On the Dr. Pol Controversy, From a Fellow Country Vet

Dr Pol declared "negligent"

Screen shot from an episode of The Incredible Dr. Pol, on Nat Geo Wild.

Editor’s Note: The following article originally appeared on Pets Adviser in 2012. It has become one of our most widely read (and debated) posts of all time. Recently, a new complaint was filed with the Michigan state licensing board by a fellow veterinarian against Dr. Pol; the investigation is ongoing.

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A few months ago, my technician said, “Hey, are you watching this vet on TV? How the heck is he getting away with this stuff?”


She was talking about The Incredible Dr. Pol on Nat Geo Wild. A lot of my colleagues feel the show should actually be named The Incompetent Dr. Pol.

Since it’s out in the news that Jan Pol, DVM, has been found to be negligent by the Michigan Veterinary Board, the Dr. Pol controversy is in full swing.

The incredible, or incompetent, Dr. Pol (depending on which camp you’re in) is a mixed-animal veterinarian in rural Michigan, and a new star in the world of reality television. He is almost 71, practicing just the way he did when he came from the Netherlands, with a Dutch veterinary degree, in 1970. He was a large-animal vet and practiced exclusively on cows for years.

Based on his bio and his TV show, I have no idea where or when he tried to become proficient in small-animal medicine. The show takes him through his long days, out on farms treating horses and cows, and back in the clinic, seeing small animals.

Low Prices Should Not Mean Substandard

Many, many people who watch the show love Dr. Pol because they think “old-school” means caring about animals and not charging a lot of money to do what he loves.

Well, I’m a bit old-school, love my patients, and my clients’ pocketbooks are never far from my mind. In terms of pricing, I have been told by a number of veterinary business consultants that my prices are too low.

Be that as it may, my gripe with Dr. Pol is that “low prices” never has to mean substandard care or unnecessary deaths. Dr. Pol may look like the wonderful ol’ family farm vet, but his medicine is antiquated.

He could be compassionate and considerate of folks’ finances, leave all the bells and whistles behind, but understand that animals have a pain center and surgery requires clean gloves.

Let me give you some examples from the show:

  • A dog’s tail is amputated on an exam table without proper anesthesia or sterile technique.
  • A dog’s femoral head (top of rear leg bone) is cut off without proper pain medication and sterile technique.
  • A mauled puppy is placed in a cage and dies.
  • A dog that probably had a ball stuck in its GI tract dies without the benefit of hydration or surgery.
  • A Boston terrier’s eye is removed without sufficient anesthesia, pain meds, sterile technique or intubation (anesthesia delivered via a tube down the trachea so this brachycephalic dog can breathe.) They have enough trouble breathing when they’re awake!

Those are just a few sad cases that should not be happening in 2012. Dr. Pol’s fans believe his kind of veterinary medicine is acceptable because he isn’t a high-faluttin’ city vet who costs a ton of money.

Well, please take this from me, a non-high-faluttin’ country vet: Basic standard veterinary practices don’t have to cost a lot of money. I am not advocating that every animal needs state-of-the-art monitoring systems, referrals to expensive veterinary centers, etc. But every animal, if not in a war zone or undeveloped country, deserves proper anesthesia and pain control, sterile surgical technique and, most important of all, a chance at survival.

The last time I checked, rural Michigan was not a third-world country. Neither is the Netherlands.

Cheap Can Mean Big Profit Margin

Let’s take one example, Dr. Pol’s tail amputation. He performed a surgery without minimal acceptable sterile technique, with limited anesthesia and pain medication.

Could he have done this a better way and still just charge a tail, not an arm and a leg? You bet. Here’s how:

  1. Anesthetize the dog on an anesthetic machine, providing oxygen and respiratory support. Cost of a short procedure? Less than $50.
  2. Use sterile technique. Cost? One large latte. Or a Danish.
  3. Dispense proper pain medication. Cost? Two large lattes. (Maybe in rural Michigan we should replace the “latte” with the cost of a Budweiser and a hot dog.)

Basic anesthetic and cleanliness protocols are not bells and whistles, or hoity-toity veterinary medicine. Every pet deserves a chance to have pain controlled and not develop a nasty infection because of a dirty surgical procedure.

Do you know what old-time practitioners like Dr. Pol usually do? They cut corners on safety and still charge the clients enough to make a nice profit.

The clients don’t know any better. They think they’re getting a “deal” from the friendly old no-nonsense veterinarian, while Ol’ Doc Dirty Hands is skipping all the way to the bank.

A worse case may be that old-timers like Dr. Pol really don’t know any better. Perhaps they have no idea that standard of care is not more expensive. Ignorance may be a worse offense.

Dr. Pol’s age is no excuse. I have colleagues in their advanced years who have kept up with the changing face of veterinary medicine, and are role models and mentors for younger vets. Combine their quest for new knowledge with their years of experience and they are great assets to the profession.

Finally, an Official Reprimand

A complaint was filed against Dr. Pol by a client in 2010 for giving poor advice and misdiagnosing dead puppies via ultrasound. The client had made multiple phone calls to Dr. Pol, complaining that the bitch had passed her due date and was exhibiting a vaginal discharge.

The phone calls were not documented, something all veterinarians can be guilty of. But when Dr. Pol and his associate performed an ultrasound days later, Dr. Pol claimed he saw movement from the puppies when, it seems, the 10 puppies were already dead. Dr. Pol and his veterinary associates were found to be negligent, fined, placed on probation and ordered to complete some continuing education. His TV network has apparently tried to cover this up.

This is what the Michigan Board had to say:

“Pol’s failure to accurately read the ultrasound, perform a C-section, and to maintain records on Mocha was evidence of negligence, or failure to exercise due care.”

The board found that Dr. Pol had failed to conform to minimum standards of acceptable and prevailing practice for the health profession. Nat Geo Wild tried to spin this, stating that the board’s fine was for an “administrative complaint, not malpractice or misdiagnosis.”

We veterinarians have a tough job. Sounds like I’m having a little pity party, but it’s true. We need to do the best job possible diagnosing and treating the pet, explaining all options to the pet owner, and adhering to a professional standard of care, all while being transparent and honest with the owner about costs, prognosis and so on.

Whew! No wonder I’m exhausted after doing those very things 10 to 20 times a day. So when someone like Dr. Pol is on television representing the profession in a substandard professional light, it makes many of us veterinarians sad.

From Around the Web

  • Elizabeth Huizar Miller

    Dr Pol reminds me of my old Vet Dr Goodwin of Vista CA., he was very old school and was a large and small animal vet. Dr goodwin was also a judge for the local fair in Mariposa California. As a Certified Surgical Technologist, I can tell you no all surgeries on humans are preformed under general anesthesia. I am sure that animals like humans some surgeries and most surgeries this is not necessary. I guess the big question would be is if the animal feeling any pain during the surgery? As always if any of Dr Pol’s patients/parents felt their his care was sub standard then it is their choice to find another VET. As one who does work on a surgical team for humans I can ask this: Does every VET who does surgery on an animal have a full functional OR suite like for humans and if not why not? Maybe surgery is that different for animals than humans

  • smag

    Kathy Law H. ..We get it, you don’t like him~your better/smarter/wiser~We hear you, How could we not? You seem to comment on quite alot. (Your not using T.V. to get noticed~But you sure are using this site to get noticed…And I’m sure you have clients who haven’t been happy with the care you have given too?? Enough Said.

    • Kathy Law Huenefeld

      This is actually a blog started by a vet for vets. I am going to remove my comments as I thought I was on a site for vets, not a site for fans. The veterinary community as a whole does not support their profession being portrayed this way; it has been addressed in many veterinary only periodicals. I have earned my opinion with 28 years of experience in small and large animal medicine; I am also married to a veterinarian. If you are a professional person then you know what is acceptable behavior in your profession. It’s fine to be “entertained” but not by someone who is not “incredible” at his job. Anyone who thinks it is ok to throw 2 fully anesthetized animals in the back of a pickup to ride home (and the owner said it was a 45 minute trip) doesn’t truly love animals. Enough said.

  • David Reich

    This guy has been in practice for 40 years and I think he knows a thing or
    two. I think every vet who has complained about Dr. Pol should ride along
    with him for a week, most of you guys wouldn’t even last that long!! Then come
    back and have your say! I saw the episode about the little dog that was mauled!
    I think his explanation for his actions seemed plausible to me! The little dog
    was in shock so he couldn’t administer anesthesia or the dog may die! He gave
    the dog pain medicine and steroids to hopefully reduce the swelling and put him
    in a cage with a heating pad to hopefully raise its temperature so he could
    operate! You make it sound like he just threw the poor animal in cage and left!
    Shame on you! Did that make you feel superior! That dog should have been put
    down but he was trying to save it! The examples you give from the show are curt
    and leave out quite a bit of info! If this complaint is the only complaint over a 40 year career I think that is amazing don’t you!? Dr. Pol always explains to the owners why he does what he does! He
    will say that this is NOT what’s in the text books, but his 40 years of experience taught him how to do it a little different but gets the same results! I don’t hear any of his customers complaining and have you even spoken to any! A lot of this sounds like jealously and petty! Also lets talk about the
    tail issue, you said the dog should have been anesthetized and put on an anesthetic machine! Just to clip the end of the TIP of its tail! I don’t think you would want to risk an anesthetized dog for this! Seems to me the risk of something happening to the animal is much higher that way! He provided a local, snipped and used antibiotic and other medications on the wound, patched it up
    and send the dog home! Sounds good to me if that were my dog! If he told me he
    had to totally anesthetize the animal for this procedure that to me would be
    questionable and a little overboard! So get off his back you guys he may not
    totally practice medicine by the book but I haven’t seen anything on the show
    that looked bad or out of line! I am not a doctor but when something is not
    right you know it! Would you go to a farm and check 58 cows to see if they were
    pregnant in one day? Would you go to farm and treat a female goat with a
    prolapsed uterus way after hours? You guys probably have a nice office practice taking care of poodles and yorkies of the rich and famous, never sticking your arm up and animal’s vagina or anus to do an examination!? All I have to say now is after watching Dr. Pol I would call him in a heartbeat to take care of my animals! PS: Leave Dr. Brenda alone also!

  • Rob Daveski

    Just sounds like a lot of whining and professional jealousy. If he is as bad as you say.then shame on Michigan for giving him a license. Im sure they edit out a lot of stuff in the interest of time so they can show more procedures, and WHY aren’t YOU going to the boards and having the issues raised? Im guess you know its because you are being petty and whiny

  • Guest 1

    Amazing how in 41 years of being in business. He has been reported one time to the state. WOW. What a record. Lawsuit mongrels are everywhere.

  • Flagfell

    What’s with the hot dog and beer comment about rural Michigan?

  • Char

    Tonight was my first night watching Dr. Pol… I have a friend that said that I should watch because I would ‘love ‘ it…. NOT! She is a lay person… I was a Vet. Tech. for years… He did surgery on the Momma dog Pepper to remove a puppy that had not been born… He did NOT intubate her!!!!! NO Sterile techniques what so ever… I am appalled and disgusted… Also, did he have to HIT the Cow to get her up or could he have just nudged/ patted her to get up??? UGH! Not to mention the IV of calcium he gave her… What the heck was that?! The poor baby steer that was roped …then petrified climbing and thrashing around possibly sustaining injuries… I see no common sense and absolutely no natural ability with the animals… People are talking about ‘editing’… well… when Pepper is being CUT OPEN and she is not INTUBATED… that’s a FACT.. not editing… His profile says that he started his Clinic in his GARAGE…. that should say it ALL… I’m not saying that he hasn’t ‘saved’ any animals..but, he is not an example of an INCREDIBLE Veterinarian….

  • Dr P

    Dr. Lichtenberg it is apparent that you are suffering from jealousy and a degree of envy, be it how Dr. Pol either conducts himself with impunity or how no matter the faults you find, you know he has two or three times the number of patients that you have. I’m not a DVM, but rather a psychologist, so I do not present to be an expert in your field, but apparently you are not an expert in Dr. Pol’s field either, however it may differ in reality from yours. You would do well to remember that most of the show is edited a d a great deal of what takes place, you do not see and it may very well be that it is in these moments that a great many of your issues are addressed. Please don’t allow ones petty differences of opinion to dampen a simply good entertaining show, even if in this case it apparently certainly has not.

  • moms2cool

    TV is cut, scenes are cut, they are probably not the same clothes, they have probably changed several times during the day as I do not see cow poop all over their clothes after the farm calls. I asked a friend who works for a vet, if every animal is under general anesthesia and I was shocked to be told NO> this is a modern veterinary clinic who charges very modern , extremely high prices. To get a dogs yearly well visits and shots is over 250 dollars. Down the street is a low cost animal clinic that does a yearly check up and shots for 65 dollars. IS the 250 dollar shots any better? For years I paid the extra money for the more expensive vet check up and shots as I know and trust them. Now I go to the low shot clinics and have them treat disease. However, I am not in the back when they do surgery, I have no idea how it is done . I have seen sterile drapes on surgeries done at Dr. Pol’s on TV . I am sure that the people in the town of Michigan are grateful that they can afford veterinarian care. I also know as I am a nurse and my husband is a physician there are lawsuits every day that have no merit. Dr. Pol said he regrets settling that lawsuit because the puppies were alive when he did the ultrasound. My bitch gave birth and I knew exactly what to expect. If I were that sure that the puppies were due, I would not have waited three days before getting a second opinion . My bitch delivered exactly when I expected her to . I even knew which puppy was breech so I could make sure that I helped deliver that puppy. As a pet owner you have a responsibility to make sure you are as educated as possible. Plus one more thing.
    Sometimes sucky things happen . They just do and it is no ones fault.

  • Dawn M.

    My family has been in the horse business for more than 50 years. We have seen our fair share of country vets and dealt with numerous issues and i can tell you i would trust every single pet of mine to Dr. Pol. For ANYONE to say he doesnt have good, safe veterinarian practices are out of their minds. Im a New Yorker and i understand the veterinarian practices in the city and just because you have big expensive machines and you charge hundreds of dollars just for the privilege of walking into your office doesnt make you a good vet. All your bells and whistles and degrees on the wall doesnt make you a compassionate , accurate vet. My country vets have saves countless animals in my ownership while my city vet misdiagnosed my dog. Things are done differently in rural areas that doesnt make your way superior to them. Im beginning to think most of these complaints are by suburb and city vets who are having a hard time measuring up to Dr Pol in the eyes of their clients. My pets mean the world to me and i would put them in his hands in a heart beat over yours.

  • Foxybrown1G

    So you are saying that he operated on a dead dog??? It would have to be (using your logic) because that dog hadn’t moved since before the X-ray and I am sure that if someone is cutting my eye out I’m going to at least flinch! :-/

    My feelings are: you take your pet to the vet, he performs an operation and my pet doesn’t even take notice, then he’s doing something right!

    Dr. Pol has 19,000 clients! I saw an episode in which he performed pregnancy checks on probably more cows in 2 hours than you see in a weeks worth of multiple kinds of patients!!! He is giving a service in which he allows his clients to be billed, has GIVEN medicine free of charge, and has actually said, “no charge” to several clients. He does it because he loves not only the animals but their owners. He even offers free vet checks at the 4H fair. I have YET to see a vet like that in my area (although I would like to). O.O

    This is a TV show!!! They manage to fit an entire work day into a one hour time slot through the “magic” of something called editing! Apparently he is doing something right, even you can’t deny that. He has had his practice in that same spot for 30+ years and almost all of his clients are REPEAT clients.

    All in all, he’s a fantastic vet that does a wonderful job. He’ll treat a poofy fluff ball puppy named Mitzy and then turn around and stick his entire arm into the rectum of a 700lb beef cow that would get its kicks by stomping you to pieces. Just face it, for now he’s going nowhere since he is NatGeoWild’s highest rated show and his fans are ok with that. ;-)

  • Lydia Hayes

    It never fails. Whenever I go to the Internet to find out more about a favorite celebrity, there is sure to be someone to write negative things. I question the true motives of these writers who are supposedly providing information. I’m amazed at the length of this article. I’m equally amazed at the time, effort and possibly money spent on this negativity. Perhaps you should try to get your own show so you won’t have time for envy & jealousy.

  • Nancy Dudley

    i am a reptile care giver and am concerned about some comments that were made by Dr. Pol on one of his shows. On this show, an iguana was found abandoned in a home. He said that iguanas have no intelligence and this one needed to be euthanized. I do not understand either of his comments. However, not knowing all the circumstances, I can’t comment too much on why he felt this iguana needed to be put to sleep. But I would like it to be brought to his attention and to those who are reading this comment, that he couldn’t be more incorrect when talking about their intelligence. You cannot compare apples to oranges except to say that they are both fruit. Therefore it would be wrong to compare an iguana’s intelligence to a cat or dog. But if you were to test an iguanas against another reptile, they would score fairly high.

    Iguanas can be:

    trained to unlatch gates

    toilet trained

    find their way to their home

    recognizes voices and faces of people they know

    and they actually look at things to climb and analyze the way to get up there

    As an iguana lover and owner of Egore (for 14+ years). I would like to assure Dr. Pol that he is very mistaken with that comment.

  • Jeff

    Sounds like someone is jealous she didn’t get a show

  • Richard Moore

    TV is only going to show you so much, editing takes away to much for reality TV to be believable.

  • Vets are useless

    I know this is old but I still laugh at all you vets whining about Dr. Pol. You are absolutely right, I’m sure if I brought my dog to you that you would put in an IV, and a breathing tube, and a million other things….and I PAY for it all. In my experience all vets are nearly useless. My cat has been to 3 vets, none of them can say what’s wrong with her, my Aunt had two dogs die over the years from mysterious illnesses, and her vet can’t even say why they died (and that’s of course after charging her to do an autopsy). I can’t afford to buy you a new Porsche every time my dog gets sick.

  • Plixer

    How do you know all these detailed “facts” about these surgeries? Were you there when they occurred? Television does not show every detail, especially “reality” TV. Maybe time would be better spent focusing on your practice rather than criticizing others when there is no possible way all the facts are available to you.

  • estherhazy

    any person with half a lick of sense would realize it’s a tv show and of course it’s going to be dramatized. and I’m really surprised at the immature comments from the so called educated people posting their comments, as educated doctors I wouldn’t think I would see such immature conversation.

  • mike

    I like doctor pol stop complaining and leave doctor pol alone and let him do what he loves to do

    -edited by Pets Adviser, please refrain from using profanity

  • Jonzy

    Get a life people!!! Dr Pol Rocks!!!

  • Laura Ryan

    I think people like this are just jealous because he has a great persona. I just moved to the Netherlands in late 2013, and these people are wonderful with livestock, etc.

    • evilincarnate

      I don’t think being dutch has anything to do with it. His visible lack of hygiene and concern for what the animal is feeling is disconcerting, and this is coming from someone that is not a vet. He should stick to only working on large animals. There are better vets for small animals in the area.

  • tara

    attention all vets and vet techs out there!!! i just started watching this show the other night and after only watching for a little while started to see this guy do some weird and questionable things. but i thought “hey im not a vet, maybe im being too critical”. so i kept watching, and i got more and more uneasy each episode (should have stopped watching after pol called a dog stupid bc he was barking). i got the impression he doesnt really like dogs too much, but anyway ill get to my REAL question for the vets out there. there was an episode (mentioned in this article) where a 3 month (?) old puppy was attacked by an older dog. the older dog must have grabbed him by the throat and shook him for a while. there was a huge gash on his neck, and pol said something about possible fluid/blood in the lungs from the accident. the puppy was covered in blood with open wounds/scratches. pol said he couldnt do emergency surgery on the pup bc he was in shock and the anesthesia would have killed him on the table. so he gave him a shot of cortisone i believe and shoved him in a crate and told the owner they had to wait (HOURS) for the pup to come out of shock before he could even start to operate. well, long story short the pup died in that crate, and that breaks my heart. alone, scared, left to die in a crate covered in blood. im not a vet at all, so i desperately would like to know if what pol did is common practice?? it didnt sound like it to me, but like i said im not a vet. if you had a puppy come in to your office in that state what would you do? risk him dying but perform surgery immediately? or put him in a crate to wait it out? id like to hear all opinions please, i havent been able to stop thinking about this since i saw the episode.

  • Cruiser86

    I found this article to be spot on! I only found out about this show, watching a cable channel while visiting family. The spotlight for the show, aka commercial, shoes this “Dr”, ripping out a horses tooth with what I can only call a large pair of pliers. Where was the tranquilizer, the mouth piece to keep the horse from harming itself or even the vet? I am a paycheck to paycheck person, and when my horse had a severe eye injury recently, the ONLY vet who called me back right away, and was here in less than an hour, was the most expensive in the area! They worked with me on pmnts, and also used my horse as a training tool for other vets. The injury was so bad, they didn’t think it was going to heal, but I worked tirelessly with the tools they gave me, and my horse is doing fantastic! Sure, they offered things I knew I could not afford, but I was honest about that which I could, they were just the best! I’ll watch this show on Netflix until I have the conviction I felt from just the one episode I watched after my family said it was a good show. Reality shows are about the MONEY ppl! My 2 cents.