The University of Tennessee School of Veterinary Medicine is one of the most noticeable academic institutions that appears to have been co-opted for the promotion of pseudoscientific veterinary medicine (along with Louisiana State and the University of Florida). I have written previously about the Integrative Medicine program at UT and the $10,000 grant the college received from the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF) explicitly for promoting (not studying) alternative therapies. Now, the university has presented its Distinguished Alumni award to two self-proclaimed “holistic” veterinarians. And these doctors were not honored despite their promotion of mystical pseudoscience but specifically because of it:
Dr. Marc Smith of Natchez Trace Veterinary Services and Dr. Casey Damron of White Oak Animal Hospital were recently honored with the “2012 Distinguished Alumni” Award at UT College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, TN, for the creation of Pet-Tao Pet Foods and their service in the field of Alternative Veterinary Medicine.
Curious as to what about the creation of a pet food company might have merited such an award, I took a look at the Pet-Tao Foods web site. It is unashamedly dedicated to an approach to veterinary nutrition and health founded in the mystical nonsense of so-called Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM).
Our diets are truly “holistic” because each and every ingredient is chosen according to two Eastern theories that define the term “holistic” – Yin/ Yang and The Five element theory. No other pet food company has this unique perspective, experience, or credibility.
The theory [of TCVM] states that all naturally occurring events in the universe have two opposite aspects: male & female, up & down, hot & cold, dark & light. These opposing aspects are interdependent, dynamic and constantly struggling to maintain balance with each other…Food is a powerful determinant in the body’s struggle to maintain health and the balance of Yin and Yang.
In Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, the five element theory explains the intricate relationships between the five naturally occurring elements in the environment: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth…When using this theory in regard to foods, one can control how organs function in the body. For example, a geriatric dog with increased liver enzymes should be fed LIVER according to the 5 element theory. Feeding liver promotes liver function and healing while re-establishing balance of the liver with respect to other organs.
In keeping with this fanciful and completely unscientific approach to nutrition, the company does not produce foods for specific nutritional needs or medical conditions as understood in scientific medicine, but for balancing Yin & Yang and the Five Elements. This allows them to recommend a limited set of diets for any medical conditions regardless of the cause or the specific nutritional composition of the diet based entirely on their assessment of the degree of imbalance in these mystical principles identified in a TCVM evaluation (which is itself a complex and completely subjective evaluation of the tongue, the pulse, and other physical and historical factors according to rules based entirely on tradition and trial-and-error). The company’s diets include:
- Harmony (Balanced) – No health problems, IBD.
- Chill (Yin Diet) – Yin deficiency, panting, pacing at night, restlessness, cool seeking, hot environments, over-energetic dogs.
- Zing (Blood Diet) – Blood deficiency, dry flaky skin, cracked dry footpads, anemia.
- Blaze (Qi Diet) – Qi deficiency, tires Easily, warm seeking, chronic diarrhea, cold environments.
- Soothe – Limited ingredient cooling diet.
It is probably unnecessary to point out that there is no scientific evidence to support the practice of selecting food ingredients to balance Yin/Yang or the Five Elements. This is an entirely mythological folk model similar, and likely historically related, to the Greek system of Humoral Medicine that led to the now mostly abandoned practices of bloodletting, purging, and other methods of “balancing” the vital humours to manage health and disease.
The fact that veterinarians who are thoroughly trained in scientific medicine and who are often, at least in my experience, practicing perfectly competent science-based medicine, are able to believe in such nonsense and use it in their clinical work is a bit of an embarrassment to the profession. However, the fact that a mainstream university research and teaching institution sees the promotion of such mystical anachronisms as worthy of lauding with an award for “excellence” is much worse. This lends a thoroughly undeserved aura of legitimacy to ideas that belong on the rubbish heap of medical history along with the treatment of infection by bloodletting and of epilepsy by application of leeches.