Big Oil’s Secret World of Trading
(Bloomberg Markets) — It was a bleak moment for the oil industry. U.S. shale companies were failing by the dozen. Petrostates were on the brink of bankruptcy. Texas roughnecks and Kuwaiti princes alike had watched helplessly for months as the commodity that was their lifeblood tumbled to prices that had until recently seemed unthinkable. Below $50 a barrel, then below $40, then below $30.But inside the central London headquarters of one of the world’s largest oil companies, there was an air of calm. It was January 2016. Bob Dudley had been at the helm of BP Plc for six years. He ought to have had as much reason to panic as anyone in the rest of his industry. The unflashy American had been predicting lower prices for months. He was being proved right, though that was hardly a reason to celebrate.Unlike most of his peers, Dudley was no passive observer. At the heart of BP, far removed from the sprawling network of oil fields, refineries, and service stations that the company is known for, sits a vast trading unit, combining the logistical prowess of an air traffic control center with the master-of-the-universe swagger of a macro hedge fund. And, unknown to all but a few company insiders, BP’s traders had spotted, in the teeth of the oil price collapse, an opportunity.Over the course of 2015, Dudley had acquired a reputation as the oil industry’s Cassandra. Oil prices had been under pressure ever since Saudi Arabia launched a price war against U.S. shale producers a year earlier. When crude prices started falling, he confidently predicted they would remain “lower for longer.” A few months later, he went further. Oil prices, he said, were due to stay “lower for even longer.”On Jan. 20, 2016, the price of Brent crude oil plunged to $27.10 a barrel, the lowest in more than a decade. It was a nadir that would be reached again only in March 2020, when the Saudis launched another price war, this time targeting Russia, just as the coronavirus pandemic sapped global demand.When Dudley arrived in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the World Economic Forum on Jan. 21, 2016, the industry was braced for more doom and gloom. Wearing a dark suit and blue tie, the BP chief executive officer made his way through the snowy streets. After one meeting, he was asked—as usual—for his oil forecast by a gaggle of journalists. “Prices will remain low for longer,” he said. This time, though, his by-then-well-known mantra came with a kicker: “But not forever.”Few understood the special significance of his comment. After months of slumping oil prices, BP’s traders had turned bullish. And, in complete secrecy, the company was putting money behind its conviction.Shortly before flying to Davos, Dudley had authorized a daring trade: BP would place a large bet on a rebound in oil prices. Although its stock is in the FTSE 100 index and owned by almost every British pension fund, this wager, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, has remained a closely guarded secret until now.BP was already heavily exposed to the price of oil. What the traders wanted to do was double down, to increase the exposure by buying futures contracts much as a hedge fund would. BP’s trading arm—staffed by about 3,000 people on its main trading floors in London, Chicago, Houston, and Singapore—argued that the price had fallen so far that it could only go up. And Dudley agreed.Quietly, BP bought Brent crude futures traded in London. It was a “management position”—a trade so large it couldn’t be the responsibility of any one trader and had to be overseen by the company’s most senior executives.The optimistic coda Dudley attached to his catchphrase in Davos proved prescient. By early February, oil was up by a third, trading above $35 a barrel. By the end of May, it was more than $50 a barrel.That’s when the company started to count the profits. The trade “made a lot of money,” says a former BP executive with direct knowledge of it. Another executive, who also was involved, put the payout at about $150 million to $200 million, declining to provide an exact figure. Publicly, however, BP —whose vast size means it’s not obligated to disclose even a windfall of that scale—said almost nothing.BP’s trades in the midst of the 2016 slump are a demonstration of one of Big Oil’s best-kept secrets. The company and its rivals Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SE aren’t just major oil producers; they’re also some of the world’s largest commodity traders. Shell, the most active of the three, is the world’s largest oil trader—ahead of independent houses such as Vitol Group and Glencore Plc.Massive trading floors that mirror those of Wall Street’s biggest banks are becoming increasingly important to the oil companies, which are driven by fears that global oil demand could start to drop in the next few years as climate change concerns reshape society’s—and investors’—attitudes toward fossil fuel producers. No longer looked down upon as handmaidens to the engineers who built Big Oil, the traders are increasingly being seen as their companies’ saviors. The brightest stars can make more than $10 million a year, outstripping their bosses.Like BP’s 2016 trade, much about the oil majors’ trading exploits has never been reported. Bloomberg Markets pieced together the story of these lucrative but secretive operations through interviews with more than two dozen current and former traders and executives, some of which were conducted for The World for Sale, our new book on the history of commodity trading.The oil majors trade in physical energy markets, buying tankers of crude, gasoline, and diesel. And they do the same in natural gas and power markets via pipelines and electricity grids. But they do more than that: They also speculate in financial markets, buying and selling futures, options, and other financial derivatives in energy markets and beyond—from corn to metals—and closing deals with hedge funds, private equity firms, and investment banks.As little known as their trading is to the outside world, BP, Shell, and Total see it as the heart of their business. In a conference call with industry analysts last year, Ben van Beurden, CEO of Shell, described the company’s trading in almost mystical terms: “It actually makes the magic.”And the wizardry pays off: In an average year, Shell makes as much as $4 billion in pretax profit from trading oil and gas; BP typically records from $2 billion to $3 billion annually; the French major Total not much less, according to people familiar with the three companies. In the case of BP, for instance, profits can equal roughly half of what the company’s upstream business of producing oil and gas makes in a normal year, such as 2019. In years of low prices, like 2016 or 2020, trading profits can far exceed those of the production business. Last year, both BP and Shell made about $1 billion above their typical profit target in oil and gas trading.One reason profits are so high is because the three companies can reduce their trading tax bill by routing their business through low-tax jurisdictions—a strategy not available to their oil pumping and refining businesses, which are rooted in physical infrastructure in particular countries. Shell, for example, concentrates all its trading of West African and Latin American crude via a subsidiary in the Bahamas. With just 36 traders in Nassau, Shell reported profits in the Bahamas of $847.5 million in 2019. Yet it didn’t pay a single dollar in taxes on those gains.Even better for the trio, trading profits tend to soar when markets are oversupplied, as was the case in 2015-16 and again in 2020, helping to cushion the blow of low prices on the traditional business of pumping and refining oil. Trading also gives them an edge over their U.S. rivals, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., which for historical and cultural reasons have eschewed trading.For most shareholders, however, the trading business is a black box. “It is impossible to show exactly what we are doing, unless we want to completely open up our entire trading book, which is something we simply cannot do,” Shell’s van Beurden said last year when asked how much money the trading unit made. Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné, asked a similar question, replied more bluntly: “The oil trading is a secret.”What isn’t a secret is the size of the trades. Together the three companies trade almost 30 million barrels a day of oil and other petroleum products, equal to the daily production of the entire OPEC cartel. Shell alone trades about 12 million barrels a day. That’s physical trading. The paper volumes are much larger. Total, for example, trades 6.9 million barrels of physical oil a day, but the equivalent of 31 million barrels of oil derivatives such as futures and options.With trading comes risk. The business “suits people who have a real commercial bent, a real desire to make money for the company,” Andrew Smith, head of trading at Shell, says in a recruiting video. They must be fearless, too: “They also have to be comfortable with taking risk. There are very few risk-free trades. Some days we make money; some days you’d lose money,” he says.BP, Shell, and Total declined to comment for this article.The history of Big Oil and trading goes back to the industry’s origins. Shell started life in London in the 19th century as an oil trader—“Shell” Transport & Trading Co.—and only later got into oil production. Then, in the first half of the 20th century, oil trading simply ceased to exist as the biggest producers squeezed others out of the picture.A few large companies came to dominate the industry, underpinned by their agreements to divvy up the oil resources of the Middle East. These companies, BP and Shell among them, were known as the Seven Sisters. Outside their oligopoly, there was very little left to buy or sell.BP was emblematic of the era. The British group had grown out of the Anglo-Persian Oil Co., established after oil was first struck in Iran in 1908, and by the early 1970s it could rely on a gusher of oil from its Iranian assets that provided much of the total 5 million barrels a day that it was pumping around the world. BP didn’t need to trade. Instead the nerve center of its business was the dull-sounding “scheduling department,” charged with arranging for BP barrels to be transported in BP tankers into BP refineries and sold into BP fuel stations.Already early traders such as Marc Rich, who founded the company that is today Glencore, were finding ways to trade oil outside the control of the Seven Sisters on the nascent spot market. The big oil companies regarded trading as beneath them and looked down on the upstarts, but they would soon be forced to think differently.The Iranian revolution of 1979 at a stroke dispossessed BP of much of its oil production. The company was forced to turn to the spot market that it had long disdained to buy the oil its refineries needed.Soon BP was doing much more than just buying oil for its own refineries. Andy Hall, then a young graduate working in its scheduling department in New York, would go on to be one of the most successful oil traders in history after leaving BP. He recalls that he started buying any oil that looked cheap, whether BP needed it or not, figuring to resell it at a profit. “We basically started trading oil like crazy,” he says.The oil price slump of the late 1990s set the stage for what the three large trading businesses would become as a wave of consolidation swept through the oil industry.When Exxon merged with Mobil, which had had a successful trading business, the nontrading culture of Exxon prevailed. The same happened when Chevron took over Texaco. The Americans were pretty much out of the trading business.Meanwhile, BP bought Amoco, which had a large trading unit, expanding its reach. The merger of French companies Total and Elf—both large traders—further consolidated Total’s trading business. Shell, too, reorganized and centralized its trading unit.By the time the wave of consolidation was over in 2000, the European trio emerged as the kings of oil trading. Their timing was exquisite: Commodity trading was about to enjoy an enormous boom as skyrocketing Chinese demand spurred a decade-long supercycle in prices. Big Oil’s trading floors would be at home at JPMorgan Chase & Co. or UBS Group AG. Rows of desks sprouting vast arrays of flashing multicolored screens stretch out almost as far as the eye can see. The traders are arranged according to their market or region of focus, each desk representing a trading “book,” a little empire of supply contracts and derivatives deals.The floors don’t just look like Wall Street’s—they’re often located alongside them. BP’s London trading base isn’t at the company’s head office near Buckingham Palace, but in the banking hub of Canary Wharf. In Chicago its traders occupy the historic floor of the former Chicago Mercantile Exchange building.All in all, BP, Shell, and Total employ about 8,000 people in their trading divisions, a small fraction of their overall workforce of 250,000. The traders have more in common with the investment bankers across the road than they do with their colleagues sweating on oil rigs in Nigeria or mapping fields off the coast of Brazil. “Trading is a very uber-competitive environment,” Christine Sullivan, a 30-year veteran of Shell trading, says in one of the company’s recruiting videos. “Every day I can see the impact I’ve made to the bottom line. You see that moving up, hopefully, on a daily basis, and it just makes you want to do more.”Big Oil’s bosses like to say that speculation isn’t part of the business model of their trading units. That’s not really true. Within BP’s trading division, for example, there was for a number of years a pot of money traded, effectively, by a computer. The so-called Q Book was devised in the 1990s by two of BP’s in-house math whizzes—Chris Allen and Gordon Izatt—long before algorithmic trading became a dominant force in financial markets.The Q Book algorithm traded dozens of commodity futures including gold and corn, according to people with knowledge of it. And while BP shut down the Q Book a few years ago, it still has a unit that resembles an in-house hedge fund: The so-called Alpha One Book, run by Tim Hayes, aims to make money betting on financial commodity markets. At Shell and Total, there are similar groups.Even so, big speculative wagers on the direction of the price of oil, like the one BP took in 2016, are rare. The day-to-day job of the traders is a little like the role of the scheduling department of bygone eras, but with a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit thrown in.Their role gives them a huge position in the markets and opens up all kinds of opportunities to maximize profits. Last year, for example, Shell’s traders realized that the spreading coronavirus pandemic would have a catastrophic impact on international travel. They decided to bet that demand for jet fuel would collapse. It was a wager almost no other trader in the market could make on the scale that Shell did: Jet fuel is a niche market, dominated by refineries and airlines, and the market for jet fuel derivatives isn’t liquid enough for most traders to bet on easily.But Shell was well poised. It owns the Pernis refinery in Rotterdam—the largest in Europe, each day pumping out enough gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to keep half of the cars, trucks, and planes in the Netherlands moving. It supplies jet fuel to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.In early 2020, before air travel shrank, Shell’s traders tweaked Pernis’s production, cutting out jet fuel entirely while increasing output of other refined products. Shell still had contracts to supply jet fuel, however, so the company was left with a big short position: It would have to buy jet fuel in the market to deliver to its customers, whatever the price, if the company’s traders were wrong about the pandemic. If the price went up, Shell stood to lose millions.Of course, the traders weren’t wrong. Jet fuel demand soon plunged 90% in northwestern Europe. Across Europe, prices fell from $666 a ton at the beginning of the year to $125 a ton by late April. “We could buy jet fuel, make money on that particular trade, and then again reconstitute the products coming out of the refinery to make money elsewhere,” Shell’s van Beurden explained in an earnings call with investors in July. “That’s no ordinary trading. That is actually optimizing market positions that we know better than anybody how to take advantage of.”Shell didn’t disclose how much money it made on that single trade, but people familiar with the company said that in just the second quarter of 2020, the jet fuel traders made as much as they usually do in a whole year.“Inside Shell and BP, the traders are their Navy SEALs,” says former Shell oil analyst Florian Thaler, now head of OilX, an industry data analytics company. For their skills, traders are highly paid.For years their remuneration packages were a closely guarded secret. Then in 2006 a BP trader sued the company in the U.S. in a pay dispute. The legal fight that followed exposed the riches of Big Oil trading. The trader, Alison Myers, revealed that, on top of her regular annual salary of $150,000 for 2006, she was due a $5.5 million performance bonus—three times what BP’s then-CEO John Browne took home the same year.The legal battle revealed that others at BP did even better. The company said other traders took higher bonuses not only because their desks made more money, but also because speculative traders were generally better paid. “The market value of paper traders was higher than the value of physical traders,” BP said in a court filing.Since then, bonuses have only gone up. Nowadays many traders take home from $1 million to $10 million a year, and a handful even more. Every year at BP a list goes to the board for approval. It contains the names of the dozen or so traders whose bonuses are higher than those of the CEO, according to two people familiar with the process.At the top of the list typically sits the lead trader of the Cushing Book—the one responsible for buying and selling oil at the Oklahoma town that serves as the delivery point for the West Texas Intermediate benchmark. In a good year, this trader can make as much as $30 million, an amount that would outstrip the $23 million that David Solomon, the boss of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., took home in 2019.The immense scale of the oil companies’ trading units gives them outsize clout. Shell, as Bloomberg News has reported, has in the past made bold trades that, while not illegal, have violated the unspoken rules governing this lightly regulated market. On one occasion in 2016, for example, Shell bought roughly 70% of the cargoes of North Sea crude available for a particular month, triggering wild price gyrations while squeezing out other traders who privately complained to Shell.At times, Big Oil traders have broken the rules outright. In 2007, BP paid more than $300 million to settle charges that it manipulated U.S. propane markets, for example. At the time the fine was one of largest ever for alleged market manipulation in commodities. Earlier, U.S. regulators fined Shell $300,000 for manipulating U.S. oil futures markets in 2003 and 2004 and $30 million for manipulating natural gas markets in 2000 and 2002.Still, constrained by the sheer size and high public profiles of the companies they work for, BP, Shell, and Total traders are nowhere near as swashbuckling as their counterparts at independent houses, who, history has shown, have been more willing to make a foray into countries where corruption is rife and where buying oil sometimes involves suitcases full of cash.That means the oil giants have left many of the juiciest deals to the independents. Brian Gilvary, a former BP head of finance, puts it this way: “Is there value available to us that could be captured over and above what we capture today? Absolutely. Are we prepared to take the risk associated with that? Definitely no. I can give you a list of countries, but you know where they are.”In the last few years, Big Oil has muscled more and more into the realm previously dominated by big banks. When, after the 2008-09 financial crisis, the U.S. Congress attempted to tighten regulations around the vast and opaque market for swaps—a form of bespoke derivatives traded bilaterally—the process revealed for the first time the scale of the oil companies’ role in the financial markets.The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act on financial reforms required all major players in the swaps market to register themselves. There were the usual suspects: Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and other financial behemoths. And then there were three names that seemed out of place: Cargill, the world’s largest trader of agricultural commodities, BP, and Shell.As Wall Street banks scaled back their presence in commodities in the post-crisis world, Big Oil stepped in. Shell, for example, in 2016 became the first nonbank to move in on what commodity traders at Wall Street banks see as their largest annual deal: helping the Mexican government hedge its exposure to the price of oil.For its part, BP, in a brochure for its trading unit, says, “Our customers also include banks, hedge funds and private equity firms.” The document lists a range of financial strategies it can help customers implement—from “options (vanilla & tailored)” to “tiered volume restructure.”With investors of all kinds increasingly unimpressed by the traditional oil-pumping business, trading is becoming an ever more important part of the oil companies’ sales pitch. In a virtual meeting with investors in October 2020, Shell’s van Beurden described the company’s trading unit as “absolutely core to the success of our company.” Even Exxon, which long sneered at trading as an unnecessary distraction, has changed its stance, hiring experienced oil traders to start making bets with the company’s money.As BP shifts its investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy, its traders will help it juice the relatively low returns on those investments, Bernard Looney, who last year succeeded Dudley as CEO, said in a presentation to investors in 2020. Renewable energy projects typically generate returns of 5% to 6%, he said, but the company’s expert traders can add about 2 percentage points to that.As steeped as BP may seem to be in the rigs and offshore platforms and snaking pipelines of yesteryear, Looney painted an energy future that encompasses electric cars, hydrogen, and biofuels. “We love complexity like this,” he said. “It is why we have elevated our trading function to the leadership table.”Blas and Farchy cover energy out of London. Their book, The World for Sale: Money, Power, and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources, was published in the U.K. in February by Random House Business and in the U.S. in March by Oxford University Press. For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.
Don’t Risk Your Dog’s Health With Curbside Vet Visits
How do you feel about vet clinics’ COVID rules? If your dog needs vet care, most clinics now make you turn over your dog in the parking lot … along with your credit card.
Do you think this is OK? I don’t!
Dentists can manage to treat us … poking around in our unmasked, germy open mouths. Yet the vet can’t allow you to come into the clinic with your dogs. Not even into the waiting room!
Even when you take your car for service, they call you for permission before they do repairs. Is your living, breathing pet really less important than your lifeless car? It seems like some vets think so!
Vet Clinic COVID Rules
Here’s a pretty typical set of COVID rules from a conventional vet clinic.
- Please remain in your vehicle when you arrive at the hospital and call us. We will check your pet in over the phone.
- A staff member will retrieve your pet from you and bring him/her into the hospital for treatment/care.
- If your pet’s appointment is an examination with one of our veterinarians, your pet’s veterinarian will communicate with you via phone following the examination.
- We will take payment information over the phone and your pet will be returned to you at the conclusion of the appointment.
Don’t you wonder why the vet can’t communicate with you via phone during the exam, instead of afterwards? Just as if you were there in the room during a normal visit.
Instead, this order of things means it’s highly likely your dog could get a treatment you don’t want … because they didn’t ask you while the vet was with your dog. They just went ahead and did what they thought was best … not what you wanted.
Vets Make Mistakes
Even if you’re there, mistakes happen. I’ve had some near-misses myself.
A dog I adopted a few years ago came into rescue positive for Lyme disease. So I asked for a blood draw for re-testing. The vet tech walked into the exam room with a large syringe full of pink fluid. I said, “What’s that?” and she replied, “The Lyme vaccine you ordered.”
I hadn’t ordered any such thing! Why would they even think of vaccinating a dog for a disease he supposedly already had? And how does that kind of mistake happen? Did the vet write the order wrong? Or did the vet tech misread it?
It doesn’t matter. The clinic’s still responsible for mistakes. And giving a dog a potentially harmful and unnecessary vaccination is a bad mistake.
RELATED: Dangerous over-vaccination is on the rise …
Mistakes Are More Likely If You Aren’t There
So when you’re not allowed to supervise your dog’s care … what can happen?
Well there are now countless stories. Many of them are about vet clinics giving unwanted treatments during curbside drop-off appointments.
Sometimes vets or vet techs just ignore the client’s instructions and do what they think the pet needs. Other times, they make real mistakes. With modern electronic client management software, it’s all too easy for someone to click the wrong item.
So there’s a strong likelihood your dog will get a vaccine she didn’t need or conventional treatment you didn’t want. Without your permission!
Holistic vet Dee Blanco DVM wonders if there’ll be more malpractice suits because of weak communication by many clinics. She’s heard many stories of vets vaccinating animals without permission … or even performing expensive, unnecessary surgeries. She explains, “It’s poor medicine … and so far from natural, individualized, humane veterinary care.”
Real Life Vet Clinic Mistakes
Here are some examples of stories from Dogs Naturally readers. These experiences illustrate the risk you take when you let your dog go into the clinic without you.
One owner took her 16-week-old dog for the distemper and parvo vaccines. Nothing else. The vets gave a DHPP combo without permission … because they “couldn’t separate the vaccines.”
Another person took her dog in for a persistent UTI. The vet prescribed antibiotics … and bullied the owner into vaccinating. (Apparently the vet “forgot” the vaccine label warns that they’re only for healthy animals.) The owner specifically instructed the clinic not to give a leptospirosis shot. But when she got the bill, there was the lepto vaccine … against her stated wishes.
One woman wanted blood work for her dog but couldn’t get into her regular vet. So she went to a different vet. Without asking the owner … the clinic gave the dog a 3-year rabies shot, plus a combo vaccine that included lepto. But the dog had already had the rabies shot 3 months earlier at the other clinic! When the client complained, they apologized and refunded her money. But it’s not about the money … it’s about the damage to the dog from over-vaccination!
A dog went in for spaying. The owner clearly instructed “no vaccines.” The clinic gave the dog a distemper vaccine against her instructions.
It’s Careless Veterinary Care
These clinics could have easily avoided the errors. All it takes is a phone call to the client waiting in the parking lot! The clinics weren’t just sloppy … they acted like they didn’t care. They were were careless in every sense of the word.
And all of these clinics violated the “informed consent” doctrine. The AVMA’s policy recommends vets “document verbal or written informed consent and the client’s understanding.” And some states have laws that require vets to get written consent for certain treatments.
RELATED: What happened to informed consent?
Why Vets Want To Keep You Out Of The Clinic
I spoke with a few holistic vets for this article. Several of them suggested that a lot of vets prefer not having the owners in the room. Perhaps these practitioners went into veterinary medicine because they loved animals. But they’re not so keen on dealing with people!
Dog owners are a picky bunch. You love your dog a lot. So you ask questions and want to have a say in your dog’s care. Some vets don’t like you questioning their recommendations. They’d rather treat your dog and move on to the next patient … without having to discuss or explain what they’re doing.
Dr Blanco believes some vets are using the pandemic as an excuse to keep clients at arm’s length. Many medical procedures already do this. The laboratory analysis, the x-rays, the surgeries … all keep you at a subtle distance. So the vet staff doesn’t have to sit and answer the hard questions or feel the tougher emotions.
And if this is true, it suggests some vets will resist going back to the old ways. Even after COVID rules are no longer warranted … there may be some clinics that stick with drop-off care.
Dr Todd Cooney thinks curbside drop-off appeals to vets with a more authoritative streak. And he thinks those vets will continue it after the pandemic.
If that happens, don’t give these clinics your business. You pay your vet to care for your dog. And that means you get to make the decisions. Of course, you’ll listen to your vet’s recommendations. But then you get to say yes or no.
So … what choice do you have?
5 Ways To Avoid Curbside Vet Drop-off Mistakes
Your dog needs the vet, for whatever reason. And your vet has COVID rules preventing you from going too. Here are some ways to prevent mistakes.
#1 Do A Remote Consult With A Holistic Vet
This is an ideal solution for anybody who can’t find a good holistic vet locally. Many holistic vets routinely do phone consults. They include vets who practice herbalism, homeopathy or Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. So find someone who fits your healthcare philosophy for your dog.
Ask other dog owners for recommendations … or check the directories at ahvma.org and theavh.org.
But sometimes you need hands-on work. In that case …
#2 Find A Holistic Vet To See Your Dog
I talked with several holistic vets when I was researching this article. And every one of them who has a clinic said they’re allowing owners to come in with their pets. There’s a downloadable list below to help you.
Again, if you don’t know a holistic vet, ask your friends, or check the AHVMA and AVH directories. Always read their websites and ask questions before you choose a vet. You want to know their healthcare philosophy. Then you won’t get surprised by “faux-listic” vets. Because some vets claim they use natural healthcare … but then give vaccinations and other pharmaceuticals.
#3 Find A Mobile Vet
Dr Blanco says she’s advising her clients to work with a house call vet. And It’s getting easier to find mobile vets. If a vet comes to your home, you’ll be in the room and can have a say in your dog’s exam or treatment. Your dog will be less stressed at home too.
Many mobile vets have well-equipped vans and can do more complex diagnostics. Others can even do procedures like teeth cleaning.
To find a mobile vet locally, the internet is your friend. A quick search using your city or zip code should bring up some local options. You may want to check Yelp reviews as well.
There are also some directories that list mobile or house call vets. Here’s one I found.
RELATED: How to find a vet you can work with …
#4 Give Instructions In Writing
Even if you do phone consults with a holistic vet or you use a mobile vet … sometimes you might need a service they can’t provide. And then you’re stuck with a local clinic.
If that happens, be prepared before you drop your dog off. Try to use a vet you have a relationship with. They’ll be more likely to respect your wishes if they know you.
Then, write down your clear detailed instructions.
- Specify exactly what services you do and don’t want (and what you will and won’t pay for!).
- Write your name – and your dog’s – on the instructions.
- Provide your mobile phone number so they can reach you while your dog’s at the clinic.
- Ask the vet to call you while she’s in the exam room with your dog. She can still do her job while she’s on speakerphone.
- State in bold or large letters … “No vaccinations or treatments without owner’s express permission.”
Then comes the hard part. How to make sure your vet actually sees your instructions. Here are some suggestions on how to make that happen. Multiple approaches are a good idea.
- If your vet reads email, email the instructions to her at least a day before your appointment.
- Give a copy of the instructions to the staff member who takes your dog. Be friendly and ask them to make sure the vet gets it. Ask this person for their name … and use it when you talk to them. This helps create a personal connection with the individual. And you’ll also know who’s to blame if the message doesn’t get through to the vet.
- Put the instructions in an envelope and tape it to your dog’s collar or harness.
- Write the instructions on a big tag and tie it to your dog’s collar or harness.
The Best Way To Deliver Your Instructions
Or even better … use a great suggestion from holistic veterinarian Dr Odette Suter. I love this idea!
- Use a marker to write your instructions on a white t-shirt.
- Include your mobile phone number.
- Then put the t-shirt on your dog.
This will make it much harder for the clinic to lose, forget or ignore your wishes!
#5 How To Handle Emergencies
This is more difficult. In an emergency, you won’t have time to prepare instructions. In a true emergency they’ll whisk your dog away and you won’t get any news for a while. Sometimes it could be hours before you get an update.
But you should still ask the staff to try to keep you informed. And tell them you want to speak to the vet as soon as they have some news.
Dr Barrie Sands is a holistic vet who also works at an emergency clinic.
If it’s a true emergency (like a car accident) the vets will go ahead and triage to save the patient’s life. Meanwhile the front desk gets the client’s approval for treatment that can cost $800 to $1000.
For animals in critical condition, the vets will stabilize them before they call the owners. Dr Sands says she calls as soon as she can turn her back without risking the pet dying.
Don’t Use The ER For Non Emergencies
Dr Sands also said many people are coming to the ER for non-emergencies. They’ve learned to use buzzwords that get them in. Like “my pug is hypoxic.” And then the pug trots in, breathing normally.
Try not to use emergency clinics for non-emergencies. It’s not fair to the pets who have true emergencies. And it’s not fair to the vets, who are already overwhelmed with cases.
In fact, Dr Sands told me most emergencies could be avoided if dogs were on better diets. A huge percentage of ER cases are GI problems like diarrhea or vomiting.
RELATED: How to manage emergency vet care BEFORE there’s an emergency …
What Holistic Vets Say About Curbside Care
Dr Dee Blanco told me “I’m not seeing patients, but I haven’t for a few years now. If I had an office I would be … and I probably would tell people to leave their masks at home!”
Dr Odette Suter understands that specialty and ER clinics can’t let owners in. If they had just one COVID case, they’d have to shut down.
But Dr Judy Jasek says there’s no reason for clinics not to let you in with your dog. And you should have the right to talk to your dog’s doctor before agreeing to any treatment.
It’s especially bad with the big corporate clinics who are profit-driven. Sometimes they’re dragging scared animals into the clinic … then sedating them for their visit to make their jobs easier.
Dr Katie Kangas had a client whose dog was at the vet with a serious condition. Yet, after 9 phone calls she still didn’t get to talk to the vet. She was stuck communicating through the receptionist.
Homeopath Brenda Tobin asks clients what the vet said. And the answer is often, “I don’t know, I didn’t get to talk to her.”
It it any wonder people say they don’t trust their vet?
We’re Stressing Our Dogs
Dr PJ Broadfoot observes that a lot of the rules are fear-based. But fear is the worst thing because it pushes you into sympathetic overdrive. That means you’re stressed … and so is your dog.
Every single holistic vet I spoke with agreed … pets are getting sicker because their families are so stressed during the pandemic. And that stress is rubbing off on our dogs. They’re also getting less rest because we’re with them 24/7.
Vet clinics are getting busier. So this isn’t an easy situation. Many vets are overwhelmed with patients. They’ve lost staff and are getting burned out.
But aren’t they making their lives harder with these rules? Wouldn’t it be simpler to have the owner in the clinic with their dog? Instead, clinics are too busy to communicate with owners … and potentially harming pets as a result.
So … it’s not easy getting vets to work with you in the pandemic environment. But there are ways to work around it.
Above all, get a holistic vet on board for most of your dog’s care. You may need a conventional vet sometimes for diagnostics … or even treatment. But you’ll have a holistic vet on your side to help you negotiate the process.
Here’s a downloadable list of the holistic vets I spoke with. If you’re local, these vets will all see you in person with your dog.
Source * www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com – * https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/curbside-vet-tips/
Why I Don’t Give My Dogs Heartworm Meds (And Why You Shouldn’t Either)
Some vets tell dog owners that heartworm medicine is too dangerous to use.
Does that surprise you?
Holistic veterinarian Glen Dupree didn’t want his patients taking heartworm medicine. Dr Dupree found that a strong immune system was enough to protect his dogs from heartworm. And he also knew that giving dogs neurotoxic drugs every month would harm that immune system.
“I assume my dogs have heartworms,” said Dr Dupree. “But there’s a big difference between heartworms and heartworm disease.”
And that difference is a fully functioning immune system.
There are many holistic vets who don’t recommend using heartworm medicine. But the pro-health approach to parasite prevention isn’t all that popular … yet.
Here’s why holistic vets avoid heartworm medicine for dogs …
Your Dog’s Immune Systems Fights Parasites
When you think of the immune system, you probably think about diseases like parvo or kennel cough … or cancer.
But your dog’s immune system also protects his body from parasites … like heartworms.
A well-tuned immune system is the difference between a few heartworms … and a large heartworm load that affects your dog’s health. That’s what Dr Dupree was talking about.
So a big part of protecting your dog from heartworm is protecting his immune system.
What Causes A Weak Immune System In Dogs
Over-vaccination is a big problem. While vaccines can protect your dog from infectious disease, they come at a cost. One key reason for this is the ingredients in vaccines.
Toxic Vaccine Ingredients
Here are just a few of the toxins in vaccines …
- Mercury, which is neurotoxic and causes cancer and autoimmune disease.
- Aluminum, another neurotoxin. It can cause degeneration of the brain and nervous system. It’s especially harmful in young dogs. And it increases the toxicity of mercury. So the “safe” levels of mercury in your dog’s vaccines are severely underestimated.
- MSG, a common food flavoring that’s a neutotransmitter affecting your dog’s brain response.
- Formaldehyde, one of the most hazardous and highly cancer-causing compounds known.
So a dog who’s been vaccinated regularly with these toxic ingredients will have a hard time being truly healthy.
RELATED: Learn more about toxic ingredients in your dog’s vaccines …
Vaccines Suppress The Immune System
As well as having harmful ingredients, vaccines suppress the immune system.
Immunologist HH Fudenberg says if your dog receives just one monovalent vaccine, his cell-mediated immunity will be cut in half. And just two vaccines will lower it by 70%.
Monovalent means the vaccine has a single virus. But most dogs get several at the same time. Here’s what HH Fudenberg says about 3-in-1 vaccines:
“… all triple vaccines markedly impair cell-mediated immunity, which predisposes to recurrent viral infections, especially otitis media, as well as yeast and fungi infections.”
RELATED: Immunity without the needle …
Yet most dogs get 3 to 7 vaccine components at a time. They get too many vaccines … and much too often. It’s no wonder vets worry about heartworm.
But that brings me to …
The Side Effects Of Heartworm Meds
Just as vaccines can damage the immune system, so can your dog’s heartworm meds.
Heartworm meds are neurotoxins. They kill larvae is by paralyzing them. So it’s no wonder that they can also damage your dog. In the side effects below, you’ll see neurological problems … like ataxia, tremors, convulsions, or seizures.
And that’s just in the short term. Nobody really knows the long-term risks of heartworm meds. Because they haven’t tested the effects of giving them … for several months every year, for your dog’s whole life.
So the best guess we have is the adverse reactions that occur right after taking heartworm meds.
Short Term Reactions To Heartworm Meds
Here are some reported side effects of common heartworm medications for dogs …
HEARTGARD And TriHeartPlus (ivermectin)
Depression/lethargy, vomiting, anorexia, diarrhea, mydriasis, ataxia staggering, convulsions and hypersalivation.
INTERCEPTOR (milbemycin oxime)
The above reactions plus weakness.
SENTINEL (milbemycin oxime)
Vomiting, depression/lethargy, pruritus, urticaria, diarrhea, anorexia, skin congestion, ataxia, convulsions, hypersalivation and weakness.
REVOLUTION® (selamectin), Topical Parasiticide For Dogs and Cats
Vomiting, loose stool or diarrhea with or without blood, anorexia, lethargy, salivation, tachypnea, and muscle tremors, pruritis, urticaria, erythema, ataxia, fever. There have been some reports of death and seizures in dogs.
ProHeart 6 and Proheart 12
These are injectable drugs that last for 6 or 12 months. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis): facial swelling, itching, difficulty breathing, collapse; lethargy (sluggishness); not eating or losing interest in food; any change in activity level; seizures; vomiting and/or diarrhea (with and without blood); weight loss; pale gums, increased thirst or urination, weakness, bleeding, bruising; rare instances of death.
The maker withdrew this drug from the market in 2004 because of deaths. But they’ve brought it back. And now they’ve introduced ProHeart 12 too! The really scary thing about these injectables is that if your dog has a reaction, you can’t just stop giving them. The drugs are in his body for 6 or 12 months.
RELATED: FDA approves potentially deadly ProHeart 12 …
And of course, if your dog gets side effects from the meds, it’ll weaken his immune system too. And a weaker immune system makes him more susceptible to all diseases … including heartworms.
How Dogs Get Heartworms
Let’s get one thing straight.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquito bites. That’s the only way your dog can get them. He can’t catch heartworms from another dog … or even another animal.
And there’s one other thing that needs clarifying.
Microfilariae Vs Larvae
People often use these words interchangeably. And even vets seem confused.
Microfilariae and larvae are both young heartworms. But they’re not the same.
Microfilariae are heartworm babies. Larvae are the toddlers that grow up from those babies. They grow from microfilariae to larvae inside mosquitoes.
- When adult heartworms breed inside an animal, they create microfilariae.
- When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up the microfilariae.
- After the mosquito picks up the microfilariae, they grow into larvae in the mosquito.
With the understanding of that difference, let’s talk about how mosquitoes give your dog heartworm. It’s quite a complicated sequence of events.
- The mosquito picks up heartworm microfilariae by biting a heartworm-infected animal.
- Microfilariae grow into larvae in the mosquito.
- The mosquito with heartworm larvae bites your dog, leaving larvae in him.
- Over about 6-7 months, the larvae can grow into adult heartworms in your dog.
- Eventually, the adult heartworms start breeding … creating microfilariae.
If you’d like a visual aid to explain the process, the AHS has quite a good diagram.
That’s a lot of background … but it’s important to grasp it so you know how to protect your dog from heartworm without toxic drugs.
How To Prevent Heartworm Naturally
Yes, it’s possible to protect your dog without harmful drugs. Even in places where mosquitoes are bad.
It might not be as simple as giving that tasty heartworm chew every month … but it’s a lot safer for your dog!
Again, remember, the goal of heartworm meds is to kill the larvae before they grow up. But your dog’s own immune system can do that … without drugs.
That’s the reason for focusing on the immune system … it’s the first step in avoiding heartworm disease.
#1 Support Your Dog’s Immune System
Your healthy dog’s own immune system can prevent heartworm disease. Yes, that’s heartworm disease, not heartworms. They’re not the same thing, as Dr Dupree said.
It means … your dog could have heartworms in his body. But they don’t have to make him sick.
Think about wild dogs like wolves, coyotes or foxes. These animals are outdoors 24/7. So they’re much more likely to get mosquito bites than domestic dogs who live mainly indoors. Wild dogs might have heartworms … but research shows they don’t get heartworm disease. And they don’t die of heartworms.
Wild dogs are healthier because they eat natural diets. And they’re not exposed to drugs and toxins like domestic dogs.
And you can strengthen your domestic dog’s health with a natural lifestyle too. That means …
- Feed a natural, raw meat-based, whole food diet (not kibble)
- Minimize vaccines
- Use natural remedies instead of pharmaceutical drugs
- Use natural flea and tick prevention
- Don’t use chemicals in your home and yard
- Give your dog fresh spring or filtered water
- Give him plenty of exercise
Even if you aren’t already doing these things, jt’s not too late to start. Your dog won’t develop a robust immune system overnight. It’ll take time … but you can help him along by giving some immune boosting herbs and supplements.
RELATED: Immune system boosters that work …
The next step in preventing heartworm is …
#2 Avoid Mosquito Bites
If you live somewhere with a lot of mosquitoes, try to keep them away from your dog.
- Avoid standing water in your yard or on walks
- Keep your dog indoors at dawn and dusk or when mosquitoes are most active
- Avoid swampy mosquito breeding areas on walks
- Use natural mosquito repellents to keep the bugs away
- Feed fresh garlic to help repel mosquitoes
Dr Patricia Jordan also suggests keeping chickens … as they love to eat mosquitoes!
Steps #1 and #2 will keep most healthy dogs heartworm free. But you may want a layer of extra protection, especially if you live in a high mosquito area … or your dog is new to the natural lifestyle!
#3 Use Herbal Heartworm Protection
There are different ways to do this.
Buy A Ready-Made Herbal Blend
There are some pre-made herbal heartworm products you can buy.
As you search, be aware their websites usually won’t directly say they prevent heartworms. That’s because the FDA won’t let manufacturers make that claim for natural products.
So they have to be a bit subtle in the language they use to describe their product. They’ll say things like …
- Supports normal heart function
- Promotes healthy blood circulation
- Helps detox foreign contaminates
- For use during mosquito season
This means you might have to call the company to find out if their product really protects from heartworm. They’ll be more open on the phone.
You may see ingredients like …
- Hawthorn (a heart-strengthening herb that helps circulation)
- Dandelion leaves (help with detox)
- Garlic (anti-parasitic, immune support and insect repellent)
- Neem (immune support, insect repellent)
- Wormwood (antiparasitic)
- Black Walnut (antiparasitic)
- Black seed (antiparasitic
Use Individual Herbs
For this option it’s best to work with a holistic vet or herbalist. A professional can recommend a protocol to protect your dog from heartworm. The advantage of this approach is that it can be tailored to your dog’s individual needs.
Your herbalist may recommend various combinations of herbs. They may include herbs like …
- Wormwood (antiparasitic – use only with professional guidance)
- Hawthorn (strengthens heart function)
- Ginger (supports heart disease risk factors)
- Thyme (supports immunity, repels mosquitoes)
- Garlic (supports heart health, repels insects)
- Peppermint (bug repellent)
- Cinnamon (for heart and neurological health)
- Cloves (antiparasitic)
- Dan shen (supports cardiovascular health)
- Medicinal mushrooms (boost immunity)
- CoQ10 (heart-strengthening supplement)
You can find a holistic veterinarian who uses western herbs in their practice. Search at ahvma.org and select Western Herbs as the Modality.
Herbalists Greg Tilford and Mary Wulff recommend giving echinacea if you’re going into high risk areas. Echinacea supports your dog’s immune system. You can give most dogs 12-25 drops of tincture 3 times a day, for 3 days before and 3 days after your outing.
Caution: Don’t use echinacea full time. Most experts say it’s best used when the immune system needs extra support.
There’s one other thing you can do to protect your dog … even if you don’t give any drugs or herbal remedies.
#4 Test For Heartworm More Often
Most vets recommend testing for heartworm once a year, in spring. But if you test your dog for heartworm more often … you’ll find an infection sooner. And that means you can start treating him at an earlier stage.
Keep reading … because there’s some detailed information you need to know.
First, let’s get into the different types of heartworm tests.
How Heartworm Tests Work
There are 3 different types of heartworm tests.
The regular test your vet does is an antigen test. Here are the shortcomings of this test.
- It can only identify adult female heartworms. That’s why your vet says it takes heartworms 6 months to show up on testing.
- Heartworm antigen can be in the blood within 5 months. But most dogs won’t show antigen until 7 months after infection.
- These tests also may not pick up a low worm burden. If your dog only has one or two female worms, the test has a 30-40% false negative rate.
- Some dogs won’t show antibody at all due to “antigen-antibody complexes” in the blood.
So that’s why your vet may also do a microfilariae test.
This test will show if there are microfilariae in your dog’s system. And official recommendations have changed. In the past, vets only did it if the antigen test was positive or weak-positive.
The AHS now recommends doing the microfilariae test annually. This avoids false negatives on the antigen test. A positive microfilariae test confirms there are mature heartworms in your dog. And they’re breeding.
Those two are the tests your vet likely knows about. But there’s a little known, third type of test.
DNA Heartworm Test
This is a DNA test using PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology. It tests for heartworm DNA in your dog’s blood.
The place to get this test is HealthGene in Canada. The test is the D319 Canine Heartworm (Diofilaria immitis) test on this page. HealthGene confirms that the test identifies heartworms at all stages. That means it shows microfilariae, larvae and adult heartworms.
You’ll need your vet’s help, because HealthGene won’t work with you directly. Your vet can order the test kits here. Then she’ll have to send the sample to HealthGene in Canada.
So … which test should you get? And how often?
Which Heartworm Test Should You Choose?
If your vet will help you get the DNA test … the best choice is the DNA test by HealthGene.
Again … when an infected mosquito infects your dog, it transmits larvae. The larvae take 6-7 months to grow into adults. The DNA test will identify larvae in your dog’s blood.
Finding the larvae vs adult heartworms means the infection is much easier to treat. So you’d only need to give heartworm meds if your dog’s DNA test was positive for larvae. And not every single month. Or you could use a herbal remedy instead.
It’s more hassle to get this test. But it’s doable … you just have to talk your vet into it!
But if that’s too hard (or expensive) … or you just can’t find a vet to help you …
Next best is the regular antigen test your vet does. But you’ll need to do it more often than once a year.
Vets insist there’s no point in testing more often than once a year. That’s because they know the test won’t be positive until 6 or 7 months after infection. So they test in spring, before prescribing heartworm meds for the next season.
But wouldn’t it be better to know if your dog’s positive sooner rather than later? Your vet waits until several months after the end of mosquito season. But if peak mosquito season where you live is during summer months (June through August) … your dog could test positive as early as December or January. Why wait till spring to find out?
It could be worth a couple of extra tests starting 6 months after the beginning of mosquito season wherever you live. And then, if your dog is positive, you can start treating him a few months sooner … before more adults develop.
The microfilariae test is just a way to confirm the accuracy of the antigen test. So if you want to be more confident, you could do it alongside the antigen test.
Heartworms Are Becoming Resistant To Meds
You might have heard that heartworms are becoming resistant to heartworm meds. The more we use the drugs, the less effective they become. In the US, more and more dogs each year are getting heartworm while on the meds.
Yet the AHS had an ironic response to these reports. Their solution is to recommend heartworm meds year-round. Let’s see … the heartworms are becoming resistant to the drugs … so the solution is to give more drugs? Does that make sense to you?
Why do they think giving heartworm meds more often is the answer? Well, it might have something to do with the companies who fund them …
Their sponsors are names like …
- Boehringer Ingelheim
All makers of heartworm drugs! So of course … the people who make money from heartworm meds want you to take them more often. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy their products.
So in summary, here’s why I don’t give my dogs heartworm meds:
- Heartworms are becoming resistant. Even dogs on meds are getting them.
- Heartworm meds contain toxic ingredients. These toxins make my dogs more likely to get heartworms and other parasites.
- Heartworm meds can be replaced with herbal remedies.
- Regular testing can help you identify infections earlier.
Perhaps you’ll consider avoiding these drugs too. Your vet may disapprove. But now you have some information to help you with that discussion!
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