Some Veterinarians Sell Unnecessary Shots, Tests to Make Extra Money, Says Former Vet

Andrew Jones, a veterinarian for 17 years, says upselling is common.

ByABC News
November 21, 2013, 1:27 PM

Nov. 22, 2013— -- For most pet owners, man's best friend is another member of the family and deserves the best care, but a former veterinarian says that some vets, out to make an extra buck, will pad the bill with unnecessary shots, tests and procedures.

Andrew Jones worked as a veterinarian for 17 years. He left the industry after a dispute with his medical board over marketing issues, and wrote a book called, "Veterinary Secrets: Revealed."

"I'm clearly not making friends within the veterinarian industry, but I feel I'm saying things that need to be said, that aren't being said," Jones said.

As a young veterinarian working at a clinic in British Columbia, Jones said he got an early lesson about upselling after telling a pet owner whose dog had a lump to just monitor it. At the time, Jones said he was fairly certain the dog's lump was a benign fatty tumor, but said the clinic owner quickly clued him in on the effectiveness of using the dreaded "c" word: cancer.

"The practice owner... said, 'no, that's not how you do it... what you need to do is get that dog back in... It's going to be much more profitable for the practice,'" Jones said. "He said that it might be cancer. And it's-- usually the 'c' word, pet owners get really concerned and they say, 'do whatever you need to make sure it's not serious.'"

Throughout his career, Jones said he discovered a dark reality about some veterinarians in the United States and Canada, including himself.

"They feel that pressure of, 'I've got these overhead costs to make,' and that's where your judgment gets caught," he said.

Jones said that, under pressure from bosses, he ordered services that were not needed. He said "no question" he would have been fired if he hadn't done as his bosses asked.

"If I didn't meet this certain target, then yeah, my employment was at threat."

But Jones said even after he owned his own clinic, at times, he continued upselling.

"There are things... that I did as a practice owner, where in hindsight, probably didn't need to be done," he said. "For instance, seeing a dog that has a little bit of tartar... then I might say, 'I think your dog should have a dental cleaning'... It's obviously more profitable for the practice."

To see if other veterinarians pushed unneeded services, as Jones claimed, ABC News conducted an undercover investigation at vet clinics in New York and New Jersey, using two different dogs, Maeby, a 5-year-old mutt, and Honey, a 5-year-old pitbull.

To make sure Maeby and Honey were healthy canines, their owners brought them to Dr. Rebecca Campbell, a well-respected Manhattan veterinarian, for thorough exams. After Campbell gave the dogs a clean bill of health, they were taken to other vet clinics for a routine check-up to see if further tests or treatments were recommended.

Most places found Maeby to be healthy. One New York vet said that except for a "tiny bit of tartar" on her teeth, everything else checked out. But a veterinarian at one New Jersey clinic also noticed that bit of tartar and recommended the pet owner have Maeby come in for an annual teeth cleaning -- for dogs that means it is performed under general anesthesia.

"She could have a lot of worse stuff going on and I'd never see it unless she was under anesthesia," the vet told Maeby's owner.

Then on Maeby's exam report, the vet had indicated she had "dental disease." The cost of that recommended teeth cleaning under general anesthesia was $250.

Jones said animal dental treatments are "the big upsell."

"Very much on the McDonalds' equation of, 'would you like fries with that,'" he said.