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What Do a Candy Company and Veterinary Services Have in Common?
Turns out, they have more in common than you might think.
Mars, Inc., which also owns Banfield Pet Hospital, is about to merge with VCA, Inc., and BluePearl Veterinary Partners, two other large veterinary chains. VCA also runs a dog daycare franchise called Camp Bow Wow, and Antech Diagnostics, the industry’s biggest laboratory. This merger turns a candy company into the dominant holder of corporate-owned pet hospitals, a major player in pet food, and, essentially, the name in diagnostic testing.
Mars Petcare is already a leading manufacturer of pet food with global brands that include Royal Canin, Pedigree, Iams, Eukanuba, Cesar, Nutro, and more. Mars has a growing business in pet DNA testing through the Wisdom Panel, and recently acquired the Whistle GPS tracker for dogs.
This all means that a candy company could be influencing nearly all aspects of your dog’s life, including what he eats, how his health is managed, even how he spends his days at dog day care.
Why is the Mars-VCA merger so scary for pet owners?
The issue comes when you look at the difference between the traditional, privately-owned, veterinarian practice and a corporate-owned model. A private veterinarian is in business for him- or herself, and — for good or ill — answers only to him- or herself. A veterinarian in a corporate-owned practice answers to a company, whose executives may have great ideas for making money but not much background in animal medicine.
Banfield, the most famous of the corporate-owned veterinarians, has been in the news for backlash against the effects of its corporate-owned model. Banfield veterinarians, held to a practice model where generation of income outweighs proper practice of medicine, are required to routinely push “wellness plans” which, under the guise of making it easier to care for your pet, actually up-sell unnecessary services.
These services can include potentially harmful procedures, such as unnecessary vaccinations or tooth cleaning under anesthesia. They also include expensive procedures which may or may not be relevant. These plans even continue to charge customers money after their dog has changed homes or passed away, claiming the plan lasts for a year whether the pet is alive or not.
Understanding corporate veterinary practices
Banfield has other issues as well. In California, the chain repeatedly sponsored measures which, if they had passed, would have made it easier for graduates of foreign veterinary schools to become licensed in the state.
This would have allowed the chain to bring in lower-paid veterinarians for their clinics. Banfield also uses a proprietary computer system (Petware), which emphasizes following pre-written lists of tests and treatments rather than utilizing independent diagnosis, leading to possible overtreatment of conditions and more unnecessary testing.
Banfield has even come into conflict with its own veterinarians, concerning both ethical problems with the pre-generated treatment options offered by Petware (which is not always updated to reflect current research) and some less-than-ethical practices centering around converting franchises into corporate-owned stores.
If your traditionally-owned veterinary practice adopts this model, you simply switch vets. But, what will we do when all vets are owned by the same company, and all push the same high-cost, low-caring model? What do you think will happen next?
Teena Patel, LLA CPDT, has a bachelor of science degree in comparative psychology and an MBA.
Teena is founder of the Country Day School at the University of Doglando, a 4-acre canine educational and enrichment center in Orlando. Teena is inspired by the idea that responsible pet-ownership requires a focus on the whole dog and teaching life skills rather than amusing tricks. Patel has earned a national reputation for her innovative approach to training and dog care, and routinely consults around the country on her philosophy of enrichment, education, and improving dogs’ behavioral health.