Twice-a-year veterinary visits for pets—particularly cats—were the subject of several sessions July 15 at the AVMA Annual Convention in Hawaii.
Dr. James R. Richards, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, spoke about the Healthy Cats for Life campaign, which is sponsored by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and Fort Dodge Animal Health. He also outlined sample wellness programs for kittens, adult cats, and senior cats.
Wendy S. Myers, a management consultant who is president of Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Denver, spoke about ways for practices to implement twice-a-year wellness examinations and vaccine protocols for cats and dogs.
Myers said strategies for a successful transition from annual check-ups include establishing medical protocols, enlisting staff support, explaining the change to clients, promoting wellness inside and outside the hospital, adapting a reminder system for compliance, and improving compliance among cat owners.
"There are more cats than dogs, but veterinarians see them a lot less frequently," she said. Cats visit the veterinarian half as often as dogs, according to the 2005-2006 National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.
Myers said clients will bring pets to the veterinarian twice a year if they believe it will lengthen and improve the quality of the animals' lives. Twice-a-year visits also lead to prevention of health problems and early detection of diseases, saving clients money in the long run.
Myers said a practice should begin implementation by holding a veterinarians' meeting and then a staff meeting to make decisions and assign responsibilities.
"Please allow a minimum of two months for the transition from annual to biannual exams," she said, "so you set yourself up for success rather than falling flat on your face."
Myers presented examples of twice-a-year wellness examinations for adult pets ages 1 to 6 years old and senior pets ages 7 years and older.
The first visit for adult pets could include a comprehensive physical examination, oral examination including grading of dental disease, vaccinations, intestinal parasite tests, heartworm test, body condition score, discussion of home dental care, and a wellness blood and urine screening.
The second visit would be similar but with different vaccinations. A veterinarian might recommend a professional dental cleaning, when necessary, and offer wellness screening again if the client declined it for the pet during the first visit.
The first examination of the year for pets ages 7 years and older could include an arthritis examination, discussion of nutrition, and senior wellness screening. The second examination might extend to additional diagnostics for blood pressure or glaucoma.
Myers suggested that staff members should begin appointments by asking clients questions from a checklist.
"One of the things that is key to do is involve the staff," she said.
After the appointment, clients should receive an examination report card along with a written version of any instructions.
Myers also suggested sending out batches of appointment reminders weekly rather than monthly. She said the third reminder should be a phone call.
Materials and more information about twice-a-year wellness visits are available through the Web site of National Pet Wellness Month at www.npwm.com.