Blog: Why doesn't a growing bond lead to better pet healthcare?

Blog: Why doesn't a growing bond lead to better pet healthcare?

Veterinarians aren't seeing increased pet owner spending the way pet retail outlets are. At least not yet.
Dec 10, 2013

Perhaps you’ve heard this ancient Chinese curse: “May you live an interesting life.” If this proverb has any merit, then veterinarians in the United States must feel especially “cursed” right now.

So what’s so interesting about veterinary medicine these days? This: While Americans are spending more money than ever on pets, fewer than half the pets in America receive regular veterinary care, according to reliable estimates. Spending is up for pet food, boarding, grooming and pet toys but down for pet healthcare. “Interesting” indeed, especially since pet owners are seeking more and more health-related services for themselves.

What’s more, it would seem that growing interest in—and evidence of—the array of benefits humans and animals gain from each other does not cause pet owners to take steps to improve the medical quality or length of their pets’ lives. Or they don’t believe that veterinary care will have a meaningful impact, perhaps because veterinarians have not convinced them.

Does this make sense? If people increasingly view their pets as family members, is it rational to assume they don’t believe healthcare matters for their pet?

The answer, sadly, may be yes, even though pets live much shorter lives than people, which means periods without veterinary care can have an even greater impact. This is where the human-animal bond comes into play. How do we avoid the conclusion that people don’t understand this bond—that they don’t read enough about it or appreciate its significance?

While pets may be pampered in contemporary America, that may have more to do with disposable income and less to do with a mature understanding of human beings’ relationship to animals and the equivalent need for healthcare for our four-legged family members.

If the human-animal bond is given more attention, and if policymakers and schools look for opportunities to support programs to widen and deepen its reach, then surely more pet owners will stop and think about the medical quality of life for their pet. If it’s not just the cuteness or playfulness factor people appreciate in their pets but a deep, enduring relationship that’s fostered between people and animals, behaviors might change. And pet healthcare may become a priority for the vast majority of pet owners.

If you are looking for a precedent, consider American spending and devotion to the environment in the past 20 years. It’s no accident that investment and interest ticked up as the news media and academia paid more attention to the vital relationship between humans and the outdoors. Just a thought.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement.