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Pet Health: Where to Draw the Line


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My micro independent pet store is nutritionally focused, so I deal with many veterinarians. Throughout the years, I have seen many changes to the veterinary practices around me. 

When I started, I spent a lot of time talking with local veterinarians, sending them brochures and samples of the products I offered. I got many referrals this way. At that time, veterinarians were really focused on the medical side of pet care, and many only offered prescription diets for specific issues. They weren’t selling the pet foods a consumer would buy for everyday feeding. As veterinarians became more and more competitive, I noticed they started expanding their offerings. Getting into pet foods was easy for them. The prescription brands all had “everyday foods” they were more than happy to set up in their practices. A few clinics started carrying pet specialty brands that I offered.

I know every micro independent has felt the pain of having a loyal customer switched off of a brand of pet food because that client visited their veterinarian for a routine visit. My veterinary referrals soon started drying up, but I continued to see an increase in customers wanting advice about nutrition for specific issues. 

Recently, a couple walked in to my store and wanted assistance figuring out a ketogenic diet for their pet that was recently diagnosed with cancer. I chatted with them for a while and learned they were going through traditional treatments with their veterinarian and that when they asked about diets, he told them he didn’t think changing the diet would do anything for their pet. They were not happy to hear that. Like many people in their situation, they were devastated to hear the diagnosis of cancer in their pet. They wanted to do something to help their pet live a little longer. They hit the internet and saw websites like the KetoPet Sanctuary, which is publishing stories about saving dogs’ lives with the keto diet. They dug in further and found other sites and more testimonies about how foods can heal, and they wanted to try it.

 “Why wouldn’t we?” asked the husband, who was not happy with the veterinarian’s comments. 

I’m certainly not an expert on cancer or the keto diet, but luckily some of my manufacturers and holistic veterinarians have released great information about the ketogenic diet. Those resources allowed me to sit down with the client and present them with options they can try based on the latest information available. 

I made it very clear that I am not a veterinarian, and I encouraged them to let their veterinarian know what they were trying. I told them if the veterinarian had any questions they could give me a call. I also mentioned that if they were met with resistance, I have a list of veterinarians who would be happy to work with them; unfortunately, some veterinarians’ refusals to listen to their clients will end up costing them those clients.

Weight loss is another topic over which some veterinarians drive away customers. They tend to recommend a prescription diet, which has ingredients such as whole grain corn, corn gluten meal and byproducts, and is loaded with carbs. Today’s educated consumer is not interested in feeding their pet those types of ingredients. When they question the veterinarian, they are told there’s nothing wrong with those ingredients and their pet will do just fine. That might be the case, but that consumer doesn’t want to feed those ingredients so they thank the veterinarian and leave his practice to find a new one. 

On the opposite side of the coin, there are some micro independent businesses that cross the line of “practicing medicine without a license,” and even if they offer all the disclaimers of not being a veterinarian, they are putting pets at risk. 

Urinary tract issues in cats are a perfect example of where a store might end up doing so. A customer walks in and says their cat is having difficulties in using the “bathroom.” The store owner will probably inquire a little further and learn from the customer that the cat goes to the litterbox and appears to be using it, but nothing comes out. The customer mentions it has happened before and that it really seems to have gotten bad lately. 

The store owner, wanting to help, talks about the advantages of using real foods or canned products to increase the amount of moisture the cat is getting. They might talk about some of the great supplements that are formulated to assist with bladder issues. The customer feels like she’s talking to the right person, likes the game plan, and leaves the store happy with some raw foods and supplements. 

Fast-forward some hours later and the customer is in the emergency animal hospital with a cat in bad shape. The cat actually had a urethral plug, which is absolutely life threatening. Not only do we have an animal harmed, but our whole industry takes a hit. The customer mentions to the veterinarian that they were talking with this great guy at the pet store and they did what he said. The veterinarian responds that the pet store clerk is not a veterinarian and should not have been trying to help with this situation at all. The store gets a black eye, our industry gets a black eye and the manufacturers get a black eye.

I am not a veterinarian, but I do believe I can help dogs live longer, healthier lives. That’s why I am in business and sell the products I sell, but it takes a lot of work to stay current on everything that we are learning, almost daily, about nutrition and the role that it plays in the overall health of our pet. 


This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Pet Product News.

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