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January 21, 2020

One-third of veterinary hospitals will be up for sale within the next 10 years. That's nearly 8,600 spots with big changes in veterinary hospital ownership. Some will indeed sell -- most likely to a big corporation or multi-state veterinary group. Some won't. Either way, it'll affect pet-loving consumers. Here's how.


Source: Pet Industry Outlook: Veterinary Services and Pet Product Retailing, Packaged Facts, May 2018

If the veterinary hospital sells to a big company or group ...

1. Less personalized connections.

If, like me, you appreciate and expect a close working relationship with your veterinarian and the other veterinary hospital team members who take care of your dogs, then big changes in veterinary hospital ownership in the coming years may not be good news.

All 3 of the veterinary hospitals I've used here in Colorado for the bulk of my Dog Mom adulthood are now owned by 3 big companies -- National Veterinary Associates, Ethos Veterinary Health, and VCA (which is now owned by Mars).

I've felt the difference, including getting calls from clueless call center people in another state instead of local staffers who actually know me and my dogs in real life. 

2. More automation and cookie-cutter recommendations.

For example, I've been automatically forward-booked for appointments, without permission, for things my dogs don't need. I realized this was happening when the aforementioned call-center people started calling to "remind me" about appointments I never made. At first I thought it was a mistake, but then I figured out it's a business model. 

Forward-booking is VERY smart for business, but at least let me decide what I want to do for my dogs or tell me something like, "Our system now automatically sets up your next appointment in 6 months or a year. We'll remind you when it gets closer."

3. More rules.

If you're comfortable and happy with certain routines and policies, you might have to adapt to a lot more rules.

When Clover had a bone marrow biopsy a few years ago, I was required (for the first time ever) to pay the estimated costs in full when I dropped her off for the procedure. In some emergency situations, I've had to pay half the estimate up front, but never the whole thing. 

I asked questions and essentially got a "them's the rules" type of reply from a staffer I didn't know. 

Then when I picked Clover up that same day, the hospital ended up giving me a sizable refund because the amount I'd been required to pay was way too high. And, when I checked out, the staffer (who has known me through 3 generations of dogs) shook her head about the whole thing. She knew I've always paid our bills. She was astounded I'd been asked to pay in full.  

4. More turnover.

Get used to seeing people come and go, including veterinarians. I've been lucky so far that the core people who matter most to me have stayed, but there has definitely been a whirlwind of new faces at many visits, including people who had no clue about doing titer tests instead of automatic re-vaccination. 

5. More pressure.

I'm all for efficiencies of scale and being task-oriented in the exam room. There is a good chance though that individual veterinarians will feel pressure to cram more appointments into every hour or every day because in many cases their compensation depends on it. 

If the veterinary hospital does not sell ...

1. Loss of access to veterinary services. 

If a buyer cannot be found, like with this hospital in Idaho, then the community may lose the hospital completely or have to make do with limited services and hours. At the very least, it might mean having to switch to another local hospital, but if the hospital that closes is the only one, then families may have to trek to other towns for even basic veterinary services. 

Recently, I checked with the local reporter (since the article is nearly a year old), and she shared the following: "No, it has not sold. He actually still owns it and works there a couple days a month spaying and neutering animals for the local animal shelter."

The primary care hospital we used before our current one simply shut down. It's a shame too because there is a ton of transit-centered housing being built near the light rail station that's literally across the street from that hospital's location, which likely means a bunch of customers very close by. 

Avoiding Any Surprises

I share these insights from veterinary market researchers so that is changes start happening in your community you won't be surprised. Let me know if you're seeing shifts in veterinary hospital ownership yet. 

Colorado is particularly lucrative, so I suspect that's why we're seeing big changes in veterinary hospital ownership already. 

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. Hmm. This was a total surprise to me. Everything you said makes sense but why is this happening? I wonder how veterinary market researchers get these insights? Seems like everything is undergoing big changes these days though.

    1. There is a ton of consolidation happening in the veterinary / pet markets these days. Packaged Facts has a bunch of subject area experts and economists that pay close attention to key markets, and they also do their own original research / studies / surveys. They can be a wealth of info on all kinds of things, including food trends, retail trends … and I would guess even kids’ products and stuff.

  2. Big money is buying up everything so they can control the vet area. You see pharm companies doing the same with people stuff. There is big money in meds and vaccines and little money in things that are good for our pets like titers and chiropractor care and holistic care.

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