What It Means to Support Local Business
AKA- How Corporations and Big Box Will Be Dictating Pet Care
There has been a HUGE shift in veterinary medicine over the past 10 years since I started practicing.
I began before Google, Amazon, PetMeds and Chewy were even in existence (or at least not main stream). I began when clients wanted more than “shots” and were seeking education about their pets’ well-being and how they could be partners in care. I began when the hospital pharmacy was the only way to acquire prescription medications, spay and neuter procedures were not offered at any low-cost facilities and vaccines were only administered by Doctors in a veterinary clinic. I began when > 98% of animal hospitals were family-owned small businesses.
Fast forward 10 years… Vaccines are available inside many pet stores almost every day. Medications are available online from big box retailers and there are low cost, high volume spay/ neuter clinics in every neighborhood. Currently in the US approximately 10% of animal hospitals are corporate owned. This is estimated to increase to > 50% within the next 10 years. You may not realize when a clinic is no longer family-owned, as they have retained their logos and forego corporate branding- although the management and pricing structure have been assumed by the corporate entity.
While these options may seem attractive to consumers weighing costs of care, what you may not realize is that each aspect of care that is outsourced (to a 3rd party) increases the cost of care when your pet is sick or needs surgery in the veterinary hospital…
Your hospital has skilled nursing staff and doctors ready to handle anything your pets come up with. (poison ingestion, orthopedic surgery, ultrasound, complete examinations and preventive care plans) If we are not seeing your pets for the “regular” stuff- we have to support the clinic with the sick pets and emergencies…
Most animal hospitals will offer 3 year vaccinations for Rabies, Distemper and Parvo. Vaccine clinics administer 1 year vaccines and charge (nearly) the same amount. Concurrently, your pet is not receiving a full physical exam, discussion with a doctor about that heart murmur, the slow onset of cataracts, or the risks posed by obesity.
Medications provided by veterinary clinics are NEVER counterfeit, always shipped properly and are ALL GUARANTEED by the manufacturer. This means that any parasite or disease that the medication is intended to prevent would be covered 100% for diagnosis and treatment. (up to $3000 for Lyme disease by one company and over $2500 for heartworm disease from another) This is only valid if the prevention is purchased from a licensed veterinarian- primarily due to inappropriate dosing, storage and counterfeit medications being sold online.
With rebates and free doses, many times medication is LESS expensive in the hospital than it is via online retailers and even less than over-the-counter medications; not to mention more effective. We also get to give your growing puppy or kitten a single dose for the perfect size! If you purchase online, you have to purchase 3-6 at a time… That’s not practical for growing pets.
Low cost spay/ neuter looks great from a distance, but it is not the same as having your pet’s surgery in a veterinary hospital… At the veterinary hospital your pet has a dedicated nurse to monitor anesthesia, an IV placed for fluid and emergency medication administration, they are on a warming blanket above and below with monitors for: EKG, blood pressure, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, heart rate, body temperature and exhaled carbon dioxide. These are the special steps provided by your AAHA Accredited hospital to ensure your pet’s safety. This is the same level of care that a pediatric surgery patient would receive in a human hospital.
In a high-volume surgery facility, your pet will likely be one of several in the room, at the same time, with one person monitoring multiple pets, no electronic monitors for vitals and safety and no external warming or IV access. Why don’t they have these things? Because they are costly to administer… Which is why it is more costly to have the procedure done in a hospital.
Corporate-owned hospitals have HUGE bulk buying power with distributors and manufacturers. So what does this mean? It means their costs are markedly lower than an independently owned hospital (and when combined with corporate pricing structure) equates to a much larger profit margin. As a result, they can sustain the loss of revenue from the other services… Family-owned businesses cannot maintain services with the smaller margins and outsourcing of routine care.
So how does this impact everyone?
It propagates the online retailers’ pet pharmacy business, vaccine clinics are over-vaccinating with annual instead of 3 year protocols, the safety margin and quality of care for routine sterilization is sacrificed and your pet’s care is fragmented between 4 entities instead of one local veterinarian.
I predict that in the near future, costs of veterinary services will increase exponentially in order to maintain care for sick and emergent pets and major surgical procedures. As there is an ongoing decline in routine care inside veterinary clinics, smaller family-owned hospitals will lapse and close their doors. Corporate-owned hospitals will corner the market and set prices and there won’t be an independent doctor down the street to offer a more competitive price for needed services.
Eventually, veterinary medicine will look like human medicine… We won’t be able to afford care for our pets without insurance, because prices will be too high. Corporations and pet insurance will dictate prices. Doctors will have protocols dictated to them by corporate entities in the interest of “the bottom line”. Your pet’s care will be directed by administrators and NOT veterinarians.
This makes me sad… When I opened Urban Veterinary Associates 16 months ago, I was determined to cater to pet owners seeking profoundly personalized pet care at an affordable price point. This is still my mission every day and will continue to be so; we need continued support from our families to make this happen.
Please consider the true cost of sourcing your pet’s care away from the Veterinarian, how it impacts the community and the families that own the hospital. Please don’t let pet care be over-run like our human counterpart.
Dr. Jessica Torok
Veterinarian, Mother, Small Business Owner, Local Employer, Pet Expert, Community Member, Chamber of Commerce Supporter, Local Event Sponsor, Neighbor and Friend