Increasing the feline half of your practice

Increasing the feline half of your practice

Jun 01, 2004

Dr. Lynn Buzhardt
Treating just one species is challenging enough, but veterinarians in general practice must care for dogs and cats every day of the week, and many of these general practitioners consider the following two facts incontrovertible:

1.Historically, canine patients (regardless of size) are more agreeable than cats.

2. Cats (regardless of size) are not small dogs.

Cats come with their own set of unique challenges, but veterinarians still want to see more of them in their practices—even the cantankerous ones. Why? Cats are good for business.

For the first time in U.S. history, the number of owned cats has surpassed the number of dogs. As the cat population increases, so does a practitioner's potential for patient volume. Luckily, the average household includes two cats, so veterinarians can increase feline patient loads without dramatically increasing their client bases. In fact, more than 12% of U.S. households own four cats, and these cats see their veterinarians approximately 1.8 times per year. If you take the increase in feline patients, multiply it by the number of annual visits, and factor in the increased expenditures per feline visit over a decade ($44.80 to $92.90), that leaves a fairly optimistic financial outlook for feline medicine. What makes a cat owner choose a general practice over a feline only practice? If the client also owns a dog, he or she may choose a general practitioner for convenience. But more than likely, cat only clients will entrust their feline friends to practitioners who:

Figure 1. Exam-room communication is one key to a successful veterinary practice.
1. Serve as cat experts and advocates. Clients often choose a veterinarian based on competence, not price, so general practitioners need to cultivate their knowledge of feline medicine and keep up with advances in feline healthcare. That's the best way to combat the perception that feline-only practices provide better medical care than general practices.

2. Communicate their ability and desire to treat cats. Don't keep your knowledge and enthusiasm to yourself—tell the owners. It's helpful for veterinarians to speak from personal experience and let clients know that you've "done this before." Owners want to hear about your level of experience with their cat's condition, and they'll feel relieved to learn about the successful outcome of similar cases.

Other steps to successful communication involve illustration and repetition. Discuss medical issues with clients thoroughly and illustrate complicated procedures with diagrams or pictures repeating important information. If client education is the goal, convey your message repeatedly. Instruct your receptionist to begin conversations at the front desk and ask technicians to continue the discussion in the exam room. You'll then reinforce the message when you see the patient (Figure 1). Just make sure the conversations are understandable and not condescending. When clients hear information three times or more, they're more apt to retain it.

3. Exude exam-room confidence. General practitioners who want clients to see them as feline caretakers must refrain from tentative behavior in the exam room. Doctors must destroy the myth that general practitioners are dog doctors who see cats under duress only. They need to approach cats with an equal dose of affection and assertiveness, and just a little dose of fear. Cat owners love their cats, and they want their veterinarians to love them, too. So show your enthusiasm for treating cats—even the unfriendly ones.

An additional reminder: Conscientious cat owners appreciate a friendly greeting when the doctor enters the exam room. Remember to address the cat as well as the owner.