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Introduction: I remember when the veterinary profession was a well-respected, honest, and caring profession.
We have all probably read books or watched a series about an amazing vet called James Herriot, his real name was (James Alfred Wight)
He practised as a Vet in the North East of England in a lovely market town called Thirsk, 25 miles from where I was brought up. His books are funny, insightful; and self-deprecating. But what really made him a great vet was his love of animals and his empathy with them and the people who owned them. He was incredibly well respected in his community, which is more than I can say for many vets I meet in my chosen profession as a dog behaviourist. Like any job or profession, there are good and bad in all of them.
It is important to say that there are some great Vets out there. They are the ones that can walk on water as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, I believe they are now in the minority. So, what has really happened to our veterinary profession?
Legislation: In 1999 something seismic happened to the Veterinarian Profession. Tony Blair in his infinite wisdom along with John Prescott (No wisdom at all) changed the law to allow non-vets to own veterinary practices. It still requires a Vet to work in that practice but the driving force is often the owners and the returns they get from their practices.
This opened the door to venture capitalists and investors to buy into a tranche of little goldmines. Unfortunately, when that happens money and profit become the corporate’s main aim. Profit should never be the main driving force in any type of medical care, be it human or animal.
We are nearly 22 years later and many of what I would call old-school vets have retired. Sadly the James Herriots of this world are a dying breed. Well over 45% of all the Veterinary Practices in the UK are now group and corporate-owned. These figures are 18 months out of date as the moneymen are busy hiding the scale of the takeovers. I would calculate that at least 65% are now probably group owned.
The Loss of Independent Vets: My own Vet retired 5 years ago. He was my vet for 35 years. the value of his two practices and the goodwill and loyalty he created over many years of brilliant service became his pension. He was not just my vet he was also someone I could call a friend.
Unfortunately, when we last said goodbye he had sold his practice to one of the big corporate groups. There was probably a bidding war and he took the highest price possible. After all, that was what he worked his life for.
Having said that he appeared embarrassed to tell me he had sold out to Medivet, one of the larger and more aggressive veterinary groups available today. I am afraid that was the last time I walked into that practice.
Do You Know If Your Vet is a Corporate Group or Independent?: It is not all that obvious, my own ex-practice still goes by its old name as do many others. The long-standing clients would know that it was under new management, but to the newcomer, it is not always apparent.
The top 4 Corporate Veterinary Groups in order of the number of individual practices they own are as follows:
(1) The CVS Group, Currently the largest veterinary group
(2) Independent Vetcare
(3) Pets at Home
Though it is extremely difficult to get up-to-date figures as they appear hidden and guarded, it has been published in 2018 that the big 4 then owned over 30% of the total veterinary practices in the UK.
There are other very large players coming into the market such as The Mars Corporation which makes Pedigree Chum and many other brands. it is probably the majority of all Vet practices that are corporately owned. Certainly in excess of 60% plus.
The majority of these groups are owned by Venture Capitalists whose whole reason for existence is profit. Read these depositions of employees and vets (1) CVS Group Employee Reviews (2) Disgruntled and Concerned Vets
Many of these Vets and Nurses appear to suggest that profit rather than the animal’s best interest is at the forefront of these practices.
My Other Major Concerns: I wrote an article in September 2016 called Why Are Our Dogs Dying so Young? It was related to the largest research ever completed on longevity in dogs, involving 191 breeds and a total of 48,891 dogs.
It was commissioned by the Kennel Club. What the KC discovered was that dogs were dying 11% earlier over a ten years period from the last research. That means that across all the breeds, Kennel Club registered dogs now only live an average of 10 years, down from 11yrs 3 months in 2004.
That is a shocking statistic by any stretch of the imagination, as all the information we were given was that dogs were living longer than ever before. We were told that this was due to advanced veterinary procedures, preventative health care and balanced diets. It appears something has gone very seriously wrong and something is killing our dogs.
Strangely enough, this earth-shattering announcement was ignored by nearly all and sundry. The BVA (British Veterinary Society) and the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) appear to have totally missed this incredible statistic. Almost to say “it was nothing to do with us”
Well, I believe it has everything to do with them. I did not see any mention in any of the trade magazines like the Pet Gazette (not surprised). Totally ignored by the doggy magazines, (can’t upset the advertisers). The Telegraph did a piece on it and Pedigree Dogs Exposed and that is about all.
It had also taken the KC well over a year to report on its 2014 health survey a follow-up to its 2004 survey. I think they were afraid because It makes for very grim reading. However none of the few that actually commented gave any indication of why the dogs were dying so early, so I decided to investigate culminating in my article (3) Why Are Our Dogs Dying Early?
In that article, I lay out three key elements that I believe are suspects in the early demise of our dogs. These three are not the only ones but they are probably the three strongest contenders. It may not surprise you to know that Vets are to some extent wholly or partially involved in all three.
The cost of insurance and veterinary fees have skyrocketed over the last twenty years, far in excess of inflation. I believe a large part of that is the corporate involvement, thank you, Mr Blair, yet another reason to dislike your tenure. But he cannot take all of the blame. I believe that some (not all) vets are looking at their clients as cash cows.
Having said that it is not easy for Vets, they have one of the highest suicide rates of all professions. I am sure that this is caused in some part by the pressure exerted on them to make the owners of the practices investments highly profitable, and the fact it is now very difficult for them to become equal partners in the practice they have made successful. Unlike the aforementioned James Alfred Wight.
The Vets Oath: At one time I believe the Veterinary profession was required to swear an oath something like “Primum non-Nocere” (First Do No Harm)
Certainly, this is the case in America but in the UK this has changed quite dramatically
They now swear a long rambling oath swearing fealty to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Probably the worst and most archaic professional association in the World.
Surely it should be the animals that come first, not a professional body that has presided over what I believe is a systemic failure in a profession that was once venerated? I have never used Vets that belong to any of the large groups, I always use an independent that I know and can trust.
I want to see the same vet who knows my pets and understands my concerns about overvaccination, neutering, overmedication and specialist referrals of our animals for the slightest thing. I want my vet to be compassionate and caring as well as professional. As a behaviourist, I have always tried to act in that way.
I do not want reminders that I should have unnecessary annual vaccinations and that when I take a puppy in for its first Jabs I don’t want the vet starting up the mantra of neutering. Despite the fact that there is empirical evidence that neutering, especially to young immature dogs (Pediatric Neutering) can create serious health and behavioural issues in the future. Are you aware that the RSPCA and some vets are neutering dogs as young as six weeks of age?
To become a vet you go through a lengthy qualification period. If you are intelligent enough and successful you will join a profession that has been in existence since Claude Bourgelat founded the first veterinary school in Lyon, France in 1761. I do not believe that most of these Vets are not aware that some of the procedures they are recommending and regularly performing have a negative effect on that animal’s health and well-being in the future. (5) Dangers of Neutering Dogs (6) Annual Overvaccination Dangers.
I think it is time the Veterinary Profession took a long hard look at itself and some of its now-archaic practices. Their controlling body the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons should look at the science now pointing to overvaccination and paediatric and adult neutering as unnecessary and frankly immoral. They should look at the science that says core vaccines create immunity for at least 7 years and in most cases life. and that non-core vaccines like Leptospirosis should not be given as standard to all dogs.
Why not sterilise instead of crudely removing testicles and ovaries that rob their bodies of three vital hormones Progesterone Oestrogen and Testosterone? Despite what the Vets tell you they are not optional extras like a Sat Nav or Reversing Cameras.
Ask any lady that has gone through their monthly cycle or the change. We inflict that on our dogs in many cases whilst they are just puppies. I believe that is a national disgrace and at some time in the future, it will be seen as barbaric. I would not be able to sleep at night.
As a footnote In 2017 the Skeldale Veterinary Practice, a partnership once run by Alfred Wight and Donald Sinclair (aka James Herriot) and Siegfried Farnon sold out to Medivet, a chain of more than 260 vet practices backed by the London-based private equity firm, Inflexion.
That veterinary practice has just announced it will no longer be accepting large animals and will be only dealing with small pet animals. So will the latest TV series called All Creatures Great and Small be altered to All Creatures That Are Small? I presume there is far more profit in treating our dogs, cats and hamsters? Perhaps treating sheep may not be so easy to fleece us of our hard-earned cash.
©Stan Rawlinson Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer 18th June 2020
Updated January 2023