, Salem, MA

December 13, 2013

Vet Connection: Veterinarians respond sharply to ‘20/20’ ‘expose’

Vet Connection
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt

---- — What’s the latest buzz in the veterinary profession? Well a couple of weeks ago the red flares went up warning that ABC’s “20/20” would be doing a show on veterinarians. The general consensus was it wasn’t going to be a happy fluff story and it wasn’t. The network found an unemployed veterinarian in Canada to accuse veterinarians of recommending unnecessary dental work and “pushing” vaccines. They took undercover dogs and owners to a few veterinary hospitals and filmed the physical examination without the veterinarians knowing as they examined the dogs and recommended dental work. Two of the veterinary hospitals visited recommended dental work. One hospital recommended yearly vaccination for canine distemper. This was portrayed as the veterinarian prescribing unnecessary procedures.

As I watched the veterinarian open one dog’s mouth during the program I said to my husband, “That dog has a big mass hanging just outside its carnassial tooth!” That’s the big three-rooted tooth in the back of the dog’s mouth. Probably every veterinarian watching the show was jumping out of their seats exclaiming, “and it needs to be biopsied!” A few colleagues of mine were commenting that the mass was so big we could see it even while relaxing in our living room chairs! Definitely there was a clear indication for anesthesia and dental cleaning, dental radiographs to search for clues of cancer or tooth abscess, and removal and biopsy of the mass. The reporters claimed the veterinarian was advising an unnecessary procedure. Never was the presence of the mass mentioned during the show.

Interestingly the American Veterinary Dental Association immediately came out with a statement emphasizing that it is virtually impossible to do a complete exam of a dog’s entire mouth without it being under anesthesia because so many teeth are in the back of the mouth and not visible. The insides of the teeth toward the tongue and palate are impossible to see without anesthesia. Dental infections frequently are silently growing under the gum where they cannot be seen and dental radiographs are the gold standard in order to visualize bone loss and root abscesses under the gums. Proper cleaning of the crown of the tooth and under the gum is indicated when any yellow or brown material called calculus is adhered to the tooth enamel and touching the gum. That brown calculus contains bacteria that can cause severe disease in the mouth and throughout the body if left untreated.

The American Veterinary Dental Association also noted that another undercover dog on the program had an under bite. Among veterinary dental specialists that is an indication for dental work. Anesthesia and dental radiographs are indicated in this case and often extractions need to be done to prevent teeth from injuring soft tissue if the teeth don’t meet and to help the jaw grow properly in young growing dogs.

As far as vaccination frequency recommendations go, there are AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) guidelines for veterinarians that may differ from the instructions from the vaccine manufacturer. It is up to the veterinarian to vaccinate the pet on a schedule based on the particular pet’s lifestyle and potential exposure to the disease, taking into consideration the vaccine schedule the manufacturer recommends.

Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian often called “America’s Veterinarian” and a frequent guest on “Good Morning America,” has ended his 17-year relationship with ABC over what he and many veterinarians considered very inaccurate and careless reporting on the veterinary profession in the “20/20” news show, and because his comments were taken out of context on the show. Many veterinarians agree with him and applaud his taking a stand for our profession.


Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem. Email your pet questions to Please title your email “Vet Connection.”