The top five reasons cat owners don't comply

Strengthen your patient care by eliminating these common reasons for client noncompliance.



It should be straightforward: You tell your clients what to do, and they do it. Aren't client relations supposed to work this way? After all, you're a doctor, you have command of the English language, and your clients love their cats and want to care for them. Unfortunately, compliance doesn't happen as frequently as we'd like, even with intelligent, committed clients. Reversing this trend means understanding—and eliminating—the reasons for client noncompliance.




REASON #1: You don't make the recommendation. According to a 2003 American Animal Hospital Association compliance study, 23% of owners with pets suffering from grade 2 or higher dental disease did not receive dental care recommendations. Similarly, veterinarians did not recommend senior screening for 53% of owners with senior pets.1 Of course, failing to recommend a treatment or product is easy to do when you work in a busy practice. Sometimes your schedule is booked solid when a mid-morning, hit-by-car case arrives. When you examine a cat with mild diarrhea later in the day, recommending a dietary product slips your mind.

What's the solution? You need to institute medical protocols for your practice. Protocols are crucial because they:

  • improve efficiency by teaching staff members what is expected of them,
  • set the stage for training,
  • help provide consistent care,
  • allow practitioners to measure performance, and
  • emphasize the importance of an issue.

And remember: Protocols don't equate to one-size-fits-all medicine and a loss of control. Doctors can always modify them for individual patients when needed.

Let's assume your practice wants to set a protocol for mild cases of acute diarrhea. The veterinarians meet to determine the protocol, which might include a client history focusing on exposure to new substances or diet changes, a full physical exam, a fecal analysis, and treatment with a gastrointestinal-friendly food and an antidiarrheal (assuming the history and physical findings didn't reveal a need for further diagnostics or treatment).

Mission accomplished? Not yet. Everyone in the practice—not just veterinarians—must understand all protocols because it increases efficiency and consistency. When the day's schedule is ruined by an emergency and the practitioner tries to cram six patients into the time normally reserved for three, a well-trained staff member says, "Dr. Felsted, did you want me to send Fluffy home with a can of Brand X in addition to the antidiarrheal?" Another example: If staff members know that you always perform an ear swab for pets with itchy ears, they can have slides and other necessary items ready before you ask.

Finally, use your computer system to remind you about recommendations by assigning group codes for common diseases. In the above example, the group code name could be "mild diarrhea," and charges could include the exam fee, fecal analysis, medication, and food. It's easier for staff members to delete unused items than to add extra procedures or products sent home with clients. But beware: Don't create codes for every possible diagnostic test or treatment—only include the items most commonly used.

REASON #2: Your client doesn't understand the recommendation. "You'll need to flush Fluffy's ear once daily." "I recommend a dental prophylaxis soon." "Please bring a sample to your next visit so we can test for internal parasites."

These statements sound simple to veterinarians and staff members. But think about the first statement from a client's viewpoint. What does flush mean? How will I hold the cat as I put that stuff in its ear? Or the second statement—a dental what? And the third—what kind of sample? Instead, make your recommendations in client-friendly words, repeat them several times, demonstrate any treatments, and use visuals to enhance understanding. For example, recommending a dental prophylaxis should go something like this: