Tests crack canines' DNA codes


DNA tests can generate revenue and lure clients to your practice.

It used to be all in the name. Dr. Marty Becker—the veterinary correspondent for Good Morning America, author of numerous books, and Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member—asks his clients how they chose their pets' names. "There's almost always a story to tell," says Dr. Becker, who practices as an associate veterinarian at North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho. Two of his clients, for example, chose the name Ladybug and then found a spotted dog to match it. Another dog, Hassle, chewed up the furniture when he first arrived at his new home. "Now when I see Ladybug or Hassle come in, I remember their names—and clients think I'm brilliant," Dr. Becker says.

But now he goes one step further. He uses a canine genetic blood test to delve into the family history of "canine cocktail" dogs—those whose lineage is hard to guess. Many clients opt for the $150 test, which gives Dr. Becker what he calls "a magic wand." When he gets the results from the off-site lab, it's almost like he waved a magic device over the dog in order to tell them, for sure, what the dog's breeding is. "Clients eat it up," he says. While genetic tests are just a modest profit center for the clinic, they build a strong bond with clients and even offer some diagnostic guidance.

Early disease prevention

Genetic tests make it possible for Dr. Becker and his fellow doctors to look out for diseases and conditions to which certain breeds are predisposed. They also allow for breed-specific behavior training.

For Dr. Carol Osborne, owner of American Pet Institute in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, disease prevention is big. Dr. Osborne specializes in wellness for senior pets through supplements and nutrition, and she develops strategies to help pets avoid potential disorders uncovered by the blood test. "The real value of the test is allowing the owner and the veterinarian to take a proactive approach to health and wellness," she says. "That proactive approach will lead to accelerated revenue, because pleased clients will enjoy a pet that's happy and healthy for as long as possible."

Guess what my veterinarian can do!

Dr. Osborne also thinks proactive medicine leads to good word-of-mouth support of her hospital. Her clients spread the word about her interest not just in pets' current medical conditions but in the problems that might arise in the future—and in lowering those risks.

Dr. Evan Feinberg, owner of Stevenson Village Veterinary Hospital in Stevenson, Md., agrees: The test generates goodwill among pet owners who take advantage of it. "You get clients who can say to all their friends, 'My veterinarian did this DNA test,' and then they rattle off all their pet's breeds. That connection to us as veterinarians is useful for bonding with the client."

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