods. In other words, most veterinarian’s knowledge of pet food, ingredients, use of chemical preservatives, and so forth – is extremely limited.
While US pet owners continue to seek pet food advice from veterinarians, Europe has taken legal steps to prevent veterinarians from misleading clients into pet food purchases. New European Consumer laws put into effect in June of 2008, veterinarians must not hard sell pet food, vaccinations, or drugs and must not make any health claims for anything they sell, unless they have veterinary research to back it up.
So…your thoughts? Do you think it is ethical for veterinarians to recommend pet foods to their clients?
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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