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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Slow Season

Did you know that veterinary medicine is a seasonal business? Well, at least here in the US it is. I've never completely understood why, even though I know some of the factors.

Summer is the busy time for us. We see more frequent skin and ear infections, flea problems, and allergy issues. These are complaints that happen more frequently in warm weather than in other times of the year. However, we also see more pets for routine preventative care. The increased number of clients is likely because of several influences besides medical need. Many parents have summers with more free time because they are home with the kids and don't have to worry about school schedules. People need to have their pets ready for boarding, getting them up to date on vaccines in preparation for taking them to kennels while the human family goes on vacation. There also seems to be more discretionary income available.

By contrast, the winter months are very slow for us. Extra money is spent on Christmas rather than the pets, and people tend to get into a greater financial crunch around this time of year. Cold, dry air isn't good for fleas, and is more forgiving to skin problems, so these issues tend to go away for the most part (depending on the part of the country). And since we are now in December, yes, we're becoming much slower and I am getting caught up on some reading that I didn't have time to do in the Summer.

We as a profession have learned how to deal with this seasonality. While many businesses hire seasonal help during November and December as the Christmas shopping season happens, we hire Summer workers to aid in the extra business. Sometimes we'll plan building or cleaning projects for January or February when we know there won't be many clients around. We hate having to reduce employees' hours as the holidays approach, but it's also necessary in order to stay in business.

Apparently, seasonal variations happen in other non-retail businesses. I spoke to my kids' pediatrician once, and she said that because of colds and flu their client flow is seasonal also, but with the height during the winter months. I'm curious as to whether non-American veterinary practices see a similar pattern.

Just another view behind the scenes of a veterinary practice!