Rising costs are forcing many Iowa veterinarians to combine their practices with other vets, a move that’s helping some animal doctors survive the changing and challenging economic times. Dr. Tom Johnson, executive director of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, says forming what’s called a practice alliance has its advantages. Johnson says it solves a big problem for veterinarians having to be on call every night and weekend — that duty can be shared. Also, he says big pieces of expensive equipment can be purchased and shared, saving money. Hundreds of veterinarians from across the state are meeting in Ames today through Friday at the association’s annual meeting. Johnson says one workshop is designed for the many Iowa veterinarians who used to work only with livestock but who are now also taking on domestic animals — dogs and cats. Workshops at the convention will cover a range of topics, including one on biosecurity in the horse industry and others that are geared more toward cows and pigs. Johnson says one recent advance in the veterinary industry is surgery with the C-O-2 laser, which can replace the scalpel. He says the laser beam can be used to declaw cats, make an incision or remove tumors without using a blade, bringing less swelling, less discomfort and quicker healing. About 13-hundred veterinarians are members of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, or about 85-percent of the practicing vets in the state. While the membership is rising, Johnson says the number of veterinarians statewide is on the decline.