The times they are a-changin’

Like most of our world, the pet industry is changing. Smaller businesses are being gobbled up by multinational corporations, and that might not always help improve the situation.

Any business which becomes successful becomes a target for a bigger business that wants to buy that success. We have seen many great pet food companies rising to prominence against the big guys, only to be bought out and absorbed.

We also see medium-sized companies buying up little guys, adding their capital to increase the speed of their growth, with the intent to sell the company later for a large profit.

You would think that giving a small, dynamic, progressive company the resources of a corporate giant would be a great thing, allowing them to realize all the hopes they had for the company. When that happens, it can be a win/win/win for everyone.

But his is not what always happens. The large company can install its own leadership and the people responsible for the vision that led to the original success may move out. Those who remain may be forced to work within budgetary constraints and for-profit goals which mean they must compromise. This can lead, over time, to the brand losing its unique qualities and becoming just another product on the shelf.

I’m not saying this happens every time, but it generally seems to be the case. Sometimes a brand is either discontinued or its impact greatly reduced (in favour of another brand the parent company owns). In some cases, a brand is ruined by changes made in ingredients or production.

We have seen this happen with pet food companies but now there is a more disturbing trend. Corporations are taking over veterinary clinics and hospitals.

Just a few decades ago, almost every veterinary clinic was owned by a veterinarian or a group of vets. Larger clinics might have clinic managers running the business side of things but, in most cases, the vets decided how business was done.

Now the pendulum has swung, with most clinics owned by business groups which sometimes, but not always, include veterinarians. Even companies such as Mars, Inc. are buying up vet clinics – up to 2,500 worldwide, including 80 in Canada. Mars makes more money on pet food than on candy now, so controlling vet clinics where many get nutritional advice for their pets is a logical business decision.

What this means to pet owners is that we don’t tend to have the same relationship with these corporate clinics that we had with independent, vet-owned clinics. There was a time when we’d see the same vet at every visit for the life of our pets (unless we moved). Now, it’s not often that we see the same vet two visits in a row.

Does this mean our pet care will suffer? Corporate clinics have more available capital, and advanced diagnostic equipment can be great for our pets. If your clinic employs a vet or group of vets who are there long-term, you may see the same vet most times you visit.

But many people become frustrated when their clinics are bought out. In some cases, their vets have left the practice, and now they see a different vet. Even if most of the employees remain, they may not be able to take care of you the same way under new management, which can be frustrating for them as well.

The world is changing, and there’s not a lot we can do as to stop it but finding and using independent vet clinics can help keep them out of corporate hands and continue providing the goods and services we’ve loved all our lives.

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