Is “The Incredible Dr. Pol” Truly Incredible?

Have you seen the National Geographic show, “The Incredible Dr. Pol?” This is a reality television series that films Dr. Jan Pol, a country veterinarian in Michigan as he works on all creatures, large and small.

Apparently, many viewers love the show. Perhaps it conjures up warm fuzzy feelings, reminiscent of the beloved James Herriot. Others, however, have voiced concerns about the way “The Incredible Dr. Pol” portrays the veterinary profession. Those doing the griping- publicly, that is- happen to be veterinarians. They feel that Dr. Pol’s style of practice falls way short of what is considered “modern medicine.” In a recent DVM Magazine article, veterinarian Dr. Angel Brothers is quoted as saying, “The show is glorifying substandard veterinary care.” She sites two examples, one in which Dr. Pol splints a calf’s leg using wood slivers from a bushel basket. In the second example, a dog’s tail has been partially cut off by a screen door, and Dr. Pol stitches it up with little anesthesia and the owner holding the dog down.

Within the DVM Magazine article Dr. Dallas McMillan of Queensland, Australia states,

We still get owners asking if we can do surgery on dogs under local and thinking a steroid injection is the gold standard treatment for any condition. It only takes one vet in an area practicing at this standard and the others appear to be over-servicing to budget-conscious clients. There are times when you do need to take shortcuts, but there are always risks and downsides, and it sounds like this show is glorifying the “cowboy” approach to vet science without exploring the negatives.

How has National Geographic responded to the criticism? According to their spokesperson, Rajul Mistry,

It is an undisputed fact that Dr. Pol has helped thousands of animals throughout his 40-year career as a veterinarian. His very successful clinic has been in business for 30 years, where residents of Michigan count on him to help their sick pets and farm animals. Within the community, Dr. Pol is widely trusted by his clients. He plays an integral role in keeping local farmers’ livestock healthy and in turn, their businesses profitable.

I’ve never watched “The Incredible Dr. Pol” (true confession- I don’t own a television). Have you? If so, what is your take on this issue?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.



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16 Comments on “Is “The Incredible Dr. Pol” Truly Incredible?

  1. Sure wish we had an old-timey country vet here. I wouldn’t complain if he or she was a little retro.

    There is no small ruminant vet. None. If a goat health issue is beyond my abilities and the knowledge base of phone mentors and the internet, then it comes down to the rifle. Small ruminants are unprofitable, no point in knowing about them.

    I understand that the guy just down the road — the one who won’t do an OFA film because the dog isn’t injured, so why x-ray it, the one with the new “laser surgery” suite — is about to lose his license and a lawsuit. But he’s “modern,” so he must be good.

    Also, I’m trying to figure out which are the keywords that trigger a flurry of ranting about Cesar Millan from people with a lot of irrelevant alphabet after their names. I’m thinking that they are “and” “the” and “rhubarb.”

  2. Practicing rural Veterinary Medicine should not be an excuse for practicing poor medicine. There are basic standards of care and from the shows I have watched on Youtube it appears his standard of care is 20 years behind the times. I live in a rural area and while we do not have easy physical access to specialists our Vets practice a high standard of care.

    To say that cost is a factor in his standard of care is absurd.. How inexpensive are the basics like masks and gloves..
    Allowing anesthetized dogs to be placed in the back of a truck and driven off after surgery, no sterile fields, no monitoring during surgery, no IV’s, and I could go on..

    I have no idea why people would accept this level of care unless they don’t know the difference.

  3. Dr. Pol must have forgotten the 1st rule of medicine; DO NO HARM”. Dr. Pol can afford to do no harm, he can get pain meds donated to him, antibiotics, fluids, etc.
    Come on Dr. Pol, call Purina, they donate millions to needy animals of all kinds, rescue Org’s donate money if you can not afford the gold standard.
    My Brother rescued a dog who ended up with a chronic eye condition, he called a poodle rescue org. who gladly help him with the gold standard Vet bills and medications.
    There is always help for those who look outside the box, shame on National Geographic, they know better.
    Do no harm means cure, relieve pain or stop the pain.
    If Dr. Pol can afford what he is doing now he can easily find a way to do it better for the animals.

  4. I have watched Dr. Pol and I think what he is doing is great. He helps people with little or no money. He drives where ever he is needed. Being a rural Vet is a bit different than a vet who practices in the city with access to labs and all the medicines. Jeez louise people who are you to judge a fellow who helps his community in every way he can?
    Instead of complaining, maybe clean your own backyard and see who you have been helping lately.

  5. I watched one episode where a dog was severely injured by another dog. All Dr. Pol did was put him in a crate with a heating pad, said he was in shock. No fluids, I can’t remember if he did give him a pain killer, but the dog died. I know there is a lot more that could have been done, the dog was conscious when he was brought in.

    That said, he does practice with a simple no nonsense approach.

  6. What I would like to add for the veterinarians who are critizicing Dr. Pol, give it a try and work for some time in a rural environment. Try to apply the same standard that is being practiced in many city vet clinics on pets to the farm and rural environment. It won’t work. If a vet drives many miles often on dirt roads to a farm to treat an animal in distress, he can’t be insisting to run some bloodwork before initiating treatment. He will do the best he can, often make an educated guess, as in giving a steroid shot and an antibiotic, that may be the best he can do, if the farmer hasn’t already done that. Likewise if a rural pet owner drove an hour to take their pet into the vet, they may not have the luxury to say well, let’s do some labwork first and then decide, with the gas prices and time constraints, one may decide on doing labwork but take an educated guess on what treatment may work and send the owner home with that. I take my pets mostly to my longtime “city vet”, that’s a 2 hour trip one way for me. He works with me knowing that we got to do sort of “one stop shopping” as I can’t just come in on a whim. We communicate by e-mail or phone, and try to work around the problems with the long distance. I have my farm vet come out for other stuff, he is also the one who I call to give rabies shots when I have a bunch of my dogs due, instead of me having to shuttle one or two at a time to a vet office. He was speechless for a while when I called to inquire about him euthanizing one of my chickens, but heck, he came out and did it which spared the bird the stress of me having to bring her to a local vet office for it

  7. It is a shame that NatGeo, once the gold standard for the exploration of nature, anthropology, animal science, and all things scientific, has dipped to representing mediocrity in more than one area. I had hoped that “The Dog Whisperer” was a one-time lack of judgement, but this now sets a precedent to a worrying pattern.

  8. Dr. Nancy – you’ve done it again – great writing job on this blog entry – issuing a kind of warning, but not in a bashing way – rather, in a way to get us to think and use our heads.

    Yesterday I notified a Yahoo Group I help to moderate, about diabetes in dogs (cats less), about your appearance to come on the DogRead Yahoo Group, where I see you’ll be the guest from 1 – 15 March this year. with your new book. I asked people to join DogRead now, so as to be sure to get in during your guest-ship.

    The group I notified is:

    I’m VERY swamped right now, with my Havanese rescue, Camellia Camelo, and her atopy- but MY vet is a board-certified specialist in Internal Medicine (Dr. Amanda Booth), Furthermore, my Trupanion insurance is coming through to help cover costs, after doing a thorough investigation (which showed this was a new, not a pre-existing) condition.

    I tell ya, Dr. Nancy, I’m SO GLAD I took out vet insurance on Camellia; she’s my first dog to have it.

    That’s not QUITE beside the point, as it means I can afford to have the very best vet (locally), and the two other vets that work with her are also top-notch – they all work as a team, and so do the techs and the rest of the staff.

    A vet practice where ALL employees are kept up-to-date and assist with the animals, is one super-duper practice!

    In my nearly four decades with dogs and cats as a adult, I have watched advances in veterinary practices, and I am SO GLAD you are doing the work you’re doing and writing those books. That really, really helps.

    Tue, 21 Feb 2012 09:12:51 (PST)
    Camellia and Carol

  9. there are some video clips on youtube on Dr. Pol, so I watched a few of them. I couldn’t help but smile at his no-nonsense approach and keeping things simple. Very impressive on how he untwisted a cow’s stomach. It appears he is mostly a farm vet and what many people don’t realize, is that in rural areas things are a bit different and when dealing with livestock one doesn’t have the same options as somebody has who lives in a big city. I saw two clips of him treating dogs and I didn’t see anything wrong with what he did, and my own veterinarians probably would have done the same things he did. I will have to see if I can get this program on TV, I don’t normally watch TV, but this may be something worth making time for.

  10. Too bad National Geographic only cares about ratings and not taking the time to research what they are putting out there for their veiwers. Too bad they are not taking the time to educate the public about what is the proper way to treat animals. I am a dog trainer and I can’t tell you how many people say they want me to train their dog Cesar’s way. I tell them Cesar’s way is not nessisarily right way and they say, sure it is, he is on t.v. and not just any channel, but on National Geographic.

  11. I grew up in Kansas back in the 50’s and he is the type of vet that was practicing then. They did everything because farms were where most of their business was, dogs and cats were just a sideline. Now we have specialist for everything.
    I think the people using him look to be farmers of an older generation as well as retired people that grew up like me and kept to that practice, I didn’t. I have an excellent vet that will tell me when he doesn’t have an answer but then goes about finding the answer. He utilizes specialist and even has them come to his clinic to perform ortho surgeries as well as unltrasounds.
    I don’t think vets should think ill and say ill of Dr. Pol just understand he comes from a different time and his client base likes what he does. Would I go to him, no but those that do trust him and that is a big issue with people that care about their animals. I moved to a new area and had to interview 5 vets before I found the one I am currently with. Why, because money was the bottom line or the others weren’t willing to include me in the treatment process. I want to be involved and have been a vet tech so understand what can be involved.
    One day Dr. Pol will either retire or die and then the controversy will end amongst us but his clients will be devastated and isn’t that what every veterinarian would want from his clients, total trust?

  12. While I haven’t seen the show myself, this article certainly supports my opinion that National Geographic is all about sensationalism and ratings.

  13. I feel a bit silly writing this, as I too have never seen the Dr. Pol show. There are problems filming unscripted “reality” programs, as the producers never quite know what’s going to happen until it actually does. This results in much cutting and pasting of the material, not often with the best judgement on the part of the editors. Thus, we rarely see the entire story of what if really occurring, and it’s not easy to say whether Dr. Pol is doing the best that can be done for his clients. Showing the story of an actual vet is difficult and can lead to many misinterpretations.

    I think that any program showing a vet in a positive light is helpful. Vets are often called upon to provide that final act of love that we must often face as our pets become so enfeebled that they are no longer able to live a life of quality. If there are children involved when this occurs, it is easy for them to misinterpret what is happening and to blame the vet for the death of a beloved family member. I remember a Disney movie that I saw a number of years ago, although I can’t remember its name nor its actors other than an older James Best, who played an evil vet who murdered people’s pets for some nefarious reason that I also don’t remember. It was a children’s movie and I can just imagine some kid seeing it and then needing to take his pet to a real vet the next day.

    I’d also like to say something about Cesar Millan, whose show I have seen several times. I never noticed him doing anything cruel to the dogs with which he worked, and I couldn’t understand why people were so negative about him. Then I saw a “SouthPark” parody, where Eric Cartman’s mother hired Millan to help straighten out Eric. Suddenly I realized just how cruel Millan’s practices were. Of course, Cartman deserved the treatment he got, not so the pets with which Millan worked.

  14. And so it seems Nat Geo cares little about the quality of its shows and more about their ratings. When the ASPCA requested that Nat Geo remove “The Dog Whisperer” from their lineup, they declined because it is their number 1 show.
    Never mind that dog owners, much less their dogs, could be injured by some of Cesar’s techniques, regardless of the protests by renowned behaviorists.

    Seems money talks once again.

  15. National Geographic seems a bit behind the times. First Cesar Millan with outdated, sometimes cruel (or at least controversial!) training methods, and now Dr. Pol … I’ve never seen the show, but interestingly, his clinic is a stone’s throw from where we are when in Michigan and I’d thought about looking him up. “Substandard” veterinary care? No thanks!

  16. Never seen it, as I have an antenna! While I loved the James Herriot British TV show, I once saw a documentary on the real Dr. Herriot. He came in and looked at an old dog, decided he was through, told the owner they should euthanize him. He gave the dog a shot while the owner was trying to hold the dog down, pleading, “don’t struggle, don’t struggle”, as the dog struggled. He then put the dog in his boot after asking if she wanted him to take care of him. The whole thing was very sad. While the dog may have been a long time patient with an uncurable malady, there was no discussion about it. Dr. Herriot said so and it was done.

    This is very much old country doctor style. Not saying it is good or bad, as sometimes modern drs. want to do something, anything, and it doesn’t have much value.

    And I think that the DVM article complaints mentioning steroids as a wonder drug applicable to everything are very apt. I want to tell you there’s a LOT of that out there. Also using drugs such as Flagyl, which are totally off label as they’ve never been approved for vet use. Not to mention immediate prescription of ‘roids and antibiotics for a supposed GI infection, w/o a real diagnosis.

    So while these people are busy complaining, they should spend a little time trying to clean up things they can actually have an effect on.

    Cripes what difference does it make what they splint a leg with if it works?