Some germane points from the redoubtable Ms Greer? - Veterinary Practice
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Some germane points from the redoubtable Ms Greer?

continues the series of reflections on issues of
current concern

AS a teenager I remember being frightened by Germaine Greer. I have never read The Female Eunuch but at the time of its publication it was seen as cutting-edge feminism. I had a fear that men were going to be outcast from society as superfluous and unwanted. The angst of teenagers … I remember it well. Ms Greer has mellowed somewhat since those days and is now something of an Establishment figure, not infrequently to be seen on television game shows. Seeing James Cordon some while ago pretending to give her his “best” chatup line on Never mind the Buzzcocks (at least I think it was on there) was both comic and actually faintly moving. Two weeks ago Ms Greer wrote a deliberately provocative piece in the Saturday edition of the Daily Telegraph entitled “A dog’s life is not for me”. In it she bemoaned the poor quality of life experienced by many dogs at the hands of their owners and laid the blame for much of this squarely on the shoulders of the veterinary profession.

Main complaints

Her main complaints appeared to be that vets are reluctant to be honest with owners about such things as pet obesity; that vets unnecessarily over-investigate and over-treat animals (often in response to pets being insured) and thereby inflate fees; and that vets needlessly prolong life, animals all too frequently spending the last days of their life hospitalised away from home with all manner of tubes and drips attached to them. One’s natural reaction to articles of this sort is to raise one’s hackles and choke on one’s indignation, particularly when Ms Greer is pictured smiling in the presence of her own, somewhat overweight, standard poodle. And presumably the very vets that she is castigating are the ones to whom she will take her dog to request a dignified end to its life when the time comes. It is tempting to assume that she was just short of an idea for a piece to write that week and simply couldn’t afford to miss her deadline. Tempting as this idea is, I think it would be the wrong approach, akin to burying our heads in the sand and hoping it will pass us by. Which is something that historically the veterinary profession has been very good at doing on all manner of things; such as: the poor working conditions of veterinary assistants and veterinary nurses; the appalling congenital health problems experienced by many pedigree dogs and cats through breeding for excessive show “type”; the surrendering of the championing of farm animal welfare to any number of other interested pressure groups; failure to champion the welfare of an animal to its owner if that might mean upsetting the owner … oh dear, I’m beginning to sound a bit like Ms Greer myself! Let’s swallow our indignation though and analyse what Ms Greer is really complaining about. Firstly, the obesity epidemic amongst pet dogs and cats is a very real health problem and one that most of us are probably not tackling nearly as vigorously as we should be. Whilst the cause of obesity in people is notoriously difficult to isolate (with all the psychological factors that accompany it), the problem in animals is very much simpler: too much food eaten for the amount of exercise being taken.

Pandering to delusions

Yes many practices organise obesity clinics for pets with regular
weighing and advice, etc., but if we are honest with ourselves aren’t we all too often (in Ms Greer’s words) “treating pet owners rather than their pets and pandering to their delusions”. As vets, we all know that getting an otherwise healthy dog to lose weight is only a matter of owner self-discipline. The instructions for achieving it can be written in two sentences on the back of an envelope. But how many vets would dare to tell their clients that? Maybe a few more of us should try. When it comes to Ms Greer’s complaint of over-investigation, I can again sympathise. I hear much anecdotal evidence from friends and family about animals with relatively straight forward conditions like cats with cellulitis (result of a cat bite?) or a dog with acute, but otherwise symptomless diarrhoea, that have been subjected to all manner of “tests” and investigations to “rule out” things that (to my shame, no doubt), I have never even heard of! Are vet students no longer taught “first do no harm”, or that “common things are common”? Isn’t the time for extensive investigation when the common treatments have failed? Isn’t that what our GPs do with us every day when we consult them? If owners weren’t insured, would we be so hasty in going down the “just in case” route? Somehow I suspect not. Which brings us on
to the final of Ms Greer’s gripes and the one about which I feel most strongly. Surveys have shown that about two thirds of people would prefer to die at home surrounded by family and
friends than in hospital. If it were possible to ask our pets the same question, and if they were able to give us a considered answer, I am convinced that it would be near to 100%. I can hardly imagine a worse place for an animal to die than in the strange surroundings of a veterinary hospital cage surrounded by
people, animals, sounds and smells with which the animal is unfamiliar. I would not want any of my own pets to have a
prolonged death in these circumstances and I am lucky enough to be able to give them the good death at home that I think they
deserve. So when Ms Greer complains of one of her own dogs dying in a cage with tubes running out of it, I can sympathise greatly with her views. After all, the prolongation of human life has been taken beyond the bounds of what many of us would like
to happen to ourselves, but we understand the ethical dilemma posed to doctors when euthanasia is not officially allowed. We, on the other hand, have this most potent of tools at our disposal
to preserve dignity and alleviate suffering. And while we must of course use it with great responsibility, we should not be averse
to providing a very strong steer in this direction to our clients when we believe it to be in the very best interest of their pet to do so. To do anything else is failing the animals that we are trying to help and I think that this is one of the points that Ms Greer is trying to shock us into realising.

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