To become a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), every vet and vet nurse has to make a similar declaration, the second half of which says – “ABOVE ALL, my constant endeavour will be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care.” Profound and true and what we strive to all stand for, for ALL animals.
When Bluebell the Weimeraner was called into my consult room yesterday, her visit prompted me to consider my vision for the perfect veterinary practice. Is it just a dream, or could it possibly be a reality and should it be a reality to protect our fragile earth and encourage sustainable pet care?
Why did Bluebell’s visit prompt this vision?
Bluebell is an 8 year old dark blue Weimeraner with allergies to almost everything, including food intolerances. As I called her through, she had to pass the reception desk which she knows to be a place where the animal-loving receptionists have tins and jars full of tempting dog treats. She jumped up so that just her head reached up and was visible to the receptionists and as her owner attempted to lead her through, she ‘walked’ the entire length of the reception table on her 2 backlegs pleading with the staff to feed her.
The reception staff and I felt so torn and so guilty. We love to feed and treat the visiting animals to make their experience as pleasurable as possible, but with all her allergies, we couldn’t risk giving Bluebell any of the ‘meat-based’ treat biscuits on the counter. Even the expensive ‘hypoallergenic’ ones contained hydrolysed chicken livers in their ingredients and we even had to hold back on these for fear of her having a chicken protein allergy – so we gave her nothing.
Bluebell desperately reaching out for a treat and not being rewarded, and on the same afternoon, having an elderly client walk a mile to the surgery carrying his 5kg cat in a basket (that he confessed to having to swop arms every few steps), as he didn’t have a car for environmental reasons; has prompted me to imagine my perfect veterinary practice in 10 steps!
Could it be a reality for the next generation of vets?………I certainly hope so, and it needs to happen now !!
“If nobody changes then nothing changes but if somebody changes then everything changes!”
Vegan Vet 2020
Stock and sell only balanced plant-based dog foods in sustainable and ethical packaging – no plastic. Source all local plant-based foods first before sourcing imported foods and offer a balanced supplement for clients choosing to feed a homemade option to their pets. Do not stock any fish-based cat food diets to prevent over-fishing and protect our oceans.
All staff will feed their own dogs sustainable balanced plant-based diets and with this knowledge of a healthier lifestyle, there would be weekly Slimming Pet Classes run at the practice that offered supportive caring advice on feeding your pet correctly where pet owners can share recipes and diet tips and support each other – maybe even making foods for each other’s dogs if an owner does not have the time. The classes would promote local dog walkers for dog owners who work or who are elderly and cannot get their pets out daily. This offers the freedom of movement and together with a healthy sustainable diet for your pet, it encourages a happy, long life.
Ban all pet treats or dental chews being sold or used at the practice that are meat-based or animal produce based, or are packaged in any form of plastic. Encourage the sale and stock any home-baked treats from local artisan businesses who make healthy plant-based treats in sustainable packaging. Use these as rewards when pets are being weighed in the waiting room or enter the front door at reception, or stand happily on the consulting room table with the reassurance that these treats are fully hypoallergenic.
Only stock sustainable and necessary pet accessories – nothing plastic and nothing that would not directly benefit the health of the animal to reduce the consumer spend on pets and drive down our overall UK consumption to promote a cleaner planet.
Encourage the community sharing spirit of Facebook Marketplace where dog owners who already make their own homemade plant-based dog foods, are encouraged to make extra to feed other dogs in the area enhancing a community spirit of support and mutual benefit to their pet’s health as well as their own health. Any offcuts of vegetables from making the homemade food, can be kept to feed the neighbourhood rabbits and guinea pigs and again enhance the community spirit of working together. The practice would not stock any packaged rabbit and guinea pig food in plastic packaging at all. Better education of the feeding of small pets would be offered by the practice so that these pets have a better quality of life by being looked after by the whole family rather than just the child.
Ban the sale of any flea spot-on treatments that contain Imidacloprid as their primary ingredient. This includes Advocate, Advantage, Advantix, Bob Martin (that I know vets would not stock anyway, but it too contains Imidacloprid) and must be banned from use in the UK. These 2 articles prove how dangerous the use of these chemicals are to our own wildlife and rivers as well as to our precious bee population. We would even go one step further and ban ALL spot on applications and flea collars and only encourage oral effective flea treatments be stocked to protect our fragile ecosystem. Encourage the sale of beebombs at the practice to counteract the concern of the bee population decline due to the overuse of environmentally dangerous insecticide products on our pets. By protecting all our insects, we then protect the future of our birds and vulnerable hedgehogs.
Support and encourage other small businesses to join you such as a local dog groomer. The small touches of a having a pet clean and brushed when it leaves the practice would not go unnoticed by clients. It also means that having another professional such as a dog groomer available to clip an anxious Westie’s face and claws for example while it was under sedation for any procedure is the kindest route for any scared pet.
Discourage any unnecessary anaesthesia of pets unless they really need it. There needs to be a conservative use of the main gas anaesthetics as shown in this article to protect our planet’s health, but we also need to consider the ethical impact of encouraging unnecessary dental procedures or cosmetic lump removals on any pets that do not really need it. We also need to discourage any unnecessary pre-anaesthetic blood tests on young healthy animals that may suffer increased anxiety having these blood tests prior to an already stressful procedure such as a neutering. It is stressful not just for the young pet that is very unlikely to show up anything abnormal with a blood test, but it is also an added burden for the animal-loving nurses who have to restrain these young scared animals for an unnecessary procedure.
Discourage any raw meaty feeder dogs or cats owners to protect your other possibly vulnerable patients (elderly pets or pets receiving immunosuppressive medication for skin conditions or cancer treatment for example) from diseases that they could contract even just sniffing a pet in the waiting room that may eat a raw meaty diet. Stopping these animals from visiting your practice also protects your stereotypical young female pregnant veterinary staff from being licked by a raw meaty feeder and may contract Listeriosis that can cause miscarriages. This exemption extends to not only the raw meaty foods, but all rawhide chews and treats as well that carry as much bacteria and risk as the food and are unethical, unkind to our farm animals and non-sustainable to the planet.
Every effort should be made to encourage and support all the staff throughout the practice who deal with such a variety of emotions in a veterinary practice on a day to day basis. The author of the James Herriott books, Alf Wight said that ‘Working with animals is fun’; and we agree, it most certainly is….but we also deal with the public at their most vulnerable, grief-stricken points in their lives following the loss of a pet on a daily basis. This compassion fatigue weighs heavily on already empathetic staff and each member of the practice, from receptionists, nurses and vets; needs to be offered support and rewarded with manageable working hours – encourage job-sharing and part-time work to have a better work/life balance. Rewarding and supporting your staff particularly extends to receptionists who are the first face that a client sees and who must be given as much encouragement and value placed on them as the rest of the team.
Encourage hour long lunch breaks everyday for every team member where staff bring in a little bit extra of the food they have made to share. This sharing (of hopefully new and delicious plant-based recipes or cakes) encourages inclusion and something that binds everyone at lunchtime instead of reverting to our phones and not talking to each other. It also stops any members of staff who may have not had time to make anything, from rushing out to the nearest corner shop and buying plastic laden sandwiches and fast foods…..and the worst of all any exotic fruits peeled and packaged in plastic containers that veterinary staff seem to love to buy and are a disaster for the health of our planet!!
To prevent the increased use of cars with stand-alone large veterinary centres on the edges of big towns, we encourage a number of small venues scattered throughout the big towns to encourage people to walk to their local vets. As the waiting rooms may be restricted in size with no extra space for a separate cat and rabbit waiting room, we would encourage a shelved ‘boxed’ area in the waiting room for clients to place their cat boxes or baskets on so that cats are elevated and kept away from floor level with the prying eyes and noses of unfamiliar dogs. This shows kindness and consideration to our cat and rabbit patients who are usually very anxious in any veterinary setting. The use of pheromone plug-ins and playing classical music in the cat wards is relaxing not only for the hospitalised cats, but also for the staff tending to the hospital patients!
As we know that our pets on a plant-based diet will live longer, healthier lives; a dream class to run would be weekly ‘senior clinics’ at the practice. These would be held in the waiting room when the surgery has closed. Non-slip mats would be placed on the slippery floors to be kind to our elderly arthritic pets. The classes would offer the elderly pet owners time to bond as a group and share food tips, supplement tips and time to get to know each others’ dogs. This then offers a much needed support group for when each pet does pass away and makes the grieving process easier to cope with. Any grief shared is a blessing as pet loss is one of the most unsupported griefs that you can experience.
All of the above offers a kind and sustainable solution to pet care and to our planet.
No one says what we are all thinking better than Greta…..
She has written the article with such an in-depth understanding of the importance of dogs going plant-based – all just so positive for the future!
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