Indecent exposure... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Indecent exposure…

THE MERCURY COLUMN in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

IT seems that politicians may be the last people to discover what the rest of us know but, at last, there appears to be some realisation among the mandarin classes that life is getting rather expensive for families.

Recent estimates suggest that many families are finding themselves £200 short at the end of each month because prices have risen so steeply for food, energy and other commodities. After tax, this £2,400 a year would require an increase of £3,000 or more in pre-taxed income, which may be difficult for many households to generate.

Perhaps the Chancellor will pull some relief out of his pre-election hat but it is reassuring to see that the chief executive of Wm Morrison was awarded a £706,000 bonus last year, almost 100% of his salary, after turning around the supermarket group. So that’s all right then.

Despite a stall in the painfully low, farm gate prices for food, it seems that the major retailers remain in buoyant financial form, as do the power generators across not just the UK but in most of Europe. Something is not right here!

Anecdotally, people appear to be resigned to the fact that budgets are stretched and that their consumer habits will need to change. Budget retailers such as Aldi and Lidl report booming sales as families attempt to stretch their inelastic funds to the limit.

Consumers are adept at changing behaviour to meet their own needs and one wonders how the year’s figures will shape up for veterinary practices if similar budget-driven behaviour were to be applied to the care of the family pet. It does seem likely that, in uninsured animals, some elective procedures may be delayed or dispensed with.

If ever there were a time to promote pet insurance as a concept, now would seem to be a good time. Additionally, now would be a good time to take more time in explaining to clients what a procedure is all about, especially the initial consultation which, in some practices, has traditionally been conveyed in a wisp of professional theatre, leaving the consumer wondering just what that £25 or more has bought them over the last two minutes.

People skills

To take time explaining the process of examination that is taking place will remove much of the arcane nature of the process and will help clients to leave the premises feeling that they’ve had value for money at every stage. When money is short, people skills matter more than ever.

One cannot help but wonder where the seemingly inexorable rise in food costs will lead us and whether, at some distant stage, consumers will rebel against the concept of feeding pets with protein sources that are becoming less affordable for humans.

After all, the concept of beefflavoured cat food could be considered strange, even to the most ardent cat lover, as cats in the wild tend not to hang around street corners waiting to ambush an unsuspecting Friesian. Neither do they mend their nets to snare tuna or other ocean fish.

As animal protein soars in price, might it be a time to consider feeding our pets on a more logical, sustainable food source? After all, farming in Western Europe is moving fast towards food processing and away from food production, so it would be reasonable to wonder if animal protein supplies may end up out of our national control.

For years we have been told that cats, as desert animals, will maintain a perfect urine pH if fed rodents as a unique source of protein so why not farm mice for cat food?

From personal experience I know that my four cats will kill and eat rodents of any size, leaving just the slimy, innermost bits behind to grace the kitchen floor. But, if we were to lightly bake mice into a palatable biscuit form or render whole mice into a paste, and extrude it into dry kibble form, might we not find a sustainable form of food energy, leaving other precious mammalian protein to feed a deserving human population?

In these difficult economic times, it might even be possible that the Treasury would see the value of such a gesture and invest government funds to facilitate the process. After all, if the Treasury can shore up the aftermath of banking excess, surely it would see the ineffable logic behind such forward thinking to avoid excess in food consumption?

The mind boggles with the possibilities for export. Perhaps in central Europe we could even launch the product as “Mauser”. Of course, farming free-range mice may cause problems related to vole pox and toxoplasmosis and there may well be an appreciable risk of broadcasting feline mycobacterial disease with some zoonotic component, but isn’t that the type of challenge that R&D thrives on?

Far fetched? Certainly, but some degree of preparation for a different trading world will be necessary by the profession if it is to be restored to rude health when the economy does pick up.

With so many competitive avenues open to pet owners to buy preventive products and other services, it will be imperative that practices should hone and practise their people skills in the meantime to take every opportunity of not just retaining clients but building longer term relationships wherever possible.

As for “Mauser”TM, it may sound far fetched but I thought I should trade mark the name and the process – just in case.

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