There are pros and cons to corporations cashing in on America's love of pets.
Corporations know that Americans would do anything for their pets, so they have entered the veterinary game and begun providing increasingly extensive services for these four-legged family members. However, these new services come at a higher cost, and may not always be necessary.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, consumers spent $28 billion on veterinary care in 2012, a huge jump compared to the $4.9 billion spent in 1991.
This significant rise is probably a reflection of the new position pets occupy in a household. While the pet veterinary industry used to be an offshoot of livestock care, today most pet owners -- a stunning 98%, the AVMA says -- consider their pets family.
And when it comes to family members, no expense is spared. According to an AVMA press release:
"AVMA research has not found evidence of price sensitivity among most pet owners."
This trend may be what has attracted large corporations, such as Mars, to the veterinary care business. Mars -- yes, the candy company -- recently acquired the animal hospital chain VCA Inc. Since it already owns Banfield Pet Hospital and BluePearl Veterinary Partners, this recent acquisition brought Mars' total veterinary locations to 1,700.
Is this good news or bad for the animal loving public? NBC News recently decided to see how corporate vet facilities affected prices and services, and sent employee Jo Ling Kent to follow Ileah Branning and her dog Finley on two price comparison visits.
Finley was seen at both the independently run McGee Street Animal Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma, and a Banfield clinic inside a nearby PetSmart.
Though pricing can vary depending on the facility and region, and these two locations are not necessarily representative of the entire industry, the visits found that the prices were significantly lower at the independent vet -- $153 for the visit and recommended vaccinations, as opposed to the $300 yearly subscription program PetSmart encouraged Kent to buy.
However, the PetSmart package included not only vaccines but unlimited office visits, extra blood work, and discounts on services not included in the plan.
Are these advanced procedures and increased diagnostics always necessary? Some people see it as upselling, especially when they have a healthy pet, but PetSmart believes they are important.
"We deeply believe preventive care is critical to the health of a pet," the company said to NBC News.
Regardless, corporate clinics cannot force owners to purchase these services. At the end of the day, it's up to individual pet owners to decide what services their pet really needs.
Do you think these extra services are "upselling?" Tell us in the comments below!
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