Slow But Steady: Vet Med’s Rebound is Here

In the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare, it’s the slow and steady that wins the race. Veterinary medicine seems to follow the storyline of the tortoise, gaining slow but steady progress that bodes well for the future of animal health. This slow and steady growth was on full display at the recent Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX) conference in Orlando where the conference celebrated a new milestone for its 41st year: record attendance of 27,000 attendees from 82 countries. From the packed education sessions to the buzzing trade show floor, excitement overflowed about new products and the general positive trend line for the profession. Here are seven key things our team took away from the event:

1. Revenue for veterinary practices is up, but the number of veterinary visits is down.

It’s a story you may have heard before with a few new twists. Veterinary practices celebrated several positive milestones in 2023, according to the Brakke Industry Overview at VMX.

Indeed, 80% of veterinary practices saw revenue growth in 2023. While they did see slightly fewer patients than previous years, the revenue per patient was also up, and most veterinarians said they were not concerned about a decline in patient visits or new clients.

2. It’s getting easier to see the vet faster.

About 35% of practices reported they could see patients the same or next day, which is up from 27% in 2022, according to research from Brakke Consulting. And only 3% said clients had to wait more than a month for an appointment.

3. Practice conditions are improving.

Veterinarians reported 87% better utilization of non-veterinarian staff, and Brakke data showed hours per week are also declining. About 30% reported working 46 hours or more per week in 2023, compared to 40% in 2021. Job vacancies in veterinary practices are also on the decline with fewer practices reporting vacancies and fewer vacant positions.

4. Conditions have also improved for new grads.

The debt-to-income ratio continues to improve even as starting salaries are climbing. These conditions put new veterinarians in a better place to manage the debt from vet school. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports the average student debt from veterinary school is $147,258. And speaking of vet school, about half of veterinarians think the current number of vet schools is enough, while the other half feel there’s room for more.

Opportunities for new graduates reached their highest levels ever, with Brakke reporting nearly 65% of new graduates receiving offers for full time employment and almost 27% pursuing advanced education.

5. Monoclonal antibodies are gaining ground but telemedicine is not.

The buzz continues to build around the opportunities that monoclonal antibodies such as Solensia and Librela present for veterinary medicine. These FDA-approved treatments address osteoarthritis, decreasing neurogenic inflammation and sensitization.

Alternately, Brakke research shows veterinarians and pet owners show limited interest in telemedicine. About 74% of veterinarians report they don’t offer telemedicine, and 72% of pet owners say they prefer to meet their veterinarian in person.

6. AI has entered the group chat.

Artificial intelligence was on full display at VMX., for example, uses technology to assess a cat’s pain level using veterinary approved pain scales. And Vetscan Imagyst by Zoetis leverages artificial intelligence to support cytology results.

7. Technology could help our pets live longer (really!)

It’s every dog owner’s dream: an opportunity to have more time with our furry best friends. Loyal for Dogs is developing drugs that target the underlying causes of aging to prevent and delay the onset of age-related diseases that affect our canine companions. While not yet on the market, Loyal announced expected launches beginning as soon as 2025.

Portia Stewart, a senior companion animal consultant with Curious Plot, is the former team channel director for dvm360 and former editor of Firstline magazine. She spent 19 years working in companion animal health media before joining Curious Plot.