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Looking after our four-legged friends

In Holland the animal health industry is still fragmented with many smaller veterinary clinics but change sweeps in as competition heats up.

When Dutch veterinarian Walter van Look attends a new client he may already know that getting paid could prove difficult – but that’s OK. Saving the life of a beloved cat or dog is far more important.

- In an emergency matters like that are obviously not the priority and in the case of an accident we may not even know who the pet’s owner is and what action they want us to take, says Walter van Look.

He started out as a veterinarian some 25 years ago and in 1994 he teamed up with a partner to take over two clinics in The Hague in Holland. A few years ago a third clinic in Nootdorp was added and today they employ fourteen people of which six are veterinarians.

- We are located in urban areas and treat only pets in the clinics which are full service clinics meaning that we can perform most types of patients that require surgery, X-rays, ultrasound, blood tests and  the most common cases of minor ailments, vaccinations and EU pet passports, says Walter van Look.

Veterinary services carry no subsidies in Holland and at the three clinics the overwhelming number of clients pays directly at the time of the visit, by cash or a local debit card. Few Dutch pet owners insure their pets; merely a few percent of pets are insured for veterinary costs compared to around 30 percent in countries like the UK and Sweden.

- In some cases like emergency visits during the night or when a client wants to pay in instalments we send invoices and naturally in some cases people do not pay. We send reminders for two to three months and then hand it over to Intrum Justitia, says Walter van Look.

The level of non-paying clients is relatively low but competition is on the rise in the Dutch animal health market. There are still few veterinary chains in Holland but some major players, with backing from private equity funds, are taking a keen interest in the Dutch market. In addition some pet shops are starting to offer selected basic treatments and vaccinations in the stores at discount prices.

- It can be a tough market although it has improved recently and obviously every penny counts. A good thing with the way Intrum Justitia works is that they don’t let those who don’t pay off the hook. It is good to know that they send out reminders even after a couple of years and that the unpaid bill is still in the system, says Walter van Look.