Dog getting massage

Most veterinarians get hopping mad when non-vets try to get in on our game. We say things like, “I went to school for eight years and now some new graduate of acupuncture (or massage, rehabilitation medicine, physical therapy, dentistry or chiropractics, among other fields) wants to be allowed to use my patients as pincushions!”

What’s worse, some of us fret, is that some of them might do so without our supervision. Moreover, adding insult to injury, we’re pretty sure some of them would make a prettier penny if they did so. After all, few professionals have a debt-to-income ratio as undesirable as most newly minted veterinarians do.

Consider the following statement (overheard at a lecture not too long ago): “I just spent $200,000 on my schooling and $150,000 on new rehab equipment. Why would I think it’s OK to let those trained on humans compete directly with me? It’s just not fair!”

It’s true. Depending on the state, some of these non-vet practitioners can hang up their own shingle without having to work under a veterinarian’s direct supervision. This debate has been most heated in recent years on the subject of equine dental work, where non-veterinarians can perform certain dental services on horses without having any veterinary "backup."

But it’s not just acupuncture, chiropractics and horses. Indeed, the subject seems to turn up more frequently now that it’s clear to everyone that pets are big business.

Human Training May Not Translate to Animals

To be sure, I have plenty of sympathy for my colleagues who feel this way. But, perhaps because I’m not in a specialized area that tends to garner non-vet competitors, I tend to see it more from the point of view of quality and safety — not income.

Trust me on this: Physical therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners (for example) can do more harm than good if they’re not trained to work on animals. And what about the emergencies that might arise should such harm ensue? These are my biggest reservations.

Call me a conservative protectionist if you like, but I think there’s something to be said for vet school, board examinations and multiple years of experience with animals before the state should sanction you to practice without veterinary oversight.

It’s hard enough to know what you’re getting when you choose a professional. Add the lack of specialized training, licensing and supervision into the mix, and animal care will doubtless suffer.

Dog getting acupuncture

Para-Professionals Have a Place

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t bar licensed professionals from practicing their art and science on animals — not as long as they secure pet-specific certification. Indeed, I believe very strongly that there’s a place for para-veterinary professionals. As long as they stick to the role they’ve been trained for and as long as there’s an affiliated vet to deal with any fallout, I firmly believe many pets can find better, more affordable care this way.

After all, veterinarians can’t possibly specialize in everything. As is now commonplace in the case of human physicians, there should be a place for trained acupuncturists, masseuses, chiropractors, physical therapists and such. Why should veterinary medicine be any different?

Not that my opinion is too popular within certain sectors of the veterinary community. But, then, I think that’s starting to change as more and more of us believe, as I do, that an expanded menu of offerings from a certified workforce is ultimately best for pets. What do you think?