Pet owners push back on need for routine veterinary care, study says

Pet owners push back on need for routine veterinary care, study says

Jan 17, 2011
Orlando -- The majority of pet owners question the need for regular veterinary care.

That's according to new data just released from 2,000 dog and cat owners in the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study conducted by the National Commission of Veterinary Economic Issues, Brakke Consulting and Bayer Animal Health.

The data should make every veterinarian sit up and take notice, says John Volk of Brakke Consulting. Collected through a combination of surveys, individual interviews and focus groups, the data set offers the profession robust information about pet owner attitudes, and reasons behind the decline in veterinary visits, Volk says.

Consider these results:

* 63 percent of dog owners and 68 percent of cat owners question the need for regular veterinary care.
* Older pets see the veterinarian far less frequently than younger pets.
* One-third of cats have not been to the veterinarian in the past year.
* Many pet owners find the costs of care higher than they expected.

"The need for routine veterinary care is simply not well understood by pet owners," Volk says. The survey indicates that pet owners more likely associate veterinary care with vaccinations. And results show that the frequency of exams and the benefits to the pet and owner are not clear to many pet owners.

"Associating the veterinarian with shots is really standing in the way of pets getting the kind of routine exams they need," Volk says.

Study results show six root causes for this decline in veterinary visits including,

* greater access to veterinary care beyond traditional veterinary hospitals (shelters, mobile vaccine clinics, specialists, etc.)
* pet owners substituting Internet research for office visits
* perception by pet owners that regular medical check-ups are not necessary
* the rising cost of care
* the economic recession
* pet owner resistance to seeking feline care.

"The recession did have an impact, but it was not the only thing," Volk says.

Karen Felsted, CEO of NCVEI, says there has been much data supporting the notion of a decline in veterinary visits.

"No matter how you look at these numbers, whether you look at veterinary practice studies or you look at numbers available from surveys of pet owners, the trend is the same. We are seeing less usage of veterinary than we did previously," she says. "The recession exacerbated that, but the recession is simply not the cause."

"Some of these trends are quite frankly alarming," adds Ian Spinks, president and general manager of Bayer Animal Health North America. "With an increasing number of pets and a decreasing number of veterinary visits, the question you have to ask yourself is: are pets getting the care they should be getting these days? With one-quarter of pet-owning households having spent nothing at the veterinarian last year, the answer I believe is that pets aren't getting the care they need."

And while the study documented the decline and other trends, it also offers solutions, Felsted adds, including:

* Develop industry-wide and clinically supported guidance on annual veterinary visits and promote the standard to pet owners.
* Communicate to pet owners the health and economic value of regular treatment.
* Make veterinary practices more cat friendly (quiet rooms for cats, separate entrances, etc).
* Make it easier for pet owners to schedule appointments.

Consider alternative pricing strategies or financing options for pet owners.