Bayer Veterinary Care Usage study analysis: Why clients are skipping your exam room

Pet owners don't know as much as we think they do about taking care of their pets—and their ignorance is jeopardizing your patients' health. Here's what you can do about it.
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May 01, 2011

Veterinarians and team members have been working for years to educate pet owners about the care pets need to stay healthy. And undoubtedly we've made progress. Many pet owners simply don't understand the need for routine care throughout their pets' lives. They're ignoring your recommendation for checkups and wellness visits and think of the veterinary clinic as a place for pets who need shots, not regular care. The bottom line is, pets aren't getting the care they need, and dangerous illnesses are going undetected and untreated.

Results from a recent study show that we still have a long way to go. This finding comes from the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, a research initiative conducted by Bayer Animal Health, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic issues, and Brakke Consulting. Concerned that the number of dog and cat visits to veterinary clinics was decreasing at the same time the pet population was increasing, the study's authors set out to measure what exactly pet owners thought about the need for veterinary services and whether pets were getting adequate care.

The study identified six key reasons that visits have been declining: the U.S. recession, the fragmentation of veterinary services, the Internet, a lack of understanding about the need for care, sticker shock, and feline resistance to transportation to the veterinarian. (For details, see "6 factors that lead to fewer visits to the veterinary practice"). While you can't necessarily do much in your practice about the recession or the fragmentation of services in the market, there are many things you can do to address the other four factors, starting with educating pet owners about the care their pets need.

REACH OUT TO PET OWNERS

Like many veterinarians, you likely spend so much time immersed in pet care that you forget not every pet owner knows what you know. This study is clearly a wake-up call. Thirty-six percent of pet owners surveyed said that were it not for vaccinations, they wouldn't take their pet to the veterinarian. And 24 percent said they thought routine checkups were unnecessary. (See "Pet owner attitudes toward routine exams").

This lack of knowledge is alarming. It indicates that many pets aren't getting even the minimum level of care they need. When pet owners don't bring their pets in for regular exams, they miss the chance to have a veterinarian spot something like heartworm disease or kidney failure—invisible conditions that have serious consequences if left untreated. These pet owners also miss the opportunity to learn how to take better care of their pet at home—for example, feeding the best kind of diet and keeping the pet on a parasite prevention program.

Perhaps no surprise, clients with "indoor pets" (and we all know there's no such thing as a pet that never ever goes outdoors) thought their pets needed less care than outdoor pets and were less likely to have visited the veterinarian in the past year. In fact, 15 percent of pet owners said they thought indoor pets didn't need checkups at all. These pet owners don't understand that while an indoor pet is less likely to be hit by a car or involved in a fight, it's just as likely to get cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, or another serious ailment.

More surprising is the fact that pet owners with older animals were also less likely to have seen the veterinarian in the past year. The idea that older pets need less care than younger ones makes no sense, but that's exactly what pet owners seem to believe.

On a positive note, survey participants indicated that education can make a difference in the care they provide their pets. A large percentage of dog and cat owners said they would take their pet to the veterinarian more often if they really believed the pet needed exams more often, if it would help their pet live longer, and if they knew they could prevent problems and expensive treatment later. (See "Reasons clients would visit the veterinarian more often")