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Teamwork: The evolution of the veterinarian

Pets were once a simple companion to have in the household, but now they are a key part of the family. We spoke to President of the World Small Veterinarian Association (WSAVA), Walt Ingwersen, who has worked in the profession for over 30 years, to understand how global pet-ownership and the role of the veterinarian has changed.

How have you personally, and from your position as the President of the WSAVA, seen the veterinary world change?

The changes have been quite dramatic and from my perspective the most compelling has been the changes in technology. So, from having been fortunate to have an X-ray machine to then having an ultrasound, and now having access to MRI/CatScans in private practice, the advancements in technology available have been significant.

The other big area is access to information, both from a veterinary and pet owner perspective. With the internet you can gather information at the click of a button, but it’s not always good information. It’s managing that information, I think, that has become relevant from a veterinary/client/patient relationship perspective, particularly the influence of Dr.Google. Yet, at the same time we recognize the benefits of online resources, and it’s great that owners now want to be educated. It’s just a matter of ensuring that education is appropriate and respects the needs of that specific pet, and science.

How has the human and pet bond changed over the years?

When I grew up and started a family, the pattern was usually that you might meet your spouse, get married, have kids, get a dog. Well, now, it’s quite different. Now, it’s meet somebody, get a dog, live together, then maybe get married, and then have a family.

So, the pets and their involvement in the family have become quite different. They’re earlier in that dynamic and a key component in that dynamic. Clearly people now think of pets now as family members.

And so, pets have changed that relationship dynamic. It has also raised some concerns and issues based on that emotional bond because people want to do the best for their pets. That being said, the development, expansion and progress of veterinary medicine, specialty care and what can now be done for their pets often leads to restrictions in accessing this advanced care, often due to the associated costs.

I’ve been a firm believer that we should manage that rift appropriately and avoid the emotional trauma that at times can come with making the right medical decisions for their pet through pet insurance.

And then of course the other big change is the progression of the One Health movement. I think veterinarians have embraced it well but it would be wonderful to see other key components of the umbrella embrace it with the same degree of passion.

With the change in relationship between owners and their pets, how has this impacted the relationship between pet owners and veterinarians?

The veterinary/client/patient relationship used to be a very top-down one. Whatever the veterinarian said was gospel. Now, with better access to more information, it’s clear that pet owners come prepared to consultations with their vet to ensure that they can put that into context with what the veterinarian says. So I think that the veterinary/client/patient relationship has become more of a team-based approach, which I think is wonderful. And that team-based approach from within the veterinary clinic has also changed. Where it, again, used to be very much veterinary top down but now, the veterinary healthcare team is the centre of that service provision.

How has pet ownership changing globally?

From a companion, a veterinary care perspective, and from a pet ownership perspective, I think the dynamic is changing quite dramatically. Pet ownership used to be a component of the developed world rather than the developing world, where quite often pets were kept as working animals. Now, with the burgeoning middle classes in a lot of developing countries, pets are becoming a far more important component and as such their care is much more of a driving factor in those regions. But clearly, the human/animal bond seems to be a globally common perspective that’s growing and being celebrated.

With this in mind, what is the key vision of the WSAVA?

Our vision is for all companion animals worldwide to receive veterinary care that ensures their optimal health and welfare. How we will achieve this aim is by advancing the health and welfare of animals worldwide through an educated, committed and collaborative global meeting of veterinary peers.

We also have regional CE, where we provide continuing education on the ground in various developing parts of the world, and that’s sponsored both through industry but also through member association sponsors.

Then, from an animal welfare point of view, we’re in the process of putting together animal welfare standard guidelines that should be applicable globally.

We also have developed guidelines for a number of common clinical problems (e.g., proper nutrition, vaccination protocols, pain management, and dental care) that provide guidance for all our members on appropriate standards of care and form the basis of many of our educational efforts.

We are an association of associations, so our members are member associations that are focused on companion animal medicine, generally national bodies that do so in respect of regions of the world. We currently have 105 member associations, and collectively they represent over 200,000 companion animal veterinarians globally, which we are very proud of.

Walt Ingwersen is the President of the World Small Veterinarian Association (WSAVA), and a companion animals veterinarian. For the past 12 years he has been working with Boehringer Ingelheim Canada Ltd, on the Companion Animal team. He has published over 20 scientific articles and was a strong voice in creating standards for microchipping technology in pets in North America.