Veterinary visits increase slightly

AAHA conference features updates on state of industry, initiatives
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Veterinary visits for pets increased slightly in 2011 after decreasing in 2010, according to the annual State of the Industry Report from the American Animal Hospital Association. Revenues for companion animal practices increased at the same rate as inflation in 2011.

The new report came out at AAHA's annual conference, March 15-18 in Denver. The conference also highlighted AAHA's participation in the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare to promote veterinary visits (see article) and in the Pet Nutrition Alliance to promote nutritional assessments during veterinary visits (article).

Chart: Year-over-year change in veterinary visits (Source: AAHA State of the Industry Report)

At the conference, Dr. Mark Russak assumed the office of AAHA president (article). The association honored a number of AAHA-accredited practices and a veterinary student (article).

State of the industry

Dr. Michael T. Cavanaugh, AAHA executive director and chief executive officer, presented the new State of the Industry Report during the opening session of the conference.

The report compiled 2011 data from more than 4,500 U.S. companion animal practices. Patient visits increased 1.5 percent in 2011, in comparison with a decrease of 0.8 percent in 2010. Canine visits increased 1.8 percent and feline visits increased 0.4 percent in 2011, in comparison with decreases of 0.6 percent in canine visits and 1.7 percent in feline visits in 2010.

"While this is at least back in the positive realm for both dogs and cats, it's nowhere near where we need it to be for us when we (can) say that our nation's pets are getting the preventive health care they deserve," Dr. Cavanaugh said.

Practice revenues increased by 3.2 percent in 2011, according to the State of the Industry Report. The consumer price index increased by the same percentage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Practice revenues had increased 3.1 percent in 2010 as the CPI increased 1.6 percent.

Canine patients accounted for 72 percent of patients and 80 percent of revenues in 2011, despite the fact that pet cats outnumber pet dogs in the United States. Addressing pet owners in the Web audience for the opening session, Dr. Cavanaugh urged them to bring their cats to their veterinarian.

In 2011, 67 percent of practices saw an increase in revenues. For practices with more than $2 million in annual revenues, 77 percent saw an increase. For practices with less than $1 million in annual revenues, 60 percent saw an increase.

Dr. Cavanaugh
(Courtesy of Joel Silverman/AAHA)

While this is at least back in the positive realm for both dogs and cats, it's nowhere near where we need it to be for us when we (can) say that our nation's pets are getting the preventive health care they deserve.

Dr. Michael T. Cavanaugh, AAHA executive director, speaking about an increase in pets' veterinary visits:

"Maybe a larger practice that's well-managed and well-run has a greater ability, because of the economies of scale and things, to weather the tough economy," Dr. Cavanaugh said.

Again addressing pet owners in the Web audience, Dr. Cavanaugh noted that most veterinarians enter their profession as a calling rather than to make a lot of money. He said AAHA tries to help veterinarians manage their practices better, because thriving practices will be there for clients and patients long term.

AAHA initiatives

Dr. Michael R. Moyer, outgoing AAHA president, spoke during the opening session about the association's initiatives in areas ranging from practice guidelines to educational opportunities.

Dr. Moyer said AAHA collaborated with the AVMA last year to develop guidelines on preventive care for dogs and cats. In addition, AAHA recently revised its canine vaccination guidelines and released new guidelines on anesthesia and on canine life stages.

The association released the AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines in early 2012. According to the introduction to the document: "With the companion animal bond being stronger than ever, this is a perfect time for a 'guideline umbrella' for optimal wellness and preventive care for dogs at all life stages."

Previously, AAHA had collaborated with the American Association of Feline Practitioners to develop guidelines for feline life stages.

All the above guidelines are available at

Dr. Moyer said AAHA is offering a variety of new educational opportunities for veterinarians.

The AAHA Adventure Series combines outdoor adventure with continuing education. The Peak Executive Transformation provides leadership training via outdoor experiential learning as well as collaborative exercises and peer discussions. The online Life Mastery Academy covers management, leadership, business, and life balance.

Dr. Moyer also noted AAHA's acquisition last year of My Veterinary Career, a company that matches job seekers with veterinary practices.

Heartworm prevention

Later in the conference, AAHA announced support of Merial's 12.12.12 campaign to increase the number of dogs receiving monthly doses of heartworm preventive by 12 percent in 2012.

Merial launched the initiative in January at the North American Veterinary Conference. Veterinary professionals can pledge to join the campaign at The website offers tools to promote heartworm prevention, and participating practices receive supplemental materials each quarter.

At the AAHA conference, Merial announced the measurement component of the 12.12.12 initiative. The company is providing posters for participants to track progress toward the campaign goal. Participants also can track progress through their practice management systems.

"Meeting our commitment to 12.12.12 is as simple as getting three more protected dogs per week per full-time veterinarian," said Dr. Michael Murray, technical marketing director of U.S. parasiticides for Merial. "If 12,000 clinics meet these simple objectives, we will see a measurable difference in the number of dogs protected nationwide."

Attendance, membership

The AAHA conference drew a total of 3,913 attendees—including 1,300 veterinarians, 420 veterinary technicians, and 238 veterinary students and veterinary technician students.

The association's membership encompasses about 3,300 AAHA-accredited hospitals and 2,000 nonaccredited hospitals comprising a total of more than 48,000 individual AAHA members.