Inside the Consumer Psyche

Inside the Consumer Psyche

Jul 01, 2007

NATIONAL REPORT — Money isn't everything. Especially when it comes to consumer attitudes about rising veterinary fees.

Compassionate care and the human-animal bond trump pet-owner worries about the escalating costs of veterinary care, at least for now, according to consumer research from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Yet, the balance between economics and consumer adoration is of such concern that AVMA is moving forward with its next phase of a long-term consumer research agenda, reports AVMA Director of Marketing James Flanigan.

"You can't do one survey and expect to know everything about what the public knows, feels or understands," Flanigan tells DVM Newsmagazine. "This has to be an ongoing effort."

Landmark unpublished research from AVMA last year performed a kind of consumer stress test over elevated fees. A recheck is scheduled this year, for good reason.

In 2007, the cost of veterinary care is expected to swell from $9.2 billion to $9.8 billion, a $600-million climb, according to fresh estimates from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), one of a slew of economic indicators showcasing growth in this market.

Slated to chart malpractice threats or consumer attitudes about animal rights, the bulked-up AVMA research project will pick up where last year's results left off.

With more than 3,000 households chiming in, AVMA's 2006 survey depicts a public "not as sensitive to price as we may have perceived. While they believe, by and large, veterinary care is expensive, in the end it does not seem to be affecting their willingness to pay for quality care." A similar picture emerges from last year's price sensitivity survey by BN Research. (DVM Newsmagazine, January 2007.)

Veterinarians and clients are looking at fees from two different vantages, AVMA research suggests.

"Clients are saying give us more. Veterinarians perceive they are saying charge us less," says Flanigan.

The average annual cost of veterinary care, APPMA estimates, is still a relative bargain — $219 for dogs and $175 for cats. Average annual surgery fees are likely to cost $453 for dogs and $363 for cats. The total yearly cost of owning a dog is about $1,453, APPMA's survey says. Officials are quick to point out that sick-animal care presents a completely different scenario and could easily cost thousands of dollars.

The key point: The owner's bond with his or her animal and veterinarian drives the perceived value of veterinary care. In turn, that bond reduces the perceived cost of care.

Table 1: Relationship with Pets
The human-animal bond is driving demand for veterinary services and pet ownership. Both are on the upswing.

About 77 percent of pet owners responding to AVMA's survey classify their pet as their "child" or "family member." In contrast, just 2 percent described their pets as property (Table 1).

Table 2: Agreement Level with Statement
Animals experience feelings and pain similar to humans, according to a majority of respondents (Table 2).