DogtorRx from Pet Equinox–Style without substance and a model of snake oil marketing

Even when I’m not working, I’m still a veterinarian and a skeptic, and I tend to notice things related to those subjects wherever I am. In this case, I was stopped at a traffic light when something caught my eye, and I noticed the car next to me was covered with advertising for a product called DogtorRx. Along with the name and logo for the product was a website (petequinox.com) and a list of conditions presumably treated by DogterRx:

Frail Geriatric Dogs
Regulates Cortisol
Dog Joints & Ligaments
Dog Separation Anxiety
Pet Skin Hot Spots
Pet Fur Shedding

When I had the time to investigate further, I was not shocked to find a web site with all the usual warning signs of quackery including:

Sweeping yet vague claims of miraculous benefits and guarantees of absolutely no side effects

Sloppy and misleading use of scientific terms

Claims of scientific research and proof backed up only by opinions and anecdotes, not published clinical studies

Collections of meaningless testimonials from customers and veterinarians

A human product from the same manufacturer with the same ingredient but marketed for entirely different uses (primarly as a “natural” alternative to anabolic steroids for atheletes)

And many others…

What Is It?
The web site is quite vague, but here is how they describe the product:

The natural growth factors in DOGtor Rx’s Formula are comprised of clusters of low molecular weight oligopeptides, which are quickly and easily assimilated and transported through the bloodstream to their specific receptor sites. Each of these growth factors has unique, bio-stimulating properties…

The active ingredient in DogtorRx is fertilized chicken egg extract, which contain heterologous oligopeptides that are able to cross the gastrointestinal mucosa. These peptides have a demonstrated adaptogenic effect and act at TWO levels:

  • Normalize the adrenal cortex activity (androgens, glucocorticoids, mineral-corticoids).
  • Cellular/tissue level (exert cyto-stimulating, cyto-protective and anti-oxidative properties).

Fancy and impressive language, but unfortunately largely meaningless and unsupported by any documentation. “Oligopeptides” is simply any protein with between two and twenty amino acid constituents, and this say nothing whatsoever about its function. Proteins are normally destroyed in the stomach by normal digestion, which is why you can drink insulin or rattlesnake venom without effect, but you will experience significant effects if you inject them into your body. So the claim that the ingredients in this supplement can be absorbed orally and work medical magic is an extraordinary one that ought to be backed up by extraordinary evidence. Nowhere, however, is any such evidence provided on the site for the veterinary or human products.

The site also makes use of the appeal to authority fallacy by pointing out that the inventor of the egg extract and the process used to manufacture it is a legitimate scientist.

Dr. Gheorghe Mihaescu, M.D. is an international expert in such fields as Experimental Immunology in Oncology, Steroid Biochemistry, Radio-assay Methodologies, and Geriatric Nutrition. Dr. Mihaescu has authored 32 published scientific papers in the aforementioned fields. He also holds 15 invention patents, which have been recognized and prized by the European scientific community at the prestigious Brussels and Geneva Conventions.

After 10 years of research at the Department of Nuclear Medicine at the Institute of Physical and Engineering Research in Bucharest, Romania, Dr. Mihaescu and his team were the first scientists in the world to demonstrate (in vivo) that embryonic peptides extracted according to his own technology are able to cross the intestinal membrane to act beneficially as growth factors, without producing toxicity or immunological side effects. This amazing accomplishment led to the invention of  HumanofortTM

Unfortunately, the credentials of the inventor don’t prove the invention works. Linus Pauling, for example, was a brilliant scientist, and arguably a really good person who won a Nobel Prize for chemistry and a Nobel Peace Prize. He was also spectacularly and obstinately wrong about the health benefits of megadoses of Vitamin C.  There is no more reason in this case to simply take Dr. Mihauscu’s word for the miraculous benefits of chicken embryo protein supplements.

Does It Work?
Apart from the implausibility of the underlying idea, that proteins extracted from chicken eggs can be ingested orally and somehow have wide-ranging benefits and absolutely no side effects, is there any real scientific evidence for the claimed benefits and the assertion that the product has been scientifically proven? Shockingly, no.

A number of research studies are referred to in the advertising materials for both the veterinary and the human product.

Effects of Oral Administered Humanofort on Steroid Hormones Level and on Oxidative Stress” by Prof. Gh. Mihaescu, T. Stoica, F. Oancea, Medicine Pharmacy University „Carol Davila” Bucharest, Romania

Oxidative Stress decrease in Old Age Patients Treated with Drugs Containing Embryonic Peptides” by Professors Gh. Mihaescu, O. Mihaescu, I. Mihaescu, National Institute for Geriatrics and Gerontology „Ana Aslan”, Bucharest, Romania

Clinical Trial of Humanofort Effect on Overweight Endocrinology Institute „C. I. Parhon” Bucharest, Romania

The human studies mostly utilized individuals older than 35. According to the authors who reported the results, the fertilized chicken egg extract works as a general tonic and stimulates the adrenal gland, normalizing its function.

DOGtorRx™ formula is having profound effects on over 66% of the 65+ canine and feline participants in an ongoing clinical study at the Holistic Pet Care clinic, New Jersey.

In 2004 I conducted a small study at the Belmont Pet Hospital to support the safety and efficacy of the DOGtorRx™ formula. The study focused on aging dogs with orthopedic challenges and dogs with suspected or diagnosed Cushing’s disease.

A study involving 23 human subjects was completed in Ohio June of 2003. The results were impressive and confirm many results and observations made in the Romanian studies. A summary letter from the Doctor who conducted the study follows:[but it doesn’t]

Twenty-eight healthy male rugby players (age 20-32) volunteered to participate in a 21 day clinical trial.

I was only able to find two studies that had actually been published anywhere, and none of them were among those referenced here. This suggests that the rest are either uncontrolled and unpublished pilot studies or even “try-it-and-see” use misrepresented as a “clinical trial,” or that the manufacturer is outright lying.

The two reports (1,2) I did locate were from a small, uncontrolled human study published by Dr. Mihaescu in the Romanian Journal of Internal Medicine. Subjects took the human version of the supplement and blood samples were taken, apparently fishing for some difference that could be attributed to the supplement (without the full text of the studies, it is impossible to determine the exact methodology). What was reported was a lowering of cholesterol (though it is unclear whether the initial values were normal or abnormal: “the initial values of the biochemical parameters were shifted towards pathological range. Following the administration of EP…cholesterol (total and LDL) were shifted towards the physiological limits for their age.”) The levels of a growth factor, IGF-1, and insulin were also apparently altered after the subjects took the supplement.

So that’s it. One small and poorly controlled study that showed the human product might reduce cholesterol levels and alter the levels of a few other substances in people. This, and the inevitable testimonials, are all that’s given to justify claiming the product can treat or prevent glandular disease, arthritis, allergies and other skin disease, and separation anxiety and even prolong life, all without any possible side effects! This sort of marketing in the absence of any meaningful scientific evidence defines a snake oil.

Bottom Line
The marketing of DogterRx is a perfect example of the deceptive, pseudoscientific advertising that characterizing quack remedies. The underlying theory, that mysterious “oligopeptides” extracted through a secret, patented process from chicken eggs can magically survive normal digestion and treat a wide range of unrelated medical problems with absolutely no risks is implausible in the extreme. And the sweeping, vague claims of benefits without risks, combined with the complete absence of any relevant scientific evidence to support them, is nothing less than fraud (ethically at least, if not legally since the usual Quack Miranda Warning is provided in small print at the bottom of the web page).

The testimonials provided are, as always, great advertising and useless as proof of any of these claims, and the lack of any published studies to confirm the assertions that these claims are “scientifically proven” is as perfect an example of snake oil pseudoscience as one could find. It is impossible, of course, to conclude from the complete absence of evidence that the product doesn’t have any of the claimed benefits. But it is also impossible to prove, without any evidence, the President isn’t actually a space alien in disguise, and ultimately the burden of proof is rightfully on those making and profiting from wild claims. Without real scientific evidence, spending your money on a product like this is the medical equivalent of going to Vegas and hoping you get lucky. Surely our pets deserve better?

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11 Responses to DogtorRx from Pet Equinox–Style without substance and a model of snake oil marketing

  1. Rita says:

    Even when I’m not working, I’m still vegan, and I tend to notice stuff (like the workings of the entire bloody human world) which means that some poor bugger is getting it in the neck so that the powerful of the earth can exhibit their ruthlessness:
    “The active ingredient in DogtorRx is fertilized chicken egg extract”………Sigh!

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Elaine Griffin says:

    I discovered this supplement while searching for a natural cure to my dog Mojo’s age-related health conditions (14yrs of age). Mojo had all the signs of Cushings. I did not want to put him on any harsh drugs. I found this alternative supplement and placed an order. I did not place Mojo on it immediately as I was also sceptical. He progressively got worse and by Xmas 2011 we thought we may have to put him down. He was coughing, panting, drinking and peeing excessively, hair fell out on this hind quarters and he could no longer climb stairs due to muscle weakness and joint issues. Finally I gave him the supplement as a last alternative and to my delight, he improved immensely in the first month of use. It has been about 9 months and he has been going for 2 walks a day. He is much more active, Cushings symtoms subsided, his hair grew back and he even has a new brother to keep him company. I encourage you to try it if your dog has any signs of health decline, it really helps. The fact of the matter is DOGtor X continues to give Mojo a better quality of life! You can call it snake oil and words are easy to throw around. You say there is not enough proof, well Mojo’s improvement is all the proof I need, and before you go discounting what you cannot back up yourself scientifically, sometime you have to have faith because in Mojo’s case that’s all that we had left and he has had 9 wonderful months since his use of Dogtor x. Thank you.

  3. skeptvet says:

    as I was also sceptical

    Nonsense. You didn’t ask for any proof but tried it because you had an irrational fear of the real medicine that treats Cushing’s disease. Now, whether he actually has Cushng’s or not (and it sounds like you never had him properly diagnosed), you believe he got better because of what you did (which is the same kind of argument that kept us treating people with blood loss by draining blood out of them for thousands of years). The word you’re looking for here is “credulous,” not skeptical.

  4. Lisa Bonney says:

    Well I’m going to Vegas! I certainly do believe my dog deserves every chance I can give her, and, that’s why I’m going to try my luck with DogtorRx (recommended by my Veterinarian by the way) as I’m not giving up on her yet. Oh, and I’ll spend my money on whatever I damn well want, which includes donations to charities, is that wasteful aswell? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

  5. skeptvet says:

    While I understand your desire to do everything you can for your companion, I’m afraid this may blind you to the fact that when rolling the dice you can just as easily make things worse as better. There is ample evidence of unproven therapies hurting patients and making outcomes worse. And the “Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it” approach is very unreliable way to make decisions. Some people seek to heal illness through ritual animal sacrifice:
    http://www.pbs.org/splithorn/shamanism1.html

    Animal Sacrifice
    Shaman attempt to heal illnesses through offerings to the spirits, such as with meals or with a sacrifice of a chicken, pig, cow or other animal. In Hmong culture, the souls of sacrificial animals are connected to human souls. Therefore a shaman uses an animal’s soul to support or protect his patient’s soul.

    How open-minded are you to this practice? Do you need to try it yourself to have an opinion?

    Obviously, you have the right to choose whatever product you want. I don’t see anywhere I said otherwise. You also have the right to all the facts and to be able to make a fully informed decision. The company will only tell you things that encourage you to by their product. I have provided information and a perspective they won’t give you so you can make an informed, free choice. It’s a shame you seem to think their marketing is fine but you find my providing an alternative perspective offensive.

  6. Tommy Picchi says:

    I am big believer in holistic and natural supplements and medicine not only for me but for my pets as well. I’ve decided to educate my self and have learned much from alternative treatments for my pets. A week ago my 8yr old Rottie Bear started limping and subsequently starting crying, which he’s never done. I immediately took him to the vet and had flashbacks of my last Rottie that ended having bone cancer. Thankfully after full X-rays he doesn’t have bone cancer except that they found a calcium deposit (arthritis) in his front right arm, which is where his limp and pain was coming from. The Dr. prescribed Deramaxx for the pain and I immediately researched the pain med and not to my surprise, it’s very toxic and there has been very bad reactions even death because of it. I reached out to a friend who’s a big advocate of alternative medicine and was referred to Dogtor RX because what she’s seen in do for her dogs. That being said, Bear has only been on Dogtor RX for the last 8 days, since diagnosis and he’s not crying, limping, panting and restless. In fact he’s back to playing fetch for at least an hour each day. That’s all the proof I need, Unfortunately most Vets like human doctors don’t look for the cure but look to treat the symptoms. Say what you will but I’m a satisfied, happy and referring customer of Dogtor RX. Also, my cousins Pitbull has to be put down because of the Rimydyl that was prescribed for her arthritis. It destroyed her liver.

  7. skeptvet says:

    Yet another miracle anecdote. Here’s a reminder why this doesn’t actually mean what you think it means.

  8. v.t. says:

    It always boggles the mind when alties make the claim that conventional docs and vets never find or treat to cure. As if holistic practitioners have special knowledge and practice in curing common and not-so-common diseases using untested, ineffective and unreliable alternatives.

  9. Vogel says:

    The Altoids are masters of idly watching, and taking credit for, regression to the mean. If a condition improves, it’s held up as validation of alt-med; if it doesn’t, it’s because no two people are alike right? (wrong!); and if a condition gets worse, it’s dismissed as either (a) random coincidence or (b) the “detox” effect. That last one cracks me up the most; if you want to have a good laugh, challenge one of these altoids who invoke the “detox effect” to name an actual toxin — like a deer in headlights.

  10. v.t. says:

    But, Vogel, they’re environmental toxins, didn’t ya know that? (you know, like processed foods, pesticides, evil medications, GMO’s, and the like, everything’s environmental, whether it is or isn’t)

  11. Vogel says:

    Ha! Where it gets interesting is when you try to pin them down to name any specific toxin, because then then claim is something that is either plausible and supported by science or it isn’t. Saying that snakeoil X “flushes toxins” is meaningless, but it’s another thing entirely to claim that the product boosts elimination of a specific compound(s) like lead, mercury, dioxin, or a drug/metabolite, because the elimination pathways are well known and its a routine matter to measure such “detoxification” in the research lab.

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