Breed-specific wellness care

How to design a program around a patient's risks, history
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Nov 01, 2010


Class in session: Breed-specific wellness care could be a powerful addition to your practice curricula. Consider that 40 percent of dogs are predisposed to genetic conditions.
Smart businesses know that no matter what shape our economy is in, that which is new, better and different will continue to sell. If you doubt it, just witness the runaway successes of the iPad and smart phones. Neither is a necessity. There are cheaper, older technologies that perform the basic functions. Still, people are lining up to buy them.

In our own industry, advancements provide many exciting opportunities to offer clients new, better and different, from acupuncture and complementary medicine to laser therapy and stem-cell treatments. One of the most appealing new ideas is breed-specific wellness.

Veterinarians are changing clients' perceptions of wellness care through breed-specific programs. When clients perceive that wellness care is limited to vaccinations and parasite control and then see those services offered at discount prices elsewhere, they have little incentive to select a veterinary care provider for any other reason than cost.

Breed-specific wellness is different. It helps clients see wellness care as "designer" medicine driven by the unique breed risks of their pets. These days, pet owners interested in learning more about their breeds turn to sources such as the American Kennel Club (AKC), online forums, dog clubs, breeders and dog park acquaintances for information. While most people consider veterinarians animal-health authorities, clients don't necessarily see us as a "go-to" source for breed information. Offering breed-specific healthcare services can help us position ourselves squarely in the middle of this groundswell of interest.

The concept of breed risks is not new. What is new is the idea of building wellness programs around specific breeds. Some veterinary practice owners have already begun.

Breed, disease pattern


Dr. Dennis Cloud
Dr. Dennis Cloud, of Cloud Veterinary Centers in O'Fallon, Mo., says he first became interested in the idea of breed-specific care in the 1990s. He had an opportunity to look at a database that tracked pet healthcare exams for healthy and sick pets. He soon spotted patterns showing associations between certain diseases and breeds. Immediately, he sought to use this information to help diagnose patients. For example, when he saw an 8-year-old female Scottish Terrier with blood in her urine, he tried to rule out bladder cancer early in the diagnostic process because the breed is known to have a high risk for the disease. On the other hand, when he saw an 8-year-old male Bison with bloody urine, he would seek to rule out calcium oxalate stones first because that breed and sex is known to be pre-disposed to that condition.

In the 1990s, little information was readily available to help veterinarians interested in pursuing breed-specific medicine, Cloud says. However, by 1999, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) published Dr. Lowell Ackerman's book, The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs. A decade later, even though most veterinarians are aware of the risk of hip dysplasia in large breeds, Cloud says the idea of breed-specific care is just taking off.

He reports that the most challenging part of implementing a breed-specific care program is the time constraint of organizing a practice around it. The idea of breed-specific risks is new to most clients, so it takes time to explain it to them in the exam room. A slower economy may be an opportune time to talk to clients about it, Cloud says.

However, there is great potential to help more pets with breed-specific wellness screenings. He practices breed-specific wellness informally now and sees clients' readiness to embrace the concept. The next step is to formalize breed-specific wellness care and create supporting client materials.