Top 10 veterinary issues in 2011

Top 10 veterinary issues in 2011

Dec 09, 2011
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As the profession tries to shake off a three-year recessionary hangover, the economic headaches might continue into the new year. While the economic forecasts have been anything but festive, there have been events worth celebrating. Veterinary associations and animal-health companies are planning out a consumer push to drive veterinary visits. And they will likely need every veterinarian, technician and receptionist in the United States to achieve this objective. But it could work. Consider that pet ownership continues to climb, even if patient visits showed a modest decline. And veterinarians, once again, showed amazing resilience and organized acts of humanity in helping those patients impacted by natural disasters.Here are the top 10 issues/stories that made headlines in 2011.

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Pet ownership jumps 2.1 percent

One might think that in the face of recession pet ownership might dip as cost-conscious consumers pull back on non-essential spending. But, in reality, the opposite happened. In fact, pet ownership is believed to be at its highest level in nearly two decades, according to the American Pet Products Association, an organization that has been tracking ownership trends since 1988. The association reports pet ownership has reached 72.9 million households, including 78 million dogs (up from 77.5 million dogs in 2009-2010), 86.4 million cats (up from 83.6 million in 2009-2010), 151.1 million freshwater fish, 8.61 million saltwater fish, 16.2 million birds (up from 15 million birds in 2009-2010), 16 million small animals, 13 million reptiles and 7.9 million horses (down from 13.3 million horses in 2009-2010).


More on this issue:

Supply-side economics: Veterinary caseloads down, but growing pet numbers give rise to optimism

APPA says pet spending up, predicts jump in veterinary care

Rising pet ownership will boost veterinary services market through 2016, study says

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Competing with Dr. Google

At the recently concluded CVC San Diego meeting, media personality Dr. Marty Becker issued a challenge to veterinarians in private practice: Get online and take back the Internet by posting or recommending credible information sources. Becker's call to action stems from the glut of misinformation as it relates to animal health. Become the educators online, Becker says, and take leadership in directing where pet owners should go for credible animal-health information. Nearly 75 percent of all pet owners log on to search for animal-health information even before they make an appointment to see a veterinarian. And the number, Becker says, will only increase. Instead of fighting the trend, embrace it. Make it yours. The profession, and everyone in it, needs to take an active role in building quality animal-health information on the web.


More on this issue:

Veterinary challenge: Occupy the Internet to build credible information for pet owners

Study shows spike in diabetes, dental disease and otitis externa

Pet owners push back on prices

Awareness, costs of care driving visits down

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Acts of heroism

While natural disasters seemed to happen frequently in 2011, the acts of humanity following this year's catastrophes should have overshadowed the damages. Who could forget the heroic acts of the veterinarians and citizens of Joplin, Mo., after an F5 tornado leveled nearly one-third of the city? Who could ever forget the harrowing event for Dr. Jim Christman as that tornado made landfall, destroying his practice and tragically claiming a family member. This year, tornadoes ranked as the fourth deadliest in history, claiming 549 lives. From earthquakes on the east coast and Oklahoma to wildfires in the south and floods down the Mississippi, veterinarians again played an integral role in responding to pets and wildlife in harm's way.


More on this issue:

Survival story: Veterinarian recounts harrowing, life-threatening encounter with Joplin tornado

Photo gallery: Veterinary hospital ravaged by May 22 Joplin tornado

When disaster strikes: A comprehensive special report on the role of veterinarians in disaster situations

Disaster preparedness: Planning for the worst, hoping for the best

Veterinarians called on to help tornadoes' newest victims

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Prevention is worth a pound of cure

But some argue it has not offered a compelling enough reason for pet owners to seek out annual exams for their dogs, cats, horses or exotics—especially when money is tight. It's clear the veterinary market has been built on sick-animal care, and changing it is going to take time and a commitment by practice owners, associate veterinarians and team members. This year a group formed to help. The Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare, an organization made up of groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association and American Animal Hospital Association and a host of animal-health manufacturers want to move the needle on prevention in an effort to keep pets healthier and improve compliance. Rally around next year's efforts to build more pet owner visits.


More on this issue:

6 lessons learned about the decline in veterinary care

Awareness, costs of care driving visits down

Veterinary groups form coalition to jumpstart veterinary visits

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The supply and demand of veterinarians

Are there too many veterinarians in private veterinary practice? The answer depends on whom you ask. Most veterinarians would concur that the market has become extremely competitive. And we have all become painfully aware that caseloads have simultaneously dropped. On the other hand, pet ownership has been steadily increasing. This issue stirred debate as veterinary schools look to increase seats and some new veterinary schools continue to build out new programs. Repeatedly, veterinarians have said the profession needs guidance and data to help understand the short- and long-term needs of the market. One such study, by the National Academy of Sciences, has been in the works since 2008. While it has been delayed numerous times, officials say it will materialize, possibly as soon as this month. The hope is to offer some impartial and unbiased data on the supply of veterinarians.


More on this issue:

Jobs report: Veterinary schools increase enrollment, but can the job market take it?

Veterinary students are entering a tight job market

Turnover at veterinary hospitals might worse as economy improves, study says

National Academy of Sciences says veterinary workforce study is coming soon

There's no shortage of veterinarians in most areas of rural practice, an AABP committee reports

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New competitive pressures

You can't argue the professional landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years. And just as concerning are the numbers of services and businesses offering traditional veterinary care and products in less-than-traditional ways. From mobile spay-and-neuter operations to new Internet distribution channels for products, the market for veterinarians has become quite competitive. How will veterinary practices respond?


More on this issue:

Diversion: Wholesaler's financial woes draw lawsuits by veterinarians

AVMA challenges 'fairness' of Internet sales tax moratorium

Competition looms, but so do opportunities

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The heartworm conundrum

We all know pet-owner compliance to heartworm preventives is lousy. And a report from the American Heartworm Society (AHS) showed that the preventable disease has been diagnosed in every U.S. state. Couple those two trends with a shortage of Immiticide, the only approved drug to treat heartworm disease, and it's no wonder veterinarians are very concerned. Take notice that in the face of the shortage, AHS issued some urgent guidance for veterinarians on managing and preventing heartworm infection. If dogs are heartworm positive, the association recommends testing and verification. If microfilariae are detected, the advice is to pre-treat with corticosteroids and then administer a dose of heartworm preventive. Anti-inflammatory pretreatment includes: Dexamethasone at 0.25 mg/kg intravenously and diphenhydramine at 2.2 mg/kg intramuscularly, or 1 mg/kg of prednisolone orally one hour before and six hours after administration of the first dose of heartworm preventive. Go to for the complete guidelines.


More on this issue:

AHS offers guidance in face of Immiticide shortage to treat heartworm infection

Heartworm resistance: CAPC, AHS issue new guidance for veterinarians

Heartworm disease diagnosed in every U.S. state, veterinary survey reports

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Drug shortages

While there are four medically necessary veterinary drugs in short supply, there are closer to 200 human-labeled drugs used in veterinary medicine on the endangered list. Shortages of human-approved drugs are becoming more common, says the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. And if the pharmacists watching this side of the market are accurate, the problem isn't going away any time soon. For veterinary medicine, this problem could be even more vexing as companies move away from injectables to other routes of administration. The only way to prepare for a drug shortage is to identify alternatives. Be flexible.


More on this issue:

Drug shortages: The new norm for veterinary medicine?

Getting a grasp on drug shortages in veterinary practice

FDA will allow Merial to import limited amounts of European version of Immiticide

How do our clients recognize we care?

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Student debt and the future

Educational debt hit an all-time high this year for veterinary students, averaging $142,613. What is even more concerning is that salaries for new veterinarians entering the market dropped. And the problems associated with this trend are not going to abate any time soon, says Dr. James F. Wilson, a nationally recognized speaker who has been monitoring this trend. The impact of student indebtedness is going to change ownership patterns, longevity and areas of practice. And it could even negatively impact career decisions for those considering veterinary medicine, Wilson says. Are we entering a time period of great turnover as a result of debt? What will the trend do to future ownership possibilities? The issue brings up many questions with seemingly fewer solutions. What's even more sobering, Wilson says, is the debt burden in 2012 will likely be worse for most veterinary students.


More on this issue:

Starting salaries for veterinarians trend lower, educational debt continues to climb

Federal debt reduction bill carries implications for veterinary education

Texas veterinary board to discipline over defaulted student loans, child support payments

Georgia authorizes veterinary student loan program

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Veterinary education's new roadmap

Veterinary colleges need to graduate career-ready veterinarians. That recommendation headlined a number of goals in a final report that was adopted by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges this year.
Crafted by the North American Veterinary Medical Education Association Consortium, the report calls on veterinary schools to ensure that admissions, curricula, accreditation and testing/licensure are all competency-driven. The report even advises schools to share resources to reduce costs.


More on this issue:

NAVMEC board adopts new roadmap for veterinary education

COE calls on veterinary schools to better evaluate skills of students after graduation