Hissing. Wailing. Claws out. Hair on end—the cat's, and maybe the client's too. Chances are you're all too familiar with the
feisty felines that let you know in no uncertain terms how much they loathe your clinic. Cats are waging an ongoing battle
against veterinarians, and it's taking a toll. Cat owners are throwing in the towel, which means fewer cats than ever are
visiting a veterinarian even once per year.
We began taking notice of this trend several years ago, when the AVMA's 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook
reported a significant decline between 2001 and 2006 in the number of visits cats made to the veterinarian. Five years later,
cats still aren't getting the care they need, according to the recently released Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study. The good
news is that insights from this study show us what we need to do to reverse this trend.
While a cat's raised hackles are stressful for clients, feline resistance isn't the only factor driving the decline in veterinary
visits. The study—a research initiative conducted by Bayer Animal Health, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues
(NCVEI), and Brakke Consulting—identified five other key reasons that visits have been declining: sticker shock when it comes
to the cost of veterinary care, the recession, the fragmentation of veterinary services, the Internet, and a lack of understanding
about the need for care.
GET PAWS IN THE DOOR
In the practices we've worked with, 30 percent to 40 percent of visits are feline-related. Yet cats outnumber dogs as owned
pets. So your first step is to identify the felines you should be seeing.
On your new-client worksheet, instead of asking, "Do you have any other pets?" ask, "Do you have any cats?" and "When was
the last time they visited a veterinarian?" Train your receptionists to follow up on these questions if they're left blank
and to also ask these questions of current clients that come in so your records are up to date.
Then use that information. Set these pets up in your reminder system and flag them in the records. Doctors and other team
members can talk to the client about needed care even if this isn't the pet they brought in. Everyone should ask about the
status of every pet during every visit: "How is Sophie doing? We haven't seen her in over a year. Let's schedule an appointment."
And, of course, reach out to cat owners who don't visit your practice. Form alliances with cat clubs, boarding facilities,
and animal welfare organizations to educate cat owners about the need for care. Use seminars, mailings, and first-time visit
promotions with these groups.