Candy giant Mars Inc., facing a slowdown in packaged food, is making a bigger bet on a booming industry: pet care.

The maker of M&Ms and Snickers agreed to buy the animal-hospital chain VCA Inc. (Nasdaq: WOOF) for about $7.7 billion on Monday -- not including debt -- expanding on its existing veterinary-care business. Mars will pay $93 a share in cash, a 31 percent premium to VCA’s closing price of $70.77 on Friday.

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