The cost of 'convenience' euthanasia

The cost of 'convenience' euthanasia

When pet owners choose euthanasia for healthy pets, the emotional toll can be heavy for pets, their owners and your team. And you probably haven't even considered how it can hurt your business (and future referrals). You could be losing $12,712 or more every time you don't talk about behavior and the client opts for convenience euthanasia.

"Convenience euthanasias are an inappropriately named service if ever there was one," says Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, a partner with Halow Tassava Consulting. "People who show up at veterinary offices to have their pets 'conveniently' put to sleep are likely at the end of a long rope of anxiety, danger, destructive behavior, wasted money and guilt.

"It's also extremely tough on your team."

This begs the question: Why aren't you spending the time to talk about behavior during routine veterinary visits? Data from the 2016 dvm360 Spectrum of Veterinary Care survey shows only about 29 percent of respondents had a written protocol to discuss potential behavior problems as part of the patient's history at every wellness visit.

"So what’s the benefit of helping clients nip behavioral problems in the bud?  A big piece of peace of mind," Halow says. "We’re all a little on edge these days. The last thing any of us need is the needless death of a beautiful animal and an unhappy ending to a story that should have otherwise been heartwarming."

And what's the consequence if you fail to address behavior?

About 10 percent of pet owners who relinquish their pets say it's because of behavior issues, according to the American Humane Association. And when you consider about 7.6 million pets wind up in shelters each year and 2.7 million are euthanized, behavior looms large as a risk factor to disrupt the human-animal bond.

You're aware of the emotional toll this takes. But have you considered that not talking about behavior problems carries a heavy financial consequence as well? 

According to Blackwell’s Five Minute Veterinary Practice Management Consult a typical client’s worth to the practice can be calculated using this formula:

Average number of pets the client owns x Average number of visits each pet makes to the practice per year x Average transaction x The number of clients that the clients that the client refers x The expected lifetime of the pets

Consider this back-of-the-napkin equation:

This is a pretty conservative guess. And you need the referral Mrs. Smith might make if she stays a happy client at your veterinary practice.

"According to a 2014 E-marketer survey, 52 percent of small businesses said that client referral was their best marketing tool," Halow says. "In veterinary practices that I work with, word-of-mouth is the second or third largest driver of new clients after ‘sign’ and ‘internet.'

The solution is simple. You need to talk about behavior. And you need to make good referrals to behavior experts. Sadly, about 46 percent of practices say they don't have someone in their practice who's particularly passionate about talking to clients about behavior issues, according to the Spectrum of Care survey. And another 47 percent say there's not a behaviorist in their area to whom they feel confident referring patients with behavior issues.

"There’s a lot of education going on in veterinary rooms these days. For my money, behavior should be prioritized near the top. It’s a great jumping off point to underline a practice’s expertise and there isn’t a Wal-Mart aisle in America that stocks it."
Finally, Halow encourages you to remember that pets with behavioral disorders are likely to be as unhappy as their pet owners. "Proactive intervention is right for the owner, for the pet, for your team, and for your business," he says.

Convenience Euthanasia versus Economic Euthanasia

It has been my personal observation that pet owners who are frustrated because of behavior problems with their pet are more likely to surrender their wayward dog or cat to an animal shelter rather than the more drastic euthanasia solution. In either case, however, the potential revenue is lost to the practice. I suspect, however, that economic euthanasia resulting from the pet owners inability to pay for necessary medical treatments has a much larger impact on practice revenues than the singular behavior issue. I would remind practice owners and managers that most pet health insurance policies provide benefits for behavior therapy as well as peace of mind for the treatment of other serious medical conditions. A strong practice initiative for the proactive recommendation of pet health insurance to pet owners can have a spectacular effect on practice revenue as well as the reduction of compassion fatigue by veterinarians and team members.

convenience disposal

What the article describes should be called convenience "disposal" rather than "euthanasia" as there is no mercy in this kind of death. What the article misses on is the fact that most of these convenience disposal requests come from pet owners that have never darkened the door of a vet clinic in several years.

In my experience, these pets are usually not presented for a medical exam before the request to "euthanize." We don't see these pets. We refer directly to rescue organizations or the local Humane society. The math in the article is good if one assumes that we are talking about good pet owners. Good pet owners don't discard their pets out of convenience.

I find it tremendously insulting to my education and knowledge, as well as my professional integrity to ask me to dispose of a pet that is inconvenient. Not unlike asking a doctor to dispose of a child or baby that is inconvenient.