Cats. They’re out there, but you’re not seeing them—the data proves it. The percent of households with cats that don’t see a veterinarian increased 24 percent compared to five years ago, according to the AVMA 2012 Pet Demographic Survey. While many cat owners have no understanding of the importance of preventive care, confirmed by the 2011 Bayer Healthcare and Brakke Consulting Care Usage Study, there’s something else going on. Sixty percent of all cat owners say their cats “hate” going to the veterinarian. The statistic which makes me cringe the most from the study is that nearly 40 percent of cat owners get anxious just thinking about making an appointment with a veterinarian.For me, turning that association around is imperative. We must get more cats into veterinary clinics. After all, cats rarely drive themselves to veterinary offices.
There are many reasons I enthusiastically support the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Cat Friendly Practice initiative. Number one on my list is the attempt to reach out to families with cats by essentially saying, “You’re welcome here.” Make them feel welcome. No, I don’t believe veterinary practices make cat owners feel unwelcome. But I do believe we all think we’re special and if we’re treated that way we respond different. That isn’t about owning cats it’s about being human. There’s nothing more powerful in business than to communicate to customers that you’re like family. The AAFP Cat Friendly Practice program focuses on ways to reach out to cat owners, and to help clients to feel important, self-empowered, and a part of your practice’s family. What’s more, the AAFP’s Cat Friendly Practice initiative offers lots of practical advice, including a long list of tools to help attract feline clientele, examines the practice environment and equipment by considering the specific needs of cats. There are 10 topic areas to a self-assessment process.
I believe that the number of cats that don’t see a veterinarian is significantly higher than the data suggests. I think the dirty truth is that we have no idea how many cats aren’t being seen. We do know that increasingly, dogs and cats are living together, and presumably in peace. According to the AVMA survey, 36 percent of homes with dogs also have at least one cat. And of homes with cats, today nearly 44 percent dare to live with at least one canine. Since dogs are more likely to visit the clinic that cats, why not ask your dog owners, “Have we seen your cat lately?” Of course, you know your clients, or think you do, and certainly some already have a cat you see or you assume they don’t have a cat at home. Sure, you’re likely right. What if you’re not? And how about for those clients you don’t know so well? How can it not be worth the effort to ask? Some practices have found the answer to this simple question surprising.
Another tool for veterinarians is called, “Have we seen your cat lately?” It’s a campaign that includes promotional and marketing materials and helps the veterinary team with communicating the importance of feline veterinary visits to clients. Learn more about AAFP’s Cat Friendly Practice program (AAFP membership is required) at catvets.com. Check out “Have we seen your cat lately?” at haveweseenyourcatlately.com.