posted August 17, 2011
By Katie Burns
The decline in the frequency of veterinary visits for cats and dogs in the United States is posing a risk to pet health, according to the new Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare.
The AVMA, American Animal Hospital Association, and 14 other organizations announced the pet health partnership with a press conference and an educational session the morning of July 18 at the AVMA Annual Convention.
The new partnership is planning a multiyear initiative to promote preventive care for pets within the veterinary community and to pet owners. The AVMA and AAHA have started by developing Preventive Healthcare Guidelines for cats and dogs, available on page 625 of this issue of the JAVMA.
"We're seeing some evidence in some data sets of increasing disease prevalence, and these diseases are the kind of things that are very easily prevented," said Dr. Michael R. Moyer, AAHA president, during a presentation at the press conference.
The Banfield Pet Hospital's State of Pet Health 2011 Report indicated increases in certain preventable conditions—including dental disease, otitis externa, and flea infestation—among Banfield's canine and feline patients from 2006-2010.
The mean number of veterinary visits per dog and cat per year remained nearly the same between 2006 and 2010 at Banfield, a member of the pet health partnership. Dr. Jeffrey S. Klausner, Banfield's chief medical officer, said after the convention that Banfield believes "in making a better world for pets through preventive care."
Data from other sources indicate a decline in the frequency of veterinary visits for pets, starting before the recession, Dr. Moyer said during the partnership's press conference.
According to the AVMA's 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, dogs averaged 1.5 veterinary visits in 2006, down from a mean of 1.9 visits in 2001. Cats averaged 0.7 veterinary visits in 2006, down from a mean of one visit in 2001.
Fifty-one percent of practice owners reported a decrease in patient visits in the past two years, according to the second phase of the recent Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study.
Bayer Animal Health, Brakke Consulting Inc., and the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues released the results of the second phase of the study at the AVMA Annual Convention the afternoon following the announcement of the pet health partnership. The Sept. 15 issue of JAVMA News will provide details about the results.
The second phase of the study found that 95 percent of practice owners believe dogs and cats require at least one wellness examination annually. Nevertheless, 65 percent of practice owners believe their clients don't value annual wellness examinations.
The first phase of the study found that 24 percent of pet owners think routine checkups are unnecessary. Yet, 59 percent of dog owners and 53 percent of cat owners say they would take their pet to the veterinarian more often if they believed that doing so would help their pet live longer.
"We know that we have tremendous value to offer our patients, but we have more to do as a profession to communicate that value, the importance of those preventive care visits, to pet owners," Dr. Moyer said after the convention.
Dr. Moyer made the same point during the press conference announcing the pet health partnership. He also said veterinarians have room to improve the experience of veterinary visits for pets and pet owners, particularly in making the experience less stressful for cats.
"With the magnitude of the issues that we're facing, it is going to take a dramatic and broad-based effort if we're going to overcome those challenges," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA chief executive officer and chair of the pet health partnership, during the press conference.
A coalition of veterinary associations, industry, and academia met in November 2010 to discuss the trends. A number of the organizations pledged funds to hire a consultant and public relations firm. In January 2011, the AVMA Executive Board approved honoring the pledge with $25,000 in seed money from the AVMA.
The coalition has become the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare. In addition to the AVMA and AAHA, the partnership currently consists of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and 13 animal health companies.
The mission of the partnership is "to ensure that pets receive the preventive healthcare they deserve through regular visits to a veterinarian"—at least once a year, Dr. DeHaven said. The vision of the partnership is to improve the overall health of pets.
"We're talking about transformational change within the profession," Dr. DeHaven said. "We need to shift from a focus of treating illness and injury to one of promoting health."
The objectives of the pet health partnership are to address the increasing prevalence of certain preventable conditions in pets, improve pet owners' perception of the value of preventive care, ensure that regular veterinary visits become the norm, improve understanding of the veterinarian's role in pet health, and make preventive care for cats a priority.
Dr. DeHaven said the multiyear initiative will involve outreach to the profession as well as the pet-owning public.
To begin, the AVMA and AAHA created a task force to develop the new Preventive Healthcare Guidelines. The task force consolidated existing resources to provide one page of guidelines for dogs and one page of guidelines for cats.
The next step is for the pet health partnership to provide additional tools to help veterinary practices promote preventive care, such as communications tools or possibly model preventive care programs. Dr. DeHaven encouraged practice teams to become fully engaged participants in the initiative.
The final phase will be for the partnership to reach out to pet owners. The partnership will start public outreach after determining that practices have begun to implement programs to promote preventive care.
Information about the partnership is available at www.pethealthpartnership.org. The website also provides a link to sign up for updates.
The following organizations comprise the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare and have sponsored the initiative at various levels.
American Animal Hospital Association
Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges
Abbott Animal Health
Banfield Pet Hospital
Butler Schein Animal Health
Merck Animal Health
MWI Veterinary Supply
Novartis Animal Health
Pfizer Animal Health
VPI Pet Insurance