Be an advocate for preventive veterinary care

Be an advocate for preventive veterinary care

Revisit the Veterinarian's Oath and reenergize your efforts to practice preventive care for your patients.
Oct 01, 2013

Compliance with preventive veterinary care is down, and it's time for veterinarians and their teams to renew their commitment to advocating for the health and well-being of animals in their care.

Every member of your veterinary team must communicate the importance of preventive healthcare to clients. If you don’t speak up for your patients, who will? (GETTY IMAGES/MONTY RAKUSEN)
If you are a diligent periodical reader and CE aficionado, perhaps this is starting to sound like a broken record. But the reality is that these two facts—low compliance and a lack of preventive care advocacy—need to be repeated over and over until we create change throughout our profession.

Perhaps the best place to start is by taking a trip down memory lane to revisit the reasons you became a veterinary practitioner. Surveys conducted at a national symposium in 2011 and 2012 confirmed that veterinarians enter the profession for a variety of reasons. But principally, we do it for love of animals and the reward of supporting the relationship between animals and people.

Maybe it's also time to reexamine what it means to be an advocate in the true sense of the word: one who supports or promotes the interests of another; one who defends a cause. If the Veterinarian's Oath states that a veterinarian's responsibility toward animals is to protect health and prevent suffering, then by definition being a veterinarian means being an advocate for patients in your care. The team members who work in your practice must be committed to the same core principle.

Preventive healthcare has been shown to be far preferable to interventional treatment. It reduces the likelihood of disease and is far less costly in terms of time, inconvenience and money to the pet owner. All major pet healthcare guidelines stress the importance of preventive measures, yet, like human healthcare, veterinary medicine has become more focused on disease treatment than prevention. The result is that millions of pets are exposed to preventable diseases. This clearly indicates that the veterinarian's role as advocate isn't what it used to be, nor what it originally aspired to be.


The concept of core and noncore vaccines was introduced in veterinary medicine some 20 years ago. Core vaccines are those that have been deemed necessary for all dogs and cats. Unfortunately, the role of noncore vaccines has been less clear, and as a result they've come to be seen as optional and less important rather than "situationally" core.

What's more, most veterinarians are now opting to administer core vaccines on a triennial basis. Consequently, they've gotten out of the habit of advocating for annual noncore vaccines. Because noncore vaccines are now less familiar to pet owners, client education on the part of the veterinarian is that much more critical to remove the stigma of their being optional and unnecessary.

Perhaps veterinarians themselves have begun to see noncore vaccines as less important to preventing disease. However, annual risk assessments show that many if not all pets are at significant risk of exposure to the diseases these noncore vaccines protect against. In fact, the risk is often greater than that of being infected by so-called core diseases. Just think of feline retrovirus in cats or, in dogs, leptospirosis, respiratory disease and Lyme disease. The goal is to stop thinking of noncore vaccines as optional and develop protocols that recognize their specific role in achieving the goals of veterinarians and pet owners alike—namely, the health and well-being of pets.