The cost of care
When it comes to cost, the survey revealed that 53 percent of respondents were surprised by the cost of their pet's health
care and found it higher than they expected. "In analyzing the research, one of the things that became clear is that veterinarians
need to help pet owners understand costs," Volk says. For more expensive treatments, he advises educating owners as to available
resources, such as emergency funding, loans and financing programs.
The pricing structure in the veterinary community also plays a role, Felsted says. The long-standing approach of taking last
year's fees and adding 5 to 15 percent may not be the most effective tool. "There are tons of pricing models and techniques
used in other industries," she says. "It's all very doable, but it takes some time and retraining about how we do things."
Volk advises starting small to increase visits by looking at the appointment calendar and using open appointments to try to
book lapsed clients. "Use slow days to reach out to pets who haven't been in in more than a year," he says. He also emphasizes
the importance of best practices when clients are in the clinic, such as scheduling the next appointment before a client has
walked out the door.
Ups and downs online
As with human medicine, many pet owners look to the Internet for information before scheduling a veterinary visit. In the
study, some 15 percent of respondents said that because of the Internet, they do not rely on veterinarians as much and 39
percent look online for information before consulting a DVM. "Many (clients) go to the Internet and get information, and for
some animals, when the vet sees them, (the pet) should have been brought in earlier," says Volk. "One vet said in the study,
'We're seeing pets three days sicker.' "
However, Felsted notes, "The Internet has been a great thing for us because of the information available. But, some is the
opinion of the person who wrote it, and it has no scientific basis behind it." She emphasizes the need for directing clients
to reliable information. "One thing we can do is help them understand where they can get credible information," she says.
"Let's direct them to somewhere where they can get (that information)."
Cats are visiting the veterinarian more infrequently than dogs, according to the study. In fact, one third of cat owners had
not taken their pet to the vet in more than a year.
The trend is unsettling, Felsted adds.
The resistance to seeking veterinary care for cats is attributed to the stress-related behavior of the experience — from placing
the cat in the carrier to release following the visit.
To remedy the issue, she recommends making the practice more cat friendly and also encouraging the owner. "Part of it is making
(a visit) easier on the cat, but also, there's the perception of the cat owner," she notes. "Because if the cat owner feels
guilty about Fluffy being stressed, they're not going to bring (the cat) in."
In the clinic, Felsted says groupings of chairs or screens to separate cats and dogs can be very effective, as can ensuring
an exam room is immediately available upon a cat's entry. For the owners, she recommends education related to acclimating
cats to carriers to reduce the association between the carrier and a trip to the veterinarian.
While the study revealed a variety of concerns for the veterinary industry, Volk is optimistic. "There is a lot of good news
in this study for vets because there are reasons for optimism," he says. "The trends can be reversed, and there are things
that can be done today."
Ms. Karapetian is a freelance writer in Chicago.