And, as human birthrates fell, pets took the place of children in some families. In 2014 there were 179 million cats and dogs in the U.S., up from 98 million in 1980. Today, according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), more than 80 percent of pet owners think of themselves as their pets’ moms and dads. Americans love their pets so much, they spent $35 billion on veterinary care in 2015. ... In contrast to human medicine, in which everything from the nurse-patient ratio to the caloric count of injections is mandated and overseen by a web of government agencies, veterinary medicine is largely unregulated. And pet owners pay cash: Vets don’t deal with insurers haggling for better prices or questioning whether that vaccine or ultrasound or blood panel is really necessary. ... when veterinarians make fatal mistakes, they face no real financial consequences. The law hasn’t changed to reflect the attitudes of the average pet owner; courts still treat pets as property. ... a typical medical malpractice insurance policy for a veterinarian costs less than $20 a month. ... Corporations now own 15 percent to 20 percent of America’s 26,000 pet hospitals, and consolidators, copying the model pioneered by VCA, are buying them fast. ... The cost of veterinary care has risen even faster than the cost of human health care, more than doubling since 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.