Thursday, January 24, 2008

Careful pet owners, charlatans now target your pets!

Charlatans have been around since the beginning of human history. They use your love of health and well being for yourself and your loved ones to convince you that their concoctions born of quackery and pseudoscience are the answer to good health. They tag their so called remedies with titles like "homeopathy," "alternative medicine," and "naturopathy" to give them legitimacy, while never seeking real scientific credence through thorough objective study following the princicples of the scientific method.

Charlatans are indeed gifted in their ability to sell. They stir up distrust of doctors, insisting on our great conspiracy to use our positions to keep these health potions from being known. They are such good sales people that they know and take advantage of the placebo effect to at least temporarily convince people that their remedies work. Sadly, some people, having been successfully duped by charlatans, go about life distrusting doctors and forsaking legitimate medicine for quackery and false promises. Even more sadly, charlatans are sometimes successful in using greed as motivation to get actual doctors to promote their nonsense and create undeserved credibility to their products.

With pet owners becoming ever increasingly concerned with the health of their pets, the new frontier for charlatans is the relatively untapped pet industry. The inspiration for this post and prime example of what a charlatan is, can be seen on the web page below that showcases the unveiling of a miracle herbal cure for canine Cushings Disease:

If this ridiculous advertisement was not enough convince you of the danger of charlatans, perhaps one my own experiences with this kind will help drive the point home. Two years ago, a lady brought very emaciated 8 year old cat to see me. The cat had been declining over the past year and on the advice of a friend, she brought the cat to see a nearby homeopathic vet. Still new to my area, I had heard of this man, but I did not fully understand how dangerous he was until this case was presented to me. Since following this case I tagged this homeopathic vet with the name Dr. Yin Yang, I will refer to him as this for the sake of this short story.

Fully brainwashed by her friend and by Dr. Yin Yang, this sweet lady explained to me how the cat kept getting sicker and sicker despite several herbal concoctions that Dr. Yin Yang had maintained the cat on, and if not for his best efforts, she would have died a long time ago. Reading directly from his notes (I can't make this stuff up), I ascertained that Dr. Yin Yang had arrived at the necessity for this herbal regimen by determining that the cat had "Yin and Yang kidney and thyroid imbalance." Dr. Yin Yang arrived at this diagnosis by simply examining the cat, never having ordered even one diagnostic test.

One blood test and an abdominal ultrasound later, I quickly determined that this cat's kidneys and thyroid were just fine. The cat actually had intestinal lymphoma which, if diagnosed early, is a type of cancer that offers a favorable remission rate with treatment, approaching 13 months and longer.

Unfortunately for this owner and this kitty, having wasted nearly a year treating with herbs, the lymphoma was very advanced, infiltrating a large portion of her intestines, liver, and spleen. With her advanced cancer and her now debilitated state, she was a poor candidate for aggressive treatment. Dr. Yin Yang did a great job of ensuring this result.

Still, however, the owner did not bring her cat to us entirely too late. Forgoing conventional chemotherapy for less invasive high dose steroid therapy, the kitty responded remarkably. She began eating, regained most of her body weight, and had a good quality of life for 4 months, after which time she had to be euthanized when the cancer once again got hold of her.

Much to the relief of every legitimate veterinarian in my area, Dr. Yin Yang has retired. Amazingly enough, he left behind a rather substantial following that misses him dearly, despite this being but one example of many Dr. Yin Yang charlatan-esque cases that ended up in my, as well as other, legitimate veterinary clinics.

Roger L. Welton, DVM
Founder, WebDVM


joannashell said...

hi there,

i'm just curious about your rant featuring the so-called "dr. yin yang" (which is such a degrading name, btw). i wanted to email the you personally but there doesn't seem to be a "contact us" button on the website. i was particularly interested to find out your training in alternative medicine. i find it interesting that you would think there is a direct correlation between the eastern and western thinking of the kidneys and thyroid - which there absolutely isn't. eastern medicine refers to the "energy" of these systems, not the physiological organs. but i guess you were too busy judging poor dr. yin yang to look into this 5000 year old medicine that has managed to stand the test of time. anyway...given your fondness of name calling...i'm quite tempted to call you dr. ding dong!! there should be enough room for all of us in this world and we should take the best that we all have to offer so that animals and humans can benefit to the utmost.

Roger L. Welton, DVM said...

When this veterinarian in my post chose to ignore all diagnostics for this cat despite the fact that the patient ws getting increasingly sicker and losing weight while on his alternative regimen, he most definately earned his nickname. He should have had worse than a silly nickname - he should have had is license to practice veterinary medicine for the careless manner in which he treated this an other patients.

Whichever one's approach to medicine is, it is absurd, unethical, and blatantly wrong to continue a course of treatment when the patient is not responding and getting progressively sicker. As I stated, if this patient had a few simple, uninvasive diagnostics to begin with, we would have had a diagnosis, a treatment plan, and a much more favorable result.

You can call me whatever you like. But, I can assure you of this: if one of my treatment courses is clearly not working, I will not continue to stubbornly carry on with it at the expense of my patient. I will try something else. I might even run a test or two to figure out what the problem is.

To arrive at this conclusion does not require formal training, but mere common sense.

Anonymous said...

". . . judging poor Dr. Yin Yang"

Excuse me? You feel sorry for this irresponsible doctor who obviously missed a diagnosis by choosing to ignore simple testing that could have changed everything for this cat? I would be VERY angry if this had happened to my cat.

I agree that holistic and alternative medicine do have their place, but a responsible alternative doctor should understand when his approach has met its limitations. The holistic doctor in the case that Dr. Welton described clearly did wrong by his patient when he chose to ignore any and all testing when this cat continued to get sicker and sicker.

I am all for holistic and alternative preventive health management. I love accupuncture, colonics, and herbal immune boosting. But if I have suspicion of cancer, I say bring on whatever testing, surgery, or medication a medical doctor recommends to rid my body of the beast. That goes for my pets as well.

joannashell said...

i do agree with your comment that if a treatment is not working, you should dig deeper and run some tests or change your treatment protocol. however, i do not agree that this story elicits the your comment that "charlatans now target your pets." maybe dr. yin yang is a bad doc, but you're implying that alternative docs are bad docs...and that is NOT ok. as with must be careful with all health care practitioners - alternative or western. i just called a vet the other day because my dogs ate raisins and i wanted him to know i was bringing them in for charcoal and fluids. the vet insisted my dogs would only have diarrhea...he didn't even know raisins were toxic to the kidneys. guess i should call him a charlatan that is targeting my pet if i follow your logic.

Roger L. Welton, DVM said...

Ms. Joanna:

Perhaps the tone of my post may imply that I am opposed to all forms of alternative medicine, if it has, that was not my intention. To be sure, I favor the western approach that I was trained in and regularly see results, but I am not one to maintain that holistic medicine does not have any merit. My argument with this doctor I write of is that he placed 100% of his approach in herbal remedies and other eastern treatments and would not recognize or admit when the approach was failing. He would not even venture into western medicine as much as to run some simple diagnostics to obtain a diagnosis. How about at least get a diagnosis, try your holistic approach, and if or when it does not work, then give us westerners a crack at it? I often wondered if he even knew how to read interpret bloodwork and other diagnostics.

This same doctor was treating another lady's dog that came in to see me. Dr. Yin Yang (I know this title offends you, but I do not want to divulge his real name) had been treating her dog for heartworm disease for the past year. She came to me to have a heartworm test because Dr. Yin Yang did not have any heartworm testing in his office, curious considering that it is one of the most deadly and prevalent canine parasites in my state.

Call me narrow minded, but I cannot imagine any herbal mixture that is going to kill heartworms. Of course just as I expected, the test came back strong positive. I proceeded to tell this lady that she should consider my more traditional protocol, which would have the worms eradicated in 2 days. To this, this lady threw a tantrum, telling me how utterly wonderful Dr. Yin Yang was, and she would trust him with her own life. She then assured me that Dr, Yin Yangs protocol was not working because of her own failure to follow his instructions properly, not because his protocol simply did not work, and how dare I insinuate that he is wrong. After I warned her that as she continued to experiment with herbal remedies, the worms were causing inflammation, scarring, and eventual irreversible damage to her dog's heart, pulmonary artery and lungs, she informed me that she planned to boycott my office as long as she lived. This poor dog probably still has heartworms.

As I stated in my post, the cat was but one example of case after case of Dr. Yin Yangs irresponsible manipulation of people enticed by a natural approach. I experienced three years of case after case like these, as did other colleagues of mine in this area. I will tell you with all conviction that I do indeed consider this man a charlatan of the highest order. Do I characterize all doctors that favor a holistic approach charlatans? No, not if approached in a scientific, responsible manner.

In the case of your vet not recommending activated charcoal for toxicity due to raisins, it is difficult for me to comment without knowing how much raisins were consumed, or how much your dogs weighs. Grape and raisin toxicity are quite rare due to the fact that toxicity requires very high doses. The minimum toxic dose for raisins is 0.5 oz per kg of body weight. That would mean that even a small 10 pound Yorkie would have to consume 3-4 oz of raisins to approach minimum toxicity dose. A 50 pound dog would have to eat 13-15 oz, and an 80 pound dog, a pound and a half of raisins. Perhaps your vet did not deem the ingested dose to be risky given the weight of your pet. Even if he was wrong in not being concerned, this would not make him a charlatan as you suggested, but a doctor that perhaps made a mistake by underestimating the minimum toxic dose of raisins. This is not what I suggested in my article, and you are misinterpreting my message by assuming that my logic would deem any doctor that is capable of making a misjudgement a charlatan.

For a quick refresher on the definition of charlatan in the context that I wrote my article, here is what I had in mind:

Charlatan - A charlatan is a person practising quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money or advantage via some form of pretence or deception; one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability.

Dr. Yin Yang and the link to the Cushings Disease guru are perfect examples of the charlatans I warn of. Despite your disagreement with my stance, I stand by my views.

While we may not see eye to eye, I thank you for your interest, and for your comments.