Weird & Wild

The Incredible Dr. Pol on Why He Became a Vet

The star veterinarian's popular show, which premieres for its eighth season on January 9, is even more wild and woolly.

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In a previous episode, Dr. Pol examines a baby alpaca that is having trouble walking in Weidman, Michigan.


Star veterinarian Dr. Pol has handled a lot of animals in his day—but his show's eighth season on Nat Geo WILD is getting even more wild and woolly. 

Beyond your average array of barnyard friends, Dr. Pol will also treat reindeer, hedgehogs, and more unusual critters during his rounds in rural Michigan. 

In between patients, Dr. Pol sat down with National Geographic to talk more about his work on the The Incredible Dr. Pol, which premieres January 9 at 9/8c. Portions of the interview were edited for length and clarity.

When you first became a vet, did you want to focus on one particular type of animal, like dogs or horses?

I was born on a farm in the Netherlands where we had all different kinds of animals. We were almost self-sufficient. When I became a vet, I didn’t want to do just large or small animals. I felt almost a kind of calling to help any kind of animal. I didn’t want to turn any animal away that might need help or attention. (Related: "The Real Story of The Incredible Dr. Pol.")

How do you treat so many different types of animals?

You can’t know everything about how to help different animals. You have to know when to ask for help. But everything starts with the physical exam. It’s always a challenge to make the right diagnosis, but if you know what a healthy animal looks like, you can go from there. (Test your farm-animal trivia on Dr. Pol's website.)

Livestock-guarding dogs get a check-up in the season premiere of The Incredible Dr. Pol.

What’s one of the most unusual animals you’ve treated over the years?

I got called by a wildlife rescue to take a look at a great horned owl, and you can hand feed some of these birds after just a few hours. I was also asked to give a health certificate to the animals in a traveling circus that was nearby, which included an elephant and a hippopotamus. Those were definitely the most unusual animals I’ve ever had to look at.

Do you have any favorite animals from this upcoming season?

The crew condenses over 200 hours of film into a 40-minute show, so I don’t always know what they’ve picked to focus on until the show airs. So I couldn’t say. But with every patient, I aim to help the animal and help the owner. It’s a calling.

Lots has been written about the bond between humans and dogs, and humans and cats. Is this bond different between humans and other types of animals?

Most animals definitely know who owns them and who feeds them and they do form a type of bond. They learn to accept the person who feeds them, but they might not always be a comforting pet like a dog or cat. But lots of people are fine with that. (See "25 Things You Didn't Know About Dr. Pol.")

Regardless of what species it is, what are some of the benefits of having a pet?

For children and young adults, animals help them learn to empathize. Horses, goats, sheep … kids have to be able to take care of these animals and learn to be responsible for them, which is a really important lesson. It’s really good for kids to grow up with animals. 

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