McLean-based candy giant Mars spends $9B on a pet hospital chain

WASHINGTON — McLean-based Mars Inc. is best-known for its candy brands such as Snickers and Twix, but it’s also a big player in the pet health industry, and will expand that side of its business with a major acquisition.

Mars is acquiring Los Angeles-based VCA Inc. in a deal worth $9.1 billion, gaining VCA’s chain of nearly 800 pet hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. The purchase price includes $1.4 billion in debt.

The boards of both companies have approved the acquisition.

Mars’ Mars Petcare division, whose brands include Pedigree and Whiskas, is one of the world’s leading pet care providers and has been part of Mars’ business for 80 years. It also owns a portfolio of veterinary services businesses, including Banfield Pet Hospital, Bluepearl and Pet Partners.

Mars also has a growing pet DNA testing business called Wisdom Panel, and in 2015, acquired pet technology provider Whistle.

The acquisition still requires VCA shareholder and regulatory approval, and is expected to close in the third quarter.

VCA founder and CEO Bob Antin will continue to run the company, and it will remain headquartered in Los Angeles.

The purchase price is a big premium over VCA’s current market value. News of the acquisition sent VCA stock — ticker symbol “WOOF” — up nearly 30 percent in Monday trading.

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