Much has changed in the 30 years since Dr. Robert Schick first came to Atlanta, fresh from his post-graduate training to become the first veterinarian here to specialize in dermatology.
Since then, specialized veterinary care for animals has become commonplace. It mirrors, in many ways, the growth of advanced care in medicine for humans, although there’s often a time lag, Dr. Schick said.
“We mimic and parallel human medicine, but we are usually 20 years behind. But we are beginning to see more sub-specialties within veterinary medicine. We have not only radiologists, but interventional radiologists, for example. All those things we are seeing in human medicine, we are seeing in veterinary medicine, too.”
When Dr. Schick began practicing, he was the first to use such tools as carbon dioxide lasers to remove tumors and other growths from animal skin. Today you can have Magnetic Resonance Imaging done on your pet without ever leaving the hospital. If you need computer assisted tomography images, BluePearl Pet Hospital in Sandy Springs, where Dr. Schick practices, can order up a CAT scan for the family cat or radioiodine I-131 treatments to cure thyroid disorders in felines.
There’s chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer and kidney dialysis for kidney disease, too. There wasn’t a single veterinary oncologist in the city when Dr. Schick began practicing. Now BluePearl has two, just at its Sandy Springs location, one a sub-specialist in radiation oncology. According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association there are more than 20 distinct specialties requiring board certification.
What has changed over the years, Dr. Schick notes, is not only how we care for our animals, but how we care about our animals.
“We see pet owners who value animals pretty much like a family member, just like a furry family member. They want to give their pet the best possible care, just like they would give a child.”
Often, treatments can cost thousands of dollars, and while pet health insurance is available, most people can expect to pay fees that sometimes are as large as fees for human health care.
Dr. Schick credits his father, who was a pioneering medical radiologist in Florida during the 1950s, with inspiring him to become an animal specialist. His father was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna that lost almost everything during the Holocaust, except his ability to learn and adapt to a new life.
“My father saw all his possessions in Europe went away, but when he came to the United States, he had the one thing that Hitler couldn’t take away – his brain. He was an unbelievably good physician and a Jewish scholar I learned a lot from. So learning to be a doctor like him was the way Judaism became important to me.”
The veterinary medical market, particularly in the United States, is expected to continue to have healthy growth in the years ahead. Because we care for our pets the way we do, Forbes magazine reported that U.S pet industry spending was expected to reach $72 billion last year.
Advanced pet care innovation came with a big name. The BluePearl corporation, which has three specialized pet hospitals in the Atlanta area, is owned by Mars Petcare, a division of the Mars Corporation. It’s the same company that makes M&M’s and Snickers candy bars.
The company owns more than 2,000 clinics and hospitals in 21 states and also makes and markets the well-known brands of Royal Canin and Pedigree dog foods. In the last four years, it has bought out its only real competitor in the United States and expanded internationally in Britain. Today it is one of the largest pet nutrition and veterinary care providers in the world.
BluePearl Pet Hospital in Sandy Springs is believed to be the largest private multi-specialty hospital in Georgia. There are 19 exam rooms and five surgical suites, and the hospital is open 24 hours every day for emergency care.