Weak Economy Challenges Veterinarians

Recently, Tim Van Der Ploeg, DVM, received a call from one of his clients, who was seeking help for her horse. She thought the animal was suffering from tetanus.

"I told her what we could do, and how much treatment would cost," said Van Der Ploeg, who practices in Somerset, Ky., "but she said she'd only taken ownership of the horse because it was starving, and didn't have the money to pay for its treatment."

Van Der Ploeg offered advice for home care and didn't hear from the client again. He said the incident shows how the weak economy is forcing owners in his area to make tough choices about professional horse care.

And they are not alone. According to Heather Sullivan, deputy director of public relations for the Humane Society of the United States, horse owners nationwide are limiting or foregoing basic horse care, including veterinary and farrier services, thanks to overall cost-of-living increases.

"I'm a veterinarian, but I'm also a small business owner." –Dr. Bonnie Smith
As a result, veterinarians are finding ways to help owners minimize costs without sacrificing basic care.

"What I try to do is teach clients that there are a lot of things they can do to help their horses," said Bonnie Smith, DVM, of Crosscountry Veterinary Services in Palmer, Mass. "They don't need me to deworm their horses. But they do need me to set out a plan for the deforming schedule."

California veterinarian Eric DeVoss, DVM, said his one-man practice is slightly busier than it was last year, but he still appreciates his clients' need to economize.

"I have just opened a small 'haul-in' clinic," DeVoss said. "If clients bring their horses to me, they save the farm call charge. So far the response has been good."

But clients aren't the only ones feeling the pinch. As practice-related costs rise, veterinarians struggle to keep fees affordable. They're also the questioning the economic wisdom of providing services to new customers outside of their established client base.

"It's a conundrum," Smith said. "I'm a veterinarian, but I'm also a small business owner."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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