Why Do Vets Recommend Science Diet? And 5 More Questions to Ask

I’m obviously grateful for veterinarians. They’ve saved my dog’s life.

However, I also know vets tend to push certain brands and push certain vaccinations/procedures for all dogs without presenting the actual pros and cons for the individual.

It is, of course, up to the dog owner to ask questions, but new dog owners don’t always know what kinds of questions to ask.

This post will give you a couple of ideas to consider.

Use it as a guide for asking the right questions, and please share your own examples of additional questions you think dog owners should ask.

Six Questions You May Want to Ask the Vet:

Questions to ask your dog's vet

1. Why do you recommend Science Diet? Are there healthier options for the same price?

The dog food company Hills Science Diet has done a really good job getting on the shelves of most veterinarians’ offices, but it’s not the healthiest food for most pets, especially at the price vets are charging.

When the vet recommends you buy Hills Science Diet or Hills Prescription dog food from her own office, take a look at the ingredients. Are you comfortable paying a premium price for the food?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t feed Science Diet. Just make sure it’s really the healthiest choice for your pet based on the price.

2. Is a heartworm test really necessary?

A heartworm test might be necessary for your dog if he is at risk for heartworms. It can also give you peace of mind.

However, vets do not always explain why a dog might need the test, and they never say why he might not. They recommend the test for all dogs.

Do you really need to pay $45 for a heartworm test when your dog has been on a monthly heartworm preventative for the last year? Or even his whole life?

I’m not telling you not to do a heartworm test. Just think about whether it’s really necessary and be prepared for scare tactics if you decide to opt out.

It’s also up to you if you want to give your dog a monthly heartworm preventative all year or if you decide it’s healthier for your dog to opt out of heartworm preventatives during winter months or even all year.

3. Could I pick up the medication at a pharmacy instead of here?

The answer to this question should always be YES. If not, find a new vet.

Yes, you can purchase the medication at your actual vet office if you choose. You can also choose to have many pet medications filled at pharmacies like CVS or Costco and the rest can be filled through online pet pharmacies like 1800PetMeds.

Unlike doctors with human patients, veterinarians are permitted to sell (and profit from) the drugs they prescribe.

Yes, sometimes it’s convenient to pick up the medication right then and there, but it’s usually going to cost more and the point is you have a choice to go elsewhere.

Also remember there are many different names/brands/generics of the same drug. Your dog doesn’t have to use the brand the vet carries.

The blog DOGThusiast had a great post on your right to your pet’s prescriptions (at least in California).

4. Is a dental cleaning really necessary? How urgent is it?

My 9-year-old dog was in for an exam recently, and his vet told me his teeth looked great for his age. Then, when I had Ace in for an unrelated issue at a different vet, the doctor suggested my dog have a dental cleaning after he simply glanced at Ace’s mouth. I felt he was suggesting this only because he knew my dog was 9 years old.

Yes, some dogs and cats definitely could benefit from a dental cleaning. Maybe most of them could. The point is to ask questions.

  • Is this really necessary this month?
  • Are there other options?
  • How urgent is this?
  • What if we wait six months?
  • Could I see a printed-out, detailed estimate on costs?

Also see my posts:

I can’t afford a dental cleaning for my dog and Alternatives to brushing a dog’s teeth.

5. I see you’re charging extra for my dog’s “senior” exam. What is included in the “senior” exam that’s not in a regular exam?

Once my pets hit 7 years old, all the vets I’ve taken them to have tried to charged me about $25 extra – per pet – for their yearly exams. Yes, even for my cats! Instead of the basic exam, they get a “senior exam” for a higher price but no extra tests or anything like that.

My suggestion for this is to simply call the vet out on it and ask if there is anything extra in the senior exam. If you’re paying more, you should be getting more.

My cats Scout and Beamer

6. Does my dog really need a bordetella vaccine?

It might be a good idea for your dog to get certain vaccines, and it might not. Just make sure to ask questions. Sometimes vets will recommend certain vaccines (Lyme, kennel cough/bordetella, rattle snake, etc.) without explaining the actual pros and cons.

So ask!

It’s OK to decline any vaccination or to wait to have it done at a later date. For example, the bordetella vaccine (kennel cough) may not be necessary unless you plan on boarding your dog or taking him to dog daycare.

The only vaccination required by law in most areas is rabies, but it’s still your choice whether to have your pets vaccinated or not.

Everything is your choice, not your vet’s choice. It’s the vet’s job to give recommendations and to provide you with correct information.

For more info, see:

Are too many vaccinations bad for adult dogs?
Dog vaccinations – what not to do
My cats are overdue on shots
Do dogs need flea prevention all year?

What are some other examples where we should ask a vet more questions?

19 thoughts on “Why Do Vets Recommend Science Diet? And 5 More Questions to Ask”

  1. Late last year one of my cats had some serious urinary issues and the vet put him on a prescription diet. It was Royal Canin, not Hills, but I think the same thoughts apply. It was obscenely expensive, even off Amazon.com (I think to the tune of $2+ per little can) and when I read the ingredients I nearly had a cow. First ingredient in the most expensive food my cat has ever eaten? Pork by-product. So I went against medical advice with the cat and started giving him Max Cat wet, with extra water added in and a urinary support supplement.
    I also don’t vaccinate my dog for bordatella. He even caught it last month. You know what? It wasn’t a big deal. He coughed for a week, the vet said most dogs just get over it on their own and to come back for antibiotics if he gets worse, and he just got over it. It was like a cold.

  2. For Science Diet (and any other prescription diet they carry, like Royal Canin etc), I’d also recommend examining every single ingredient on that ingredients list – right to the end, especially the end – on your own before feeding. Food, I believe, is the #1 risk and benefit to your dog’s health. Almost every kibble… even those from the top brands and those with “natural” on the label… can have questionable ingredients and some even known carcinogens. Those ingredients can suppress the immune system or bolster it, and the immune system is your dog’s best chance for not getting cancer (the #1 risk to dogs!)

    With you on bordatella – that’s a “needs research” one for sure. It’s like getting a shot for the common cold or flu. It often doesn’t cover the most risky strains either (like that one back east this year), and many other strains don’t pose much of a risk (minor cold, where a vaccine might be a bigger risk than the cold – like you mention above). I think *if* I ever gave that one, personally, it would have to be guaranteed effective for a really risky strain that was affecting local dogs *and* I was taking my dogs to where those dogs were in a high concentration. If that was the case, I’d want the vaccine. Otherwise the risk of giving the vaccine wouldn’t outweigh the benefit, I don’t think.

    FANTASTIC article!!!

  3. With Missy going to a groomers on a regular basis, I do vacinate for kennel cough because I don’t know what might be at the groomers. D.O.G. and Aeon get it too.

    Before Max passed, he was on Science Diet for Heart Failure and I did some research on Sojo’s and Honest Kitchen and I switched him off the Science Diet. I think we got another good month, out of Max before he did succum to the heart failure. I even went to our vet with the specs and I got a look like Science diet or he dies. Well he was dieing with Science Diet because of all the added things that shouldn’t be in there and he didn’t like the taste. WHich the vet warned us about in the first place. So if it doesn’t taste good, why is a dog going to eat it??

    Thankfully our vet hasn’t recommended anything, besides loosing wieght on D.O.G. So I am going to continue to enjoy and continue to get my free anal cleaning and nail trims when I go in. 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I vaccinate Ace for kennel cough too when I board him. I’d rather not, but the kennels require it. As long as I choose to board my dog I will have to keep vaccinating him. Thankfully, I don’t board him every year. It’s just here and there every 18 months or so when we travel without him. It was also nice when I fostered a dog with kennel cough and Ace didn’t catch it. I don’t know if it was the vaccine that actually protected him or other factors. But since my dog is a senior, I was glad he didn’t get sick too so I can see why you choose to vaccinate Missy for it.

      1. People who use regular day care or spend a lot of time in indoor training spaces also need to keep bordatella vaccines current.

        The weird part is that no one really knows how long it is effective. It seems that the protocol is often annual or every 6 months, when I think the vaccine only is “good” for 3 or 4 months anyway.

    1. I’ve fed my dog(s) blue buffalo for years without problem. I went to a new vet who warned me of heart failure if I was feeding my dog grain free which I’m not and said my food was far inferior to science diet. Is science diet better for a dog who needs to lose a few pounds? Or is this just another case where a vet pushes a food for profit? Thought I’d ask since you mentioned you worked in the field. Thanks

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        I believe most vets push Science Diet because they carry the brand in their office and Hill’s Science Diet donates money to veterinary schools. It’s not necessarily “better” or “worse” than other dry foods. I do not know if Science Diet is or is not better for a dog than Blue Buffalo. I would look at the ingredients in the two foods you are comparing.

  4. I have a13 year old cockerpoo in perfect health. I get the usual vaccinations for him and follow my vets instructions . My vet doesn’t recommend any particular good except for one time he recommended low residue food for a stomach issue my dog had. I have been feeding him Beneful his entire life and he has thrived. Find one they’ll eat. Special food is useless if they won’t eat it. Put yourself in your dogs place. Would you eat those dry bland nuggets everyday? I think not.

  5. Timely post for me as both of our dogs are due for their annual exams this month. These are great questions. In particular, I’ve always wondered about #2, but have never thought to ask. Thank you for the list.

  6. Mom loves our current vet as she usually is the one asking why Mom would want something done. They always want the best for us with the least cost and we like that.

  7. Great post!! It’s not just the cost you need to think about, but whether some recommendations work against your pet’s health. I’ve never heard of the extra fee for a senior pet exam, so I would definitely question that one, especially if nothing extra was being done. These are all good points to consider when visiting your vet!

  8. I’ve been struggling over vaccines, heartworm & flea meds since I got my dogs. There’s so much info on the damage of those things now that I am really cautious! I’ve decided to vaccinate every 3 years, a dose of heartworm prevention in the spring & fall & this year I am going to try natural flea prevention. Fingers crossed!

    Also, I just brushed their teeth for the first time last night when I noticed some tarter. I hope I can keep up with it! They get raw bones & very high quality kibble too.

    I don’t much listen to vet’s advice for general care. For medical stuff I would. And it varies vet to vet I think. My vet did an awesome job stitching up Kaya’s leg but couldn’t solve Zoey’s skin issues to save their life. I’d always get a second opinion if it was something serious.

  9. 2. I actually disagree here. I believe that annual testing is important even while on preventive. Firstly, forgetting a dose does happen. Secondly, sometimes the preventive might not work (such as in cases of the resistant strain found in some regions.

    It is what American Heartworm Society recommends.

    “Annual testing is necessary, even when dogs are on heartworm prevention year-round, to ensure that the prevention program is working. Heartworm medications are highly effective, but dogs can still become infected. If you miss just one dose of a monthly medication—or give it late—it can leave your dog unprotected. Even if you give the medication as recommended, your dog may spit out or vomit a heartworm pill—or rub off a topical medication. Heartworm preventives are highly effective, but not 100 percent effective. If you don’t get your dog test, you won’t know your dog needs treatment.”
    https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm-basics

    Heartworm is one of the things I wouldn’t want to mess with.

    4. Dental cleaning is a question. It can happen that even with good looking teeth, things are going on underneath the surface. Happened to JD. So while cleaning itself may or may not be needed, oral x-rays every now and then are a good idea. Of course, if a vet clinic offers cleaning but doesn’t do x-rays, that’s just nonsense.

    5. I know that senior blood panel has extras on it. Though our vet would always let us know when the lab had a special on that. If the blood work is part of the price, the extra blood values might be the reason.

  10. I’m very fortunate to have a vet that just asks “do you think Laika needs bordetella” rather than adding it on or telling me I should have it. I remember about 5 years ago we had to take my former dog Carter to the emergency vet when he had Giardia. I know emergency visits costs more but when I came back home and started looking over the detailed list of what they charged for I was in shock – so yes having a great veterinarian you trust and that can be honest is awesome.

  11. Part of it is having a vet you really like and trust and are able to easily have these types of discussions with. For vaccinations or hw tests, I often go to a vaccine clinic at Petco etc. But for any issue, I drive an hour away to see my vet. There are probably 100 vet offices between my house and her office but she is the one I know and trust. It can be hard to find a great vet but it is SO worth it.

  12. Sandy Weinstein

    sorry to disagree, i would never feed my dog/cat Science Diet. my oldest when she was a puppy would not eat so the vet finally gave her prescription canned Science Diet. i read the ingredients. when i saw by products, i called the company and asked what was meant by this and what was in it. they said everything, i asked what do you mean everything, beaks, poo,
    trash, etc. they said yes. i returned the case the next day and began cooking for my dog. the vets get a kick back from companies. even my breeder said as soon as my youngest got out of the vet school, to get her started on her reg food again. it is trash, sorry to disagree. as for the vaccinations, i only do what i need to do, only what is required by state. i dont do Bordetella b/c my oldest had severe reactions and had to be at the vet school. she almost died. i get my dogs titered. when they get older, i will not do any other vaccines either. i stopped all vaccines on Evie a few yrs ago when she got to be abt 14. i will be doing the same for my other girls as well. my dog breeder does not do any vaccines when she has finished showing the dogs. we are just putting more poison in their bodies which may contribute to all of the increased cases of cancer.

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