Weekly companion animal news: August 7, 2023

Airvet’s $18.2 million funding round comes as telehealth and venture capital grow in the veterinary industry

Pet telehealth company Airvet has raised $18.2 million in a Series B funding round. The round was led by Mountain Group Partners with participation from other investors, including VCA Animal Hospitals founder Bob Antin. Airvet, which raised $14 million in a Series A round in 2020, bills itself as a solution to veterinary care shortages. With the U.S. pet care market expected to grow from $118 billion in 2019 to $277 billion by 2030, technology startups—as well as venture capitalists—have entered the arena. Companies like Digitail, Mixlab, The Vets and Dutch have all launched in recent years. Not all the new players have succeeded; Fuzzy, which raised $80 million in venture-backed funding since its founding in 2016, reportedly shut down in June. Airvet’s new funding will support the continued expansion of the company’s partnership with enterprise and employer clients, product development and building out its sales and marketing team, TechCrunch reports.

Veterinary practice chain Petfolk raises $35 million in Series B round, hopes for $5M more

North Carolina-based veterinary chain Petfolk raised $35 million from 15 investors and is seeking an additional $5 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, WRAL TechWire reports. The company’s founder and CEO, Audrey Wystrach, started Petfolk in 2019. She previously was chief operating officer of Austin, Texas-based ZippiVet and a veterinarian for Banfield Pet Hospital.

Consolidators face setback in France after court ruling

Corporate consolidators, including Mars and IVC Evidensia, have been forced to reassess the status of their operations in France after a court asserted that veterinary practices there must be controlled by veterinarians, the VIN News Service reports. The ruling in France was made July 10 by its Council of State in separate but accompanying judgments applying to four practices: two operated by Mars’ European division, AniCura, one by IVC Evidensia and another by French consolidator MonVeto. The news wasn’t all bad for consolidators, as the court rejected an assertion from the Order of Veterinarians that Mars and Nestle (a minority shareholder in IVC Evidenisa) should be banned from owning shares in the respective practices.

Arkansas’ first veterinary school takes a step forward, could welcome students by 2026

Arkansas State University took another step toward bringing the first public veterinary school to the state, as the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved its plan to establish the College of Veterinary Medicine and to offer a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. There remain steps that need to be completed, such as approval from national regulatory organizations, but launching in the fall of 2026 remains a possibility, said Todd Shields, ASU chancellor. The program’s enrollment is projected to be 120 students in each cohort, split evenly between Arkansans and non-Arkansans. State residents will be charged $17,000 per semester, while out-of-state students will be charged $27,000 per semester. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

Seattle-area shelters see uptick in pet surrenders as economic challenges mount

Economic hardship, housing insecurity and increasing veterinary costs are forcing people in the Seattle area to give up their pets to animal shelters, The Seattle Times reports. At the pandemic’s peak, Seattle Humane in Bellevue, Washington, had a relatively low number of animals, as people in lockdown were better able to support their pets’ needs. But between 2020 and 2022, the shelter took in more and more pets each year. “Anytime we see an increase in owner surrender, it’s actually a good indicator that we’re heading into a recession,” said Libby Jones, chief operating officer of Seattle Humane. Surrenders spiked during the 2008 recession as pet owners lost their homes or were between living situations.

New vaccine would target ticks and mosquitoes, not just the diseases they carry

A group of Yale researchers is working on a new kind of vaccine they believe could be a game-changer. Instead of acting against a pathogen, the vaccine would reduce the risk of transmission for mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses by targeting the bugs themselves. The team is working to isolate which components of mosquito saliva alter the local environment on people’s skin. One member of the study team, Erol Fikrig, previously was working on a vaccine targeting the deer tick. He said the vaccine, when tested on guinea pigs, reduced ticks’ feeding time by creating an immune response against the tick’s saliva. Mosquitoes, which feed more rapidly than ticks, will require a different approach, the New Haven Register reports.

PIDA finalizes new value proposition

The board of the Pet Industry Distributors Association has finalized its new value proposition and strategy intended to guide the organization over the next few years. The organization says it will offer training tools to retailers to help them drive value and better serve customers; share distributor-focused education programs; provide stakeholders best practices; share resources for marketing, operations, customer service and education; and relay information regarding industry trends and the related business climate.

Study will examine roles of veterinary technicians in practices

Researchers are looking for independently owned companion animal practices to take part in an AVMA-funded study by Cornell University to understand the current roles of veterinary technicians and identify potential reasons practices don’t always take advantage of technicians’ education and skills. Veterinarians, business managers and veterinary technicians at participating practices will complete several brief surveys between January and September 2024. The total time commitment will be no more than one to three hours per employee across the duration of the study. Participants will receive a report outlining the researchers’ findings, including recommendations to make better use of veterinary technicians’ diverse skills. Clinics interested in participating should fill out this survey no later than September 15, 2023.