One vet’s view of this year’s conferences

Fear and loathing in Las Vegas, Orlando … and anywhere else veterinarians convene

Every spring I put pen to paper on the issue of veterinary conferencing. Whether my annual exertions delight, confound or dismay (I’ve heard it all), no more entertaining veterinary writing opportunities exist beyond the thoroughly engrossing topic of veterinary exceptionalism as epitomized by our profession’s largest national conferences (NAVC and WVC).

Where else to opine on veterinary culture in all its manifestations, from the sublime and truly inspiring to the ridiculous and the crass? (Sorry folks, it doesn’t ever stay in Vegas. That’s just a big lie that sells too many stupid T-shirts.)

For those who skipped the annual conference extravaganzas, here’s what you missed.

Orlando’s Venue Change

Thankfully, this year’s festivities did not disappoint on the conferences-are-so-dull scale most industries suffer from. In fact, the novelty factor was amped up to 11 given that the North American Veterinary Community changed more than just its name over the past couple of years (read “Community”; not “Conference”).

The traditional Martin Luther King weekend date was exchanged for a slightly warmer early February experience (a boon for Disney holiday weekend crowd haters). More significantly, however, the venue was relocated from the pleasantly schizophrenic Marriott/Gaylord Palms to the disorienting and gargantuan Orlando Convention Center.

Go Big or Go Home

This is apparently the mantra the NAVC organizers were mulling over as they put this thing together. I can almost imagine the conversation: “Sure it’s all spread out, but at least you don’t have to navigate a cigarette soot-encrusted casino to get to wherever you’re going.”

No, Toto, the NAVC is not in Kansas anymore. But it still seemed that way, seeing as it felt like I had to walk through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama to get anywhere. And this is coming from a no-heels yoga girl who pulls her conference gear on wheels. I can only imagine what the conference-uninitiated must have suffered. Just. Not. Humane.

Slick. Very Slick. And Expensive!

Everything this year looked like it cost a zillion bucks. The booths were new and improved with all kinds of plush carpeting, fancy espresso stands, sparkly alcoholic beverages and swag-filled tote giveaways that made some attendees look like they might actually drop a few pounds if they didn’t Uber back to their Alabama hotels.

In case you’re among the few still wondering, the lavish digs help explain why we’ve been paying so much for equipment, foods, drugs and supplies.

Further Research, Please

In what Purina Pro Plan is calling a “breakthrough” and a “game changer” for the treatment of epilepsy in dogs, NeuroCare, its new veterinary diet, was developed for use in dogs who suffer seizures and are currently taking at least one drug for the management of their seizure disorders.

What the company shared about its diet at the booth:

  • • 71 percent of dogs showed a reduction in seizure frequency;
  • • 48 percent of dogs showed a 50 percent or greater reduction in seizure frequency; and
  • • 14 percent of dogs achieved complete freedom from seizures.

What the company didn’t share:

  • • Purina’s stats regarding its new diet are based on one study that included a sample size of 21 dogs fed this diet over a period of six months.
  • • The methodology does not include a list of drugs the dogs were receiving or the length of time they had been receiving the drugs in advance of the study period.
  • • While 15 dogs experienced seizure reduction while on the diet, five experienced an increase in seizure activity.
  • • Two additional dogs that did not complete the study and were therefore not included in the findings, experienced an increase in seizure frequency so severe they had to be euthanized. Three others dropped out due to unpalatability and owner noncompliance.

When I questioned one of the veterinary nutritionists at the booth, she defended the study as being perfectly in line with the standards for nutrition research across the industry.

Looks to me like some companies should be spending more on their research and less on their booths—especially before making claims about the safety and efficacy of certain diets.

My Least Favorite Booth

How many hospitals? Is it 900 yet? Not sure now that they’re owned by privately held Mars and aren’t required to release this information, but one thing I can say for sure is that the world’s largest chain of veterinary hospitals offered us precious little this year. The booth, as it turns out, suffered from a low-light location and a teensy doublewide configuration.

“How many hospitals? And this is all you’ve got to show for it?” I ribbed the booth dudes.

At least one didn’t take kindly to my remarks. Turns out he was the head of conference marketing. Oopsie!

But seriously, even the Comfy Cone people had a bigger, better booth—and a way better product, IMO.

The Product I Want More Of

Remember the Apoquel debacle? I mean, it took at least two years for some veterinarians to realize this product wasn’t some mythical unicorn beastie they’d ever actually lay their hands on. Turns out the product is awesome, of course. But the extreme lack of supply was embarrassing, especially given the product’s well-justified claims.

Same thing happened this year with Galliprant, Elanco’s OA-specific NSAID. I placed my very first (and large!) order at the Orlando booth on launch day. Guess what? Just two months later I can’t get my hands on more. Perhaps I talked it up too much among my clients and colleagues.

So much for loyalty––and proper planning, of course.

Most Overheard Conversation

Cue the “Star Wars’” “Imperial March” theme (the one played every time Darth Vader makes an entrance onscreen). I keep it as my formidable mother’s ringtone, but it applies here as well.

How much of the veterinary services market now? Is it a 20 percent market share … or a mere 10? We may never know, seeing as Mars is famously secretive and closely held, but now that VCA is under its umbrella (along with Banfield, Blue Pearl and other pet brands), one thing is for certain: It’s the talk of the conference circuit. And from what I’ve heard, nothing good is being said, because this kind of consolidation bodes ill for the once-independent spirit of the veterinary community.

Note: Credit for my deck goes to Hunter S. Thompson, of course, but a special shout-out goes to Veterinary Information Network’s Dr. Tony Johnson for his impressively irreverent wit. 

Dr. Patty Khuly owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

Originally published in the May 2017 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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