Dear Christopher Cat:  I thought I was taking my cats to a private, locally-owned animal hospital. Instead, I was shocked to learn that my veterinarian works for a large, out-of-state corporate practice – even though the corporate name isn’t on the animal hospital’s building, website or literature.

I think corporate ownership should be transparent. How do I find an independent practice that is completely owned by the veterinarian who runs it?

Christopher Responds: That’s going to be a challenge, because large corporations are opening more and more veterinary practices. Experts predict that in five years, corporate chains will provide half of all veterinary care.

The largest of them, Mars, owns Banfield Pet Hospitals, VCA and Blue Pearl, with a total of nearly 2000 practices that carry the corporate name.

But many corporate practices hide their identify, making it difficult for clients to determine exactly who owns the animal hospital.

Companies such as National Veterinary Associates, VetCor and Pathway Veterinary Alliance each own hundreds of individual animal hospitals that maintain their local names and don’t disclose their corporate ownership on their websites, signs or literature.

Another issue for some animal hospital clients is gender disparity in corporate veterinary management. While most veterinarians are female, the chief executive officers of the large veterinary chains that oversee more than 3000 animal hospitals are male.

To find the answers you seek, examine corporate veterinary practice websites for a list of the hospitals they own.

Also, consult the Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association website, which offers a list of member animal hospitals. The list is short, so you may need to ask the medical directors of the other practices you’re considering about any corporate affiliations.