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Treating Pets & Production Animals in New Zealand

Tom Dinwiddie , Managing Director, Wanganui Veterinary Services, Wanganui, North Island, New Zealand

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Wanganui Veterinary Services (WVS) is a mixed animal practice based in the provincial town of Wanganui on the southwestern coast of the North Island in New Zealand. Wanganui has a population of about 40 000, with much of the economic production coming from the surrounding farmland. 

WVS runs 2 practices: Somme Parade, the larger general practice, and Vets on Carlton, which is almost solely a small animal practice. Vets on Carlton also specializes in greyhounds; there is a raceway in Wanganui where races are held about twice a week. There are 3 full-time small animal veterinarians at Vets on Carlton and 3 at the Somme Parade clinic. 

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The Practices

The large animal side of the practice is based mostly in production animals involving wool, beef, and dairy. This work is seasonal and includes pregnancy testing of both sheep and cattle using ultrasound scanners; calving; testing rams for brucellosis; sheepdog vaccinations; calf dehorning; cattle-mating programs; and general disease control. There are 3 large animal veterinarians, a full-time veterinary nurse, and 3 veterinary nurses hired for the sheep-scanning season.

The small animal business is focused on household pets—mostly cats and dogs but also rabbits, rats, goats, and lambs. This side of the business has steadily grown as pets become more part of the family and receive better care (eg, vaccines, dental care, flea and worm control). 

The veterinary work is often routine in nature. As WVS runs the only 2 clinics in Wanganui, 24-hour emergency care is provided. Team members are encouraged to develop a broad range of skills, as after-hours, on-call veterinary work presents a wide variety of challenges. Continuing education is required. WVS funds its veterinarians’ membership in the New Zealand Veterinary Association and covers continuing education costs, including conferences. 

Occupational health and safety is also a focus of the business. This ongoing commitment to improving health and safety in the workplace includes an employee-based committee to assess hazards and suggest improvements. 

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Surgery—from orthopedics to cat spays—is part of everyday practice. When specialization is required beyond the team’s expertise, Massey University Veterinary Teaching Hospital is an hour away. Each WVS clinic is equipped with the modern diagnostic essentials of digital radiography, ultrasonography, endoscopy, and in-house hematology and biochemistry.

Diversifying the Business 

Where WVS differs from many practices is the diversification into other associated businesses, including dairy heifer grazing; 2 stores that sell pet food and accessories; a farm-supply store; and the facilitation of veterinary nurse training at the Somme Parade clinic, where there is a classroom for 20 students.

Wanganui’s socioeconomic situation is such that clients have a wide range of expectations and demands for veterinary work. Many pets are not spayed/neutered or vaccinated, mostly for financial reasons, and diseases such as parvovirus in dogs are common. Client financial constraints sometimes require clinicians to think of innovative solutions. As in many practices in New Zealand, retail sales help make the veterinary practice more profitable. The diversified nature of the whole business has helped grow WVS and insulate the business from market fluctuations such as the current dairy downturn.

WVS is very much a local company. Its successful expansion into other, related business sectors has made it one of the bigger employers in town. It has made an ongoing commitment to delivering quality services and making a difference in the community.

Global Commentary

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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