755: Why Veterinary Care Is So Expensive and Hard to Find With Dr. Ruth Roberts

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Why Veterinary Care is So Expensive and Hard to Find With Dr. Ruth Roberts
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755: Why Veterinary Care Is So Expensive and Hard to Find With Dr. Ruth Roberts

I’m back for part two with holistic veterinarian Dr. Ruth Roberts to talk about how to get optimal care for our furry family members. Dr. Ruth is on a mission to help pet owners have better access to health solutions when it comes to things like pet food, supplements, and lifestyle choices. Many of these things we think about for ourselves and our family but our pets can benefit from them too!

This episode focuses on why finding a good vet is getting increasingly harder and some of the issues she’s seen here since COVID. And unfortunately, it’s projected that there will be a shortage of 24,000 vets by 2030. For those who can find a good vet, it’s often expensive and many vets aren’t educated in holistic pet care and more natural options.

One way to overcome this trend is to seek out pet care from other, complementary sources. This is why Dr. Ruth now certifies people as holistic pet health coaches to help fill this much needed gap. She’s such a wealth of knowledge on this topic and I’m so glad I get to chat with her again today!

Episode Highlights With Dr. Ruth Roberts

  • Why veterinary care has gotten so expensive and hard to find lately
  • How Covid changed access to veterinary medicine for many people
  • How to find good pet care in today’s world
  • Ways to support your pets hormonally, especially after they’re spayed and neutered 
  • How to find a good vet and how to ask good questions to keep your pets healthy
  • Where to find and how to become a holistic pet health coach

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

Read Transcript

Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

Hello, and welcome to The Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And this conversation is a second with Dr. Ruth Roberts, who is a holistically-minded veterinarian who now is on a mission to help pet owners have access to better health solutions for their pets in the form of knowledge about what they feed their pets, even supplements, lifestyle choices, and all of the things we talk about for humans, but for our pets as well. And in this episode, we talk about why good veterinary care is so hard to get these days and so expensive and what to do about it. But in short, it’s no secret that pet care seems more expensive these days. And this is changing, unfortunately, not for the better. So a lot of things to consider in this conversation, as well as some amazing resources for us as pet owners to be able to provide our pets with better options, and Dr. Ruth is such a voice in this space. She’s a veterinarian who also now certifies people as holistic pet health coaches to be able to mitigate some of the issues that pet owners face, even when they cannot get into veterinary care or when the solution might require lifestyle or dietary changes that a vet may not have time to go over with them. She’s definitely an incredible wealth of knowledge on this topic and such an important voice in this space. So I’m glad we get to chat with her today. Let’s join Dr. Ruth Roberts. Dr. Ruth, welcome back.

Ruth: Hey, thanks, Katie. Glad to be here. That was a lot of fun the last time.

Katie: Yes, I’ll make sure I link to our first conversation. I definitely learned a lot about ways I could be feeding my pets different. Many of the same topics I talk about for human health and wellness and how they apply to pets. And I think areas many of us have not considered. So I will link to that. If you haven’t heard it, it’s definitely worth the listen. And in this one, I want to go a little bit deeper in another area that feels a little mystifying for me, even at times as a pet owner, which is interactions on the veterinary side of pet care and knowing firsthand having two dogs, three cats, and a chameleon as well. But finding that veterinary care can be, for one, hard to find in my area, for two, very expensive. And then for three, I feel like sometimes I’m having the same battles with the vet that I would with my kids’ health, with their doctor and not wanting to do certain things or procedures or treatments or whatever the case may be. And just feeling like it’s hard to find good answers. And I know you are such an amazing voice in this space. Maybe to start really broad, can we talk about, has veterinary care gone up in price a lot or gotten harder to find lately? And if so, why are we seeing this?

Ruth: It’s, I mean, so when I sold my practice in 2016, I was shocked then at some of the prices we were charging. And we were below many other practices. But I think what’s happened is the cost of everything has escalated. And so not to throw my colleagues under the bus, they’re trying to make a living. And everything costs so much. So for instance, in my practice, I had two associate veterinarians. I had a staff of 15. It cost me $90,000 a month to break even. So A, that’s one thing. B is that corporate money, investor money has gotten involved in veterinary medicine, and they’ve just been steadily ratcheting up the prices because they could. And that’s really pretty awful stuff.

And then the other issue in terms of accessing care is that right at COVID, anybody that had been in veterinary medicine for any length of time retired that could. And the veterinary technicians that have worked so hard in this industry, not getting paid anywhere near what they’re worth. We’re like, to heck with this. I’m going to go work at McDonald’s. Because they were bearing the brunt of frustration, people arriving at the clinic, they’re waiting for hours and hours. They’re having these crazy bills. They’re like, heck with this. I’m out of here. And so, we had a brain drain in the profession. And then you couple that with the young veterinarians coming out of veterinary school. They’ve been trained to operate off of flow sheets, which are very useful to help you make basic decisions. But that’s all they’re supposed to do. And that’s where the thinking would stop. The fact that the young docs don’t have the ability to really say, I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. And I mean, when I was in my 30s, I’d be up till midnight researching cases sometimes. And I had the internet available finally then. I thought it was a miracle. But this is the problem is that many of them, they want to go home at six o’clock and the day’s over. And that’s just, that’s not the way it works to be a good doctor.

Katie: Well, it would make sense that the same limitations I hear from doctors who are working with humans of not feeling like they have enough time with their patients, not feeling like they have enough ability to actually listen to the patient and hear what’s going on and explore solutions. I feel like it makes sense just in this world, everybody’s kind of pushing against a system that’s broken and that’s not really serving anyone. But I guess many people haven’t probably considered that in relation to the veterinary world, like they’ve probably experienced it firsthand in potentially human healthcare at some point. I know I have, but that makes sense. And it seems like you guys are fighting an uphill battle as well against the system that makes all those factors feel even tougher.

Ruth: And that’s very true. And I’d left that part out. But I mean, there’s no way you can do justice by a critically ill pet in 15 minutes or a person for that matter. But that’s indeed what the doctors are being asked to do. They only have 15 minutes. It’s crazy.

Katie: What then are options for pet owners in that situation? Because like we talked about, it’s hard to even sometimes find a vet and much less like get the answers or resources you need. And the vets are equally strapped for time and resources. And so this struggle is affecting both sides. And then the pets are the ones not getting the help they need because of that.

Ruth: Exactly. And so there’s a couple of options. I mean, there are plenty of my colleagues that are doing one-to-one consultations online, but again, their time is limited and it’s not necessarily an inexpensive process. There are telemedicine services available for some of the huge corporate practices, and those can be helpful. But then ultimately, many people are turning to Facebook groups, to other sources where some of the information is great and some of it’s not so great.

So one of the things I did about a year and a half ago, Holistic Pet Health Coach Certification Program with the idea that people could be trained with enough knowledge to act like human health coaches. They had the time to sit down with you and listen to the entire history, listen for the details that separate out the, oh, that’s when this really started, and help you go through the lab work that you have, the records that you have, and figure out a game plan, and then ultimately, just like human health coaches, when you do need to go to the doctor, they can help you say, okay, ask the doctor this and this and this and ask them for that test and that test and that test to really hone in on this problem. So that when you are at the doctor’s office, you can make the best use of your time and resources.

Katie: That makes sense. And I’ll make sure in the show notes that we have links for people both to find a holistic pet health coach and also to become one if that’s something that’s a passion for them. Because I know as my kids get older, a couple of them have an interest in animals. I look at alternatives like that as opposed to the traditional routes, especially seeing that there’s a need for this. I mean, in human health especially as well. But I love that there are these alternative paths developing that come from a desire to truly serve the people in the case of human health care and the pets in this case. I think that’s really, really needed. You also mentioned telemedicine, which I didn’t realize was even an option for pets, but this is something that’s available now? You can actually consult with a vet via telemedicine?

Ruth: It’s a little tricky because the American Veterinary Medical Association has something that they want veterinarians to operate by, and that’s the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. And so, what the AVMA says is that if I, as a veterinarian, have not physically examined your pet, I’m not supposed to talk to you about your pet. And it’s, come on, there’s so much shortage of care. We have to give people access to care regardless of the way they can get it. If you can’t get a sick pet into a vet’s office for six weeks, you need something. You need someone to help support you. So the FDA relaxed the rules about telemedicine in pets. The AV may clot it back after the end of COVID. But there is a movement to help educate other veterinarians what they can and can’t do currently and help to push this forward with the AVMA because it is a service that is absolutely necessary. The Mars Pet Care Foundation, who has a huge stake in veterinary medicine in the US, estimates that by 2030, there will be a shortage of 24,000 veterinarians. And we’re having problems already when there’s no shortage, so to speak.

Katie: Wow, that’s a scary statistic. And to think that’s even just for basic access to care for pets. I haven’t experienced this directly, but I’ve heard from friends who had some like a specific issue going on with one of their pets. And it seems like a nightmare for them to be able to even get into a specialist. Like you mentioned, it could be six weeks before they could get into a vet for basic stuff. But it seems like when it’s anything specialized, it can be even longer. And these are pets that are already in crisis having that much trouble. Is that what we’re facing in the future potentially as well? And what are the options if you’re a pet owner in that position?

Ruth: It’s going to get…the other issue is that if young veterinarians are trained to operate off of a flow sheet and refer, then this is just a disaster. So that’s kind of, that’s one of the big issues is how can we get the young vets to really start re-educating themselves to take on these more complicated cases and in fact educate them in veterinary schools so that they’re able to do this with more ease.

Katie: In the veterinary world, are we seeing more interest in the holistic side? Like, for instance, I know in the health world, there is more talk of functional medicine and getting to the root cause and the holistic side. Is that happening for our pets at all yet? Or do you anticipate that becoming a trend? Or for moms listening whose kids want to maybe become a vet one day, is that worth pursuing, taking the more holistic approach and kind of root cause approach with pets? Are we seeing this trend starting to happen?

Ruth: It is starting to happen. And I think because people are seeking this care for themselves and they’re seeing it work, they’re like, well, why is my dog eating this bag of Doritos, basically. And so they’re starting to question, they’re starting to ask, ask the doctor, well, why do we do this? And the doctor in some cases will be like, well, I don’t really know. And I don’t know another option. And that’s kind of where the conversation stops. So that’s part of what has to happen is really looking at the health as multifaceted instead of diagnosis, prescription, or diagnosis, surgery, or, you know, that kind of stuff.

Katie: Got it. Yeah, that makes sense. I’m curious if this is also, I know in the physical health world, I hear from many people who sort of don’t feel like they’re getting answers and/or get into direct disagreements with their doctor or are told, for instance, like lifestyle factors don’t make a difference. Diet doesn’t make a difference. Why are you eating all of those things? Why are you taking supplements? That those things are discouraged. And you explained some great foundational principles in our first interview together that we can do for our pets to give them a better nutritional foundation. But I wonder if people, when they make that switch, do they occasionally encounter resistance from their pet’s medical team on that? And if so, any tips for advocating for that? Or is it better to just not talk about that too much or how do they navigate that?

Ruth: It just, it depends. So we’ve had, I’ve had people tell me that they just don’t talk about nutrition with the vet anymore because they just, the vet doesn’t want to deal with a conversation, and they don’t want to deal with the fight. And so there’s that response, you know, when the vet’s like, well, we need to do all of these vaccines every year. And the pet parent shows them studies from 1993 showing the duration of immunity is at least three years. The vet’s like, so you just have to really choose your battles. And the thing is, is if you’re in a rural area, there may only be one vet, and you’re going to need them at some points. So you can’t, you can’t really tick them off too much. So it’s tough. And so in many cases, like I’m sure many of your folks have told you, you just got to pick your battles. Try to drop those little pearls of wisdom and ask questions where you feel like it will be appropriate. But in many cases, we have to just kind of not say much and keep the conversation flowing.

Katie: Got it. So don’t burn the bridges, but also hopefully a lot of the things we talked about in the first episode can help people avoid unnecessary health problems and unnecessary extra visits and keep that relationship a little better that way as well.

You mentioned some of the common treatments for pets. And even though I know many of us question those things when we’re told we must do them for ourselves or our children, it seems like often we don’t extend that same questioning to our pets and the things that they’re told that they must do. And I know from at least what I’ve seen, the recommendations seem to have changed a little from even when I was a kid and had pets versus what’s recommended now for different things. What’s a good way to go about being critical thinking and analyze that and determine what’s best for our pets and when it’s worth maybe delaying or skipping something if the pet doesn’t need it?

Ruth: So one of the things I would suggest doing is if you’re concerned about some infectious disease or something like that, Google incidence map of whatever it is for dogs in my area. So that’s going to give you an idea about how much is there. And whether it’s really a valid concern or not. And then you can start making some educated choices based on what you’re seeing. And then hopefully your veterinarian’s willing to actually have a conversation with you. At least you know what you’re looking at going in there.

Katie: Got it. Makes sense. And I know we talked a lot about this in the first episode, but to what degree do you see a lot of the problems that we have in our pets being more avoidable than we potentially think that they are? Like in humans, we know that upwards of 90% of people, for instance, have some form of metabolic disorder and those are largely diet and lifestyle-based, which means they are within our control to change, which is actually great news. Is that also true in the pet world where as we learn more about this and as we implement these changes for our pets, we can sort of help them ward off some of these problems they might encounter otherwise?

Ruth: Right on. And I mean, so many of the things that you mentioned, metabolic disease, we’re finally starting to talk about that in veterinary medicine. But here’s the real kicker. I think that what’s… as early as eight weeks of age. So if this animal has never had the chance to develop a competent endocrine system, how can we expect everything to work together in harmony? Now, please don’t misunderstand me and think that I’m saying to not spay and neuter, because when I first started in veterinary medicine in Charleston, South Carolina, 45,000 animals a year came into the shelter, 38,000 were euthanized. I don’t want to go back to that. That’s horrifying. But there are things that we can do to support clearing excess, as it turns out, excess levels of luteinizing hormone from spayed and neutered pets so that we don’t have this impact of chronic disease down the path.

Katie: I’m so glad you brought that up because that was one of my next questions is, I know, especially if people get pets from breeders, that’s often recommended very, very early on. And I’ve always had that question, like, certainly you would not do that to a human child at a young age because it would have obvious hormone implications their whole life. And I understand the reasons we do recommend that for pets, but I always wonder, like, what is the optimal timing for that? And are there ways to sort of support the pets before, during, and after both that and/or any surgery that a pet might need at some point? Like, are there things we can do to give them some extra support or to help their hormones post that if needed?

Ruth: Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the things that needs to get developed over the next five years is hormone replacement therapy. But at physiologic levels for our pets. That’s not available now. So what can we do? We can feed an impeccable diet that supports liver and microbiome function and support the liver so that it is able to clear excess levels of hormone from the system. And the one that we’re actually talking about is luteinizing hormone because it will be increased at 20 to 30 times normal for spayed and neutered pets. And then they develop receptors for luteinizing hormones on tissues that should not have those receptors. And we’re talking the brain, the gut, the joints, the bones, the bone marrow, pretty much everywhere you can think of where we see chronic disease happen often. That’s where these LH receptors are. So again, if we support the body’s ability to detoxify, then we’re going to see far fewer problems. And then also we’re going to assume that these dogs and cats are already in the equivalent of andropause or menopause. And so we’re going to support their adrenal glands because that’s what’s going to make more levels of the physiologic levels of sex hormones, and we can do that with glandular support, ashwagandha, sort of all the human, all the usual suspects. So anything that you would think of that you may have had experience with to support your own hormone imbalances, many of those concepts we can apply to pets.

Katie: And it makes sense that that would be quite nuanced and very individualized to the particular pet, which is why when we met at Mindshare, I was so excited to hear about that you are basically building this whole world of health coaches for pets. Because even though I’m pretty well versed in the human health and wellness world, and I can see how some of these things do correlate, it makes sense that like for pets, they’re each also going to be so individualized and having sort of a guide to help understand that process and shorten that learning curve as pet owners is incredibly valuable. So I mentioned I’ll put the links in the show notes, but how can people find these holistic pet health coaches to work with? And/or for people who are very passionate about animals, how can they actually get involved with that? Because this seems like something like explaining how hard it is to find good veterinary care. This seems like a more and more needed resource to have available.

Ruth: Right on. And so the easiest thing is, is to go to drruthroberts.com. There’s a button up at the top that says consultation. You can click that and then you’ll see our coaches there. You can book a consultation with them right there on the site. And if you are interested in becoming a Holistic Pet Health coach, you can go to holisticpethealthcoach.com. And there’s a video about the program, some more information there. And then from there, if that’s really sparking your interest, you can hit the Apply Now button and we’ll get the process rolling for you. But, I mean, I think this is critical because the problem, too, is that for the average veterinarian, they are coming out of veterinary school with somewhere between $150,000 and $250,000 worth of debt. And I mean, that’s tough to make ends meet there. Plus, it’s taken four years in veterinary school, four years of college. So I think this is a way to get people with enough information to support pet parents and their pets and get them into a more balanced lifestyle quickly.

Katie: Yeah, and especially with those statistics you mentioned of the coming, even though it’s seemingly already here, shortage of access to good veterinary care, this seems like a really, really important thing to have available. Is there anything else that commonly comes up? I know you have a lot of experience in this world that commonly comes up that maybe pet owners don’t know, or could start researching to benefit their pets or when it comes to the veterinary side as well, like where can we begin if we don’t know about a lot of the stuff we’ve talked about to keep learning more and to make sure we’re giving our pets the best lifestyle that they can have?

Ruth: So first thing is go into your pantry and read the labels on what you’re feeding your pet, the treats you’re giving, any of the medications you may be giving. And look them up on the internet if you don’t know what they are. And then seek out sites that you trust. As I said, we’ve got a ton of information on my site. We’ve got a lot of blogs, a lot of YouTube videos. We have a Facebook group called Holistic Pet Health. There’s 28,000 members there. Lots of people helping each other out. My coaches are in there helping folks out. So there’s a terrific amount of information. When you get the information, make sure it makes sense to you. So what might make sense for one person’s dog may not make sense for your dog. It’s just like if you’re dealing with your own kids. Maybe your child has strange reactions to stuff, so you don’t want to just sort of willy-nilly try stuff. So just be cautious about the information you receive and really think it through.

Katie: Well, this has been such a fun conversation. I know I’ve learned a lot, even as a pet owner, that I feel like I’ve tried to give them as healthy of a lifestyle as possible. I’ve definitely taken notes and learned a lot in this episode. And I know you have so much more available online as well. So for anybody listening on the go, those links are all at wellnessmama.com. And Dr. Ruth, I hope we get to do more conversations in the future, especially as questions come up from these episodes and people I’m sure will have specific questions related to their pets. But I love that you are out there educating on these topics because like I said in the beginning, I feel like these are the family members I don’t talk enough about on this podcast. And I love that you gave us such an in-depth primer on starting places on how to start doing these things better, as well as resources to keep learning. Very grateful for the work that you do. And thank you so much for being here.

Ruth: Thank you so much. I’m really honored.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of The Wellness Mama Podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


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