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Cover all the feed-store angles


Get veterinary clients out of retail and back to your practice with a little marketing know-how and communication finesse.

Marketing. The mere mention of the word is likely to send some of you equine practitioners running in the opposite direction—for a lot of reasons. Maybe you were taught that product marketing was unethical. Maybe you don't have space in your vehicle for products. Or maybe marketing just doesn't "fit" with your personality.

But the playing field out there has changed. Local feed stores now carry the basic essentials of veterinary care—penicillin, eye ointments, vaccines, hoof tools, triple-antibiotic ointments, dewormers, syringes, and more. And if we want our clients to know why we should provide their veterinary services, it's up to us to tell them—or face the consequences.


Consider the very possible case of Mrs. Jones. Her horse, Dakota, is lame, and Mrs. Jones has no idea what's might be causing the problem. Because she already buys her dewormer at the feed store, on her next visit she speaks to the 17-year-old store clerk who suggests a joint supplement that might help if Dakota's lameness is caused by arthritis. Mrs. Jones buys an $80 tub of something that won't even begin to address the problem. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Jones, Dakota has a simple hoof abscess. Either the horse gets much worse and requires a veterinary visit, during which Mrs. Jones will complain about her bill because she's already spent $80 on the problem, or, worse, the abscess drains and quietly resolves on its own, leaving Mrs. Jones with the impression that the joint supplement worked, making it more likely that she will consult the feed store clerk in the future instead of turning to her veterinarian.

Many veterinarians say they'll leave the retail market to the feed store and focus on veterinary care, but doing so gives clients an alternative to your expert medicine—and takes a bite out of your revenue. Don't let it happen to you.


Competing with feed stores for face time with clients starts with a plan for preventive care and a solid system of visits and reminders. Here are three places to start:

Vaccinations. If you don't have a specific vaccine protocol, it's time to create one. If you don't send regular vaccine reminders to every client, it's time to start. Vaccinations continue to be the one reason we see a horse on an annual basis (or even twice a year), and that visit is often the launching point for a comprehensive exam or at least a reminder for the client that there was something wrong with Rusty that she noticed awhile back. Most of these vaccines are available at feed stores and all of them are available on the Internet, but many horse owners don't want to give injections themselves. If your fees remain competitive with other local veterinarians, you'll hold onto this business.

Dewormers. Horse owners are confused by the variety of dewormers available. They want to know what to use, during what time of year, and how often. Create an annual deworming schedule and include recommendations for pregnant horses and foals. Print the schedule (along with your vaccine recommendations) as a marketing and educational tool, and be sure to send deworming reminders.

Many clients will jump at the chance to buy a set of dewormers for the entire year along with the schedule of what to give and when. This may reduce the number of visits to your practice, but it will also reduce the clients' visits to the feed store.

Joint supplements. If you recommend joint supplements, stock them yourself. Some horse owners take joint supplements themselves and give veterinary products to cats, dogs, and horses. Why let the nonprofessional at the local feed store be the one who advises your client on when to give them?


So now you've got your schedule set up and you carry the medically necessary products your clients want. What's next? Education.

Take the time to create handouts with your recommendations for foals, adult horses, senior horses, pregnant horses, and performance horses. When possible, offer prepaid annual packages using your recommendations. A foal program, for instance, might include an initial visit to assess health at birth, a regimen of dewormers and vaccines, and any diagnostics you suggest. Tailoring wellness programs to horses' life stage helps educate clients; for example, a program for pregnant mares might include prepaid visits for anti-abortion rhino vaccines and strategically timed rectal palpations or ultrasounds.

Creating and offering prepaid plans allows you to offer a slight discount to those who purchase them in advance (an important incentive during these times), and helps guarantee that all of the work will be done—or at least paid for.


While price fixing with other veterinarians is unethical (and illegal), there's nothing wrong with keeping an eye on what feed stores charge and monitoring how your prices compare to those on the Internet.

Competitively price those products that are commonly shopped online, even if it means cutting your margin. When clients call you to say they've found something cheaper online, ask for the website and do the research yourself. Clients often confuse products or fail to notice shipping charges. The website nextag.com can help, comparing prices for a product across the web.


For years, companion animal practices have celebrated February as National Pet Dental Health Month, but the concept has never caught on with horses. While February is a typically slow month for companion animal practices, it's often the beginning of the busiest season for equine practices as breeding gets underway. Consider offering a special on equine dentistry during the month of October, taking the pressure off practitioners during the breeding season and helping to prop up business when it starts to tail off at the end of the year.

Using your practice's recommendations for optimal care and the timing of that care, create a marketing plan that encourages clients to have their horses vaccinated when you think they should be, to be dewormed when you think they should be, and to have diagnostic testing when you think they should.

It's more competitive than ever out there, and the old notion that a handshake seals a lifetime bond between veterinarian and client doesn't seem to work the way it once did. No matter what level of service you provide, you must offer added value to your clients by expanding efforts to market and educate. It's a great way to ensure you keep their business.

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Kyle Palmer, CVT, is practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic, a mixed practice in Silverton, Ore.

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