Buyer Beware: Why Big Business and Veterinary Practices Just Don’t Mix

Corporatization is changing the world of petcare, and our pets are paying the price.

There’s no doubt that the quality of petcare has improved drastically in recent years. However, an emerging trend is threatening to undo all of the amazing progress we’ve made over the past several decades. The perpetrator? Big business.

Whereas most veterinary practices used to be run by individual providers, more and more corporations are seeing petcare as an opportunity to turn a profit off of people’s love for their pets. In fact, according to Bloomberg contributor Jason Clenfield, “corporations now own 15 to 20 percent of America’s 26,000 pet hospitals,” and consolidators are buying them up at breakneck speed.

The Trouble with Big Vets

To some, consolidated ownership of veterinary practices might actually sound like a good idea — after all, big businesses come with substantial resources, which in theory should mean better technology and advanced care options. Unfortunately, this simply hasn’t been the case.

In the vast majority of cases, these corporations take measures to limit the authority of the practitioner, which often gets in the way of their ability to administer quality care. In fact, it’s relatively common for parent companies to assign mandates that are meant to be carried out universally, regardless of an animal’s individual needs or best interests. While this one-size-fits-all approach may sound like a smart move on paper (particularly where budgets are concerned), in many cases the cons far outnumber the pros.

John Robb’s Story

Still not convinced? Consider the case of John Robb, an exemplary veterinarian who once aligned himself with corporate giant Banfield, the world’s largest animal hospital chain. Despite warnings from colleagues and peers, Robb went into business with Banfield because of the financial security it would provide for his family.

Unfortunately, Robb’s prosperity didn’t last for long. Now entangled in a bitter legal battle with Banfield, Robb claims that the corporation stole his hospital and “is turning animal medicine into an exploitative, even dangerous business.” According to Robb, Banfield and other businesses like it are committing ‘peticide,’ or “the systematic destruction of pets by corporations for profit.”

In 2012, Banfield claimed that Robb violated its vaccine protocols and then seized his practice. Robb’s defense? It’s true that he was giving some of his smaller patients half-doses of vaccines, but he did so after several of them had nearly died from vaccine-related reactions. Despite the corporation’s claims that Robb was operating dangerously, his practice’s mortality rate is significantly lower than many of the vets Banfield employs.

According to 2015 data, for example, Robb had a 100% survival rate in 2,241 canine dental procedures, whereas Banfield lost 747 dogs in five years, “about one death for every 2,000 dental procedures.” Although Banfield certainly operates on more dogs than Robb does alone, it also operates unnecessarily, often sedating dogs every year for an “annual cleaning,” which is an entirely elective (and often superfluous) procedure.

What You Can Do?

So, what can a concerned pet owner do? Although it’s unlikely that these corporate vet practices will disappear anytime soon, there are still plenty of high-quality, privately owned veterinary hospitals across the country to choose from. If going with an independent practice isn’t an option, arm yourself with information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, do plenty of research, and if you’re not comfortable with a particular diagnosis or procedure, get a second opinion.

Most importantly, you should share this story with your friends, family, and fellow pet owners. Many people aren’t even aware that this is happening, and educating one another is the first step in fighting back against corporate interests and subpar care. After all, your pet is a part of the family — not an annual earnings report.

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