What’s the Impact of “Corporatization” on Our Pets’ Veterinary Care?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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36 thoughts on “What’s the Impact of “Corporatization” on Our Pets’ Veterinary Care?

  1. So glad I have a wonderful independent vet practice for my animals that not only provides great care, but doesn’t charge for rechecks and a variety of other services, and does lots of very discounted services for the non-profit TNR group I run. I would be sunk without them!

  2. Yes… I’ve heard a lot about over-vaccination as a money spinner and its effects on the animal. My vet was quite convincing about the necessity of having my girls vaccinated, and because there are a lot of cats in this area, I’d rather my girls were protected. Difficult…

      • I know what you mean. My girls had the full course and then boosters every year…my father (retired vet) obviously encouraged his clients to have their pets vaccinated every year, as it was a regular earner for the practice. But…I have spoken to some vets who say every other year is fine…others say the full course at the beginning is sufficient, holistic vets say the same.. I have my girls get the booster every year because there are a lot of cats in the area and one year there was a health scare…It’s tricky, knowing the best thing to do.

      • Wow that’s right, your dad was a vet…gives you a great perspective on the issue. The article had a part about annual vaccines from a vet’s point of view: not only is it an earner, but those yearly reminders help get clients in the door who might not otherwise come in for annual checkups.

      • Exactly…then a dental check and other things follow…
        Tooty was spayed at one of these franchised vet centres. The level of care was definitely…different, as she came out with a chest infection too. On the other hand, my usual vet had Feliway in the pens..treats at reception…why do standards vary so much?? I can get an appointment at my doctor’s the same day if I ring in the morning…my partner has to wait up to two weeks!

      • Yes, as others have said here, there’s nothing like the attention and care your pets tend to get at a smaller practice, where they’re greeted like old friends! 🙂

  3. In the early 2000s, when I worked at a two-man vet clinic, we used to hear nightmare stories of animals who had been taken to one of the corporations you named. Granted, it was just one place, and I certainly can’t speak for all of them, but that experience was enough to keep me away from the “big” places and cringe when people would tell me they take their animals there. Even now in our new location (new state), I have managed to track down a small not-for-profit clinic. I know there are certain things they can’t handle but the care and treatment so far given to my animals is wonderful. Far better than the big clinic we recently abandoned. Still and all, one has to make their own investigation just as with your own medical care.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, I’m sure it will be really helpful for people to read! Agree that you have to be as vigilant about the quality of your pet’s medical care as your own.

  4. I have a small clinic with four vets that work there but what I LOVE about them is that when they come into the exam room, the first thing they do kneel down for snuggles and say hi to the dogs before they really pay much attention to me. That’s why I love the smaller practices. Although I’m lucky enough to be in a town too small for a large corp practice. They’ve already commercialized every other aspect of our pets, can they at least leave their health from being such a money-maker?

    • Yes, I love the personal attention of the vets and staff at a small practice too! We currently take our cats to a one person practice and are totally comfortable with that. She has a “back up system” whenever she wants a second opinion, which is great.

  5. This is not a good trend, I had heard about MARS buying up a vet practice from an instagram account I follow… and This one is close to home… “In 2015 the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan spent $440 million to buy a pet hospital group.” I don’t believe these groups are at all interested in what is truly best for the animals – it’s just another way to make money.

    Also the whole vaccine issue – I don’t believe in vaccinating cats every year or even 2 but people have to do their own research – especially for indoor cats. My own cats were only vaccinated once or twice during their life – besides the Rabies Vaccine which is mandatory (especially for outdoor cats). Luckily I had a vet who was open to the discussion & didn’t push them.

    An option for pet parents is to have your pets titers done to determine whether or not the vaccines are truly needed. It may mean spending more money but it can help give a better idea of what is truly needed when.

    As with our own health care we have to be more vigilante & self educated these days. Will be sharing this post on FB/Twitter.

  6. This is very concerning. I grew up with horses and dogs. Our veterinarian was a great friend of the family. He owned a very simple practice and he was never in it to make more money than a comfortable living. My parents were able to make arrangements with him that would not be available in large community animal hospitals. Without those arrangements, my mother would have had a much more difficult time with her animals. Thanks for the post. It was a great read!

  7. Over-vaccinating is certainly a concern. Before I started doing my own research, I would’ve thought it necessary to vaccinate every year. Thankfully, the vet practice we take our pets to has a three-year rabies vaccine, and though they’ll suggest vaccinating, or at least getting a booster, on a yearly basis, they’re pretty good about not pushing the issue. Even so, I worry because the last time my little Pixie got her rabies vaccine, she ended up with a lump at the injection site. What that lump is, we don’t know yet :/ Makes me worry a lot, though.

    • How much and how often to vaccinate is definitely a huge concern. Lumps at injection sites are common, and sometimes limping and lethargy. Not to mention the worries about future injection site carcinomas. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective on this important issue!

      • I’ve read some research that says that the protection of vaccines can last upwards of seven years. Any idea if that’s true? I would prefer it if it was. I’m not looking forward to taking Pixie in for her next rabies vaccine in a couple years :/

      • There seem to be different theories about that, depending on who you ask. Many vets believe in the 3 year schedule, but people with a more holistic approach say less is better. Also, each pet should be looked at individually. Indoor-only cats have different risk levels than pets who regularly go outside, for example.

  8. I agree, pets should definitely be looked at individually. There’s also people who’ve said vets give the same amount of vaccine to a big dog as to a small dog. My dog being small, I worry that she’s given too much. Plus our dogs spend the majority of their time indoors, as do two of our cats, but our two mousers are out there regularly. So it’s a matter of, do they really need this vaccine/booster right now or can it wait a few years because they’re not as exposed to outside diseases? I guess it’s just a matter of figuring out what amount you’re personally okay with giving your pet.

  9. Thank you so much for writing this. I worked at privately owned hospitals and corporate hospitals. Now that I have made a change from Veterinary medicine to a human services line of work, I find that I am extremely happy for my knowledge of the Veterinary field. My pets do not go to corporate hospitals and if I have to pay just a little more for a private practice, I am happy to do so.

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