Sport­ing dog

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We may not know the name of our GP but most of us can name our vet, says

David Tomlinson. The in­crease in big, cor­po­rate bod­ies could be set to change that

IWAS re­cently asked the name of my doc­tor: I hadn’t a clue. On my rare vis­its to the lo­cal surgery I have rarely seen the same doc­tor twice. Ask me the name of my ve­teri­nary sur­geon, how­ever, and it’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. We are on first­name terms. That’s not be­cause my dogs are fre­quent vis­i­tors but be­cause I have a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship with my vet to my doc­tor. I’m pay­ing him for his ser­vices whereas when I go to see my GP I feel guilty about tak­ing up his or her valu­able time.

Sadly, the ve­teri­nary world is chang­ing rad­i­cally. Pri­vate prac­tices are dis­ap­pear­ing as big, cor­po­rate bod­ies buy them to add to their em­pires. Nu­mer­ous small prac­tices have al­ready been swal­lowed up into cor­po­rate chains. It can be ar­gued that this is a good thing as big com­pa­nies can buy drugs at a much more favourable rate, keep­ing prices down.

How­ever, on the debit side is the fact that small busi­nesses that are part of a large com­pany in­vari­ably have fi­nan­cial tar­gets to meet and this can com­pro­mise de­ci­sion-mak­ing. There’s also far less chance that you will get to know your vet per­son­ally, which can’t be a good thing. We all like tak­ing our dogs to a vet who knows them in­di­vid­u­ally.

I dis­cussed this with my vet on my last visit. He felt un­happy about the di­rec­tion in which the ve­teri­nary busi­ness is head­ing but added that it was in­evitable. “Ten years ago my fi­nan­cial ad­viser told me that I shouldn’t re­gard my prac­tice as my pen­sion fund, as there was lit­tle chance of it be­ing worth very much when I re­tire. That’s not the case any­more. This means that it’s un­likely that a ju­nior vet in the prac­tice would have the cap­i­tal avail­able to buy it, which used to be the case be­fore the cor­po­rates moved in.”

An­other sub­tle change is the grow­ing re­luc­tance of grad­u­ate vets to un­der­take any­thing sur­gi­cal other than rou­tine op­er­a­tions. They are wor­ried about be­ing sued if any­thing goes wrong, so pre­fer to send the dog on for re­fer­ral to a spe­cial­ist clinic. This is in­vari­ably the ex­pen­sive op­tion, which is ac­cept­able to those whose dogs are in­sured but is a worry for the many peo­ple with work­ing dogs who can’t af­ford to in­sure them.

I al­ways used to in­sure my dogs but when the el­dest reached the age of seven and her an­nual premium was close to what I would ex­pect to pay for in­sur­ing a Porsche 911, I de­cided not to re­new. That was a mis­take, as she de­vel­oped a mys­tery ill­ness my vet was un­able to di­ag­nose and spent a week at Dick White Re­fer­rals at New­mar­ket, the lead­ing ve­teri­nary hos­pi­tal in East Anglia.

She re­ceived im­pec­ca­ble treat­ment and, against the odds, surgery saved her, though my bank bal­ance was £6,000 lighter. It was money well spent, as she was able to re­sume her pick­ing-up ca­reer un­til re­tir­ing at 12. As I write this she is days away from her 15th birth­day and, re­mark­ably, is not on any med­i­ca­tion. My in­sur­ance would have only paid the first £2,000 of the claim in any case.

This ex­pe­ri­ence hasn’t changed my views on in­sur­ance: a cal­cu­lated gam­ble. When you ac­quire a new puppy, open an ac­count in the dog’s name and pay in £20 a month. The odds are that you will never need to draw on the ac­count but if you do you should have a sub­stan­tial sum avail­able to help with bills.

How­ever, there’s no doubt that in­sur­ance has changed the busi­ness of small-an­i­mal care in this coun­try, mak­ing it ar­guably the best in the world. On the Con­ti­nent, where in­sur­ance for dogs is far less usual, few vets have the ex­per­tise or ex­pe­ri­ence to un­der­take what we re­gard as rel­a­tively rou­tine, if ex­pen­sive, pro­ce­dures. The re­sult is that far more dogs are put down: my spaniel would al­most cer­tainly not have sur­vived.

In re­cent years, the na­ture of our re­la­tion­ship with our vet has changed, too. Not so long ago our dogs would be taken to the vet an­nu­ally for their booster in­oc­u­la­tions, long thought to be es­sen­tial to con­trol dis­eases such as dis­tem­per and parovirus. How­ever, vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers have been un­able to come up with data that proves a need for an­nual jabs, while there is the worry that re­peated vac­ci­na­tions re­duce the an­i­mal’s im­mune re­sources and pos­si­bly cause dis­or­ders such as de­gen­er­a­tive joint dis­eases and re­duce the dog’s abil­ity to ward off dis­eases nat­u­rally. As a re­sult, the an­nual booster, for so long a re­li­able form of in­come for the vet, has be­come a thing of the past.

Most peo­ple be­lieve that a puppy should still re­ceive a course of vac­ci­na­tions against the four main in­fec­tious dis­eases: ca­nine dis­tem­per, hep­ati­tis, parovirus and lep­tospiro­sis. You should then be able to re­ply on your vet for in­for­ma­tion about the need for fur­ther vac­ci­na­tions (lep­tospiro­sis should be an­nual). That’s much bet­ter com­ing from a vet you know and trust than from a face­less cor­po­rate out sim­ply to make money.

Many vets now re­fer pets to spe­cial­ist clin­ics

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