The Skinny on Nutrition and Profit

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The public scrutiny of pet prescriptions and the re-introduction of the so-called Fairness to Pet Owners Act has led many veterinarians to worry about the long-term viability of this revenue line. My advice is don’t despair – but that’s a topic for another day. The spillover is that many clinics are rethinking the value of prescription diet sales, too. Margins are slimmer than those of other service and product lines and managing inventory can be a struggle since foods can take up valuable floor space.

Food matters but the right choice can be unclear for consumers

Americans are more aware than ever of the contribution good nutrition makes to their health and that of their families – including their pets. More than a third of all pet-related spending is on food – more than $20B a year – dwarfing the total cost of veterinary care. Visit a pet superstore and you’ll see miles of aisles of pet food. You can choose high protein diets, “natural” ones, organic, raw…and that confusion breeds anxiety, even for owners of healthy young pets.

Where do veterinarians fit in?

Veterinarians know that nutrition is a key component of any health management plan. We’ve seen the effects on our patients from poor diet choices: obesity, diabetes and shortened lives. AAHA compliance data tells us that 90% of clients would welcome nutritional advice from their veterinarian, but only 15% recall having received any recommendation. The client demand is there and the patient needs are obvious. The alternative to the advice of veterinary professionals, of course, is to have a stock clerk at a big box store make those choices. Part of the problem is that we lack confidence in ourselves and our teams to provide sound advice. But that’s changing.

Help for your practice and your clients

While I’m not suggesting that we turn our practices into a pet store and start carrying regular diets, prescription diets are another matter. Therapeutic diets are medical treatments – just ask the FDA. They require that manufacturers make these products available to the public only through veterinarians or through retail or internet sales to individuals purchasing the product – under the direction of a veterinarian. Manufacturers are not allowed to include indications for a disease claim on the label of their products without strong scientific evidence to back them up.  In addition, they must limit distribution of information about disease claims for their products to veterinary professionals. This means that competition from other distribution channels is muted and won’t further shrink your margins.

Why carrying prescription diets is a good thing

Prescription diets benefit practices in several ways, ways too good to miss:

  • The health benefits to your patients. From chronic renal disease to hyperthyroidism, there are diets that have been shown to be useful in managing your patients, enhancing their quality of life and extending the time that they have in their families.
  • The regular visits to your office occasioned by food sales enhances client bonding, and well-bonded clients are better clients.
  • They make for a healthier business. The average practice will drop 1% to the bottom line from food sales.

That last bullet point is the clincher, in my book. It’s hard work to raise your profitability by 1% – it’s like two month free rent – and that’s not chicken feed.

About The Author

Chief Veterinary Officer

As a long-time practice owner of multiple veterinary practices and having served as a past President of the AVMA, Doug has a deep understanding of the professional issues facing practice owners in the industry today. Suffice it to say, Doug has “seen it all” in his career and can provide a unique perspective to practice owners who are looking to improve their quality of life and the performance of their practices.


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