Under a pending merger, VCA Animal Hospitals will come under the ownership of Mars, Inc. Not only is it a bit strange for a chain of veterinary care facilities to be owned by a candy and packaged foods company—it's more than a bit concerning for pet owners, the Consumerist reports. Mars already bought the Banfield Pet Hospital chain back in 2007, and big problems have been reported with those veterinary offices, which are connected to PetSmart stores. Most troubling is Banfield's practice of selling pet owners pricey "pet wellness plans," which sound like pet health insurance but aren't. Owners are charged a monthly fee in exchange for receiving discounts on veterinary services, and are often told by Banfield representatives that they can cancel at any time after the first year without incurring a fee. The problem? That's not exactly true.
Once the plan renews, members are on the hook for another full year of monthly payments—or, yes, a fee if they cancel, as one angry plan owner once explained to the Consumerist. Other pet owners have been distressed to learn that, should their pet die mid-plan year, they're also still on the hook for the rest of that year's monthly payments. There's also the fact that, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently revealed, those same wellness plans include services that not all animals need—and even some that could put them at risk, like annual teeth cleanings under general anesthesia. Mars will be adding 800 VCA hospitals to its 900 or so Banfield locations, and will also be merging with another large veterinary chain, BluePearl Veterinary Partners, meaning a huge number of veterinary facilities could soon be adopting similar practices. As for why Mars is getting into the vet care industry? It's becoming a huge moneymaker, with pet owners willing to put out big bucks for their animals.