Is the solo veterinary practice becoming a thing of the past? Like health care for humans, veterinary care for pets is dramatically changing with the growth of large corporate pet hospitals like Banfield and VCA. Many Americans are choosing to bypass the corner pet store and shop for pet supplies at big box retailers…so it’s not such a surprise to see a vet practice, dog training area, and groomer when you enter these stores. But are we sacrificing quality for convenience?
A recent in-depth article on Bloomberg.com takes a long hard look at the corporatization of veterinary care. It’s a must-read for any concerned pet owner. The article profiles a veterinarian named John Robb who has worked in his own practice, as well as for Banfield and VCA, over the course of his career. He fears that a standardized, one-size-fits-all approach to pet care may be doing more harm than good. What’s the biggest bone of contention for Robb and many other critics of the corporate approach? The over-vaccination of pets because vaccines are such a significant source of income.
The debate about whether or not we are over-vaccinating our pets, to the detriment of their health, is very complicated. But there is a growing sentiment among experts that “wellness plans” which include multiple, repeated vaccines are unnecessary and maybe even dangerous, given hazards like bad reactions to shots and even injection-site cancers. These risks have many people asking “How much is too much?”
Besides vaccines, another source of profit is diagnostic testing. Did you know that VCA owns Antech Diagnostics, a laboratory that performs testing for 50% of the nation’s veterinary hospitals? This translates to 41% of VCA’s operating profit. While bloodwork and other diagnostic testing can certainly save lives, some critics are concerned that appropriate care can take a backseat to easy profits.
According to the article, corporations now own between 15-20% of all veterinary practices in the U.S., whether they build their own or purchase existing practices from independent veterinarians. Many states actually have laws prohibiting the corporate ownership of veterinary practices, but companies can work around them using complicated management structures.
The bottom line for pet owners? We should approach veterinary care the same way we approach our own medical care. Don’t be afraid to shop around for a veterinary practice you feel comfortable with, and it’s OK to ask questions and get second opinions about your pet’s care, the same as you would for your own. Whether you choose a small vet practice or a large one, being a well-informed advocate for your pet’s health is the best thing you can do.