Too few pets, particularly cats, are visiting veterinary clinics every year, according to groups trying to increase preventive care visits.
Dr. Elizabeth J. Colleran, a practice owner from northern California, said a veterinarian needs to convey to a cat owner the value of annual checkups during an owner’s first visit, which otherwise could be their last visit.
“We do see cats once, then lose them,” she said.
John Volk, a senior consultant for Brakke Consulting, said 83 percent of cats are brought to veterinarians within the first year of ownership, yet fewer than half of the cats in the U.S. have yearly visits.
“That’s one shot the veterinary professional has to really educate those cat owners” about the need to come back, he said.
Dr. Colleran, who is a spokeswoman for the Cat Friendly Practice initiative of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, delivered a series of lectures during the AVMA Annual Convention in July in Chicago on educating clients and reducing stress for cats and clients. She and Volk also were among speakers who, in a press presentation during the convention, provided some survey results from one in a series of studies, the “Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III: Feline Findings,” and suggested ways for veterinarians to draw in more cat patients. The findings provided by Bayer are based on studies of veterinarians and pet owners.
In addition, a $5.5 million advertising campaign by the Partners for Healthy Pets—announced just before the convention—will promote yearly veterinary checkups as being “as essential as food and love” for dogs and cats. The ads and public service announcements from the campaign will run from this October through the end of 2014.
The Partners for Healthy Pets is a campaign by the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare, a committee of the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. The AVMA is among more than 90 sponsor organizations.
Changing attitudes, behavior
Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, said the Association has seen a correlation between a decrease in the frequency of pet visits to veterinarians and an increase in the incidence of preventable pet diseases. The AVMA and other organizations in the Partners program want to ensure pets receive the preventive care that they deserve through regular visits to a veterinarian.
“We want there really to be a relationship between the pet owner and the veterinarian, where we look at the lifelong plan that is going to ensure the best health and happiness for the pet and the pet owner as well,” he said.
Prior to the 2012 convention in San Diego, the AVMA Executive Board approved spending $1 million on advertising intended to explain to pet owners the importance of preventive care and to encourage pet owners to visit veterinarians. That money will go toward the current advertising campaign.
The Partners program’s advertisements are scheduled to appear on websites of media outlets such as NPR, CNN, and network TV affiliates, and public service announcements will be provided for such local TV stations to air, according to Brenda Andresen, marketing and projects director for the Partners program.
The Partners program also has been providing tools intended to help veterinarians deliver preventive care by improving communication with clients, increasing marketing, creating preventive health care plans, and making practices more friendly for cats.
Andresen said pet owners have been cutting expenses for preventive care for their pets as well as for themselves.
“Bottom line, we need to change behavior,” she said.
Cats are seen as low-maintenance, independent pets, and owners often assume that their lifetimes spent indoors protect cats from disease sources, Volk said. Nearly 40 percent of cat owners surveyed do not think their cats need yearly veterinary visits, and many owners do not realize that cats are adept at hiding injury and illness.
Even state laws indirectly support the contention that dogs need more care than cats, as all states have requirements for rabies vaccination of dogs but not all do for cats.
“Many people ignore rabies vaccination requirements for cats, anyway,” he said.
Survey respondents indicated about 70 percent of cats were acquired for free, which seldom is true for dogs, Volk said. As a result, cat owners received little or no instruction on veterinary care, whereas dog breeders and shelter employees often give instructions on veterinary care to new dog owners.
“A cat is often an accidental acquisition; they are often acquired without prior forethought,” Volk said.
While the survey results indicated slightly fewer than half of cats visited a veterinarian yearly, they also showed that more than four of five cat owners claim to have a regular veterinary practice, and 90 percent of them were satisfied with that practice, he said.
Reducing stress, explaining need
Citing the Bayer survey results, Dr. Colleran said nearly 40 percent of cat owners indicated that they become stressed when thinking about bringing their cats to a veterinarian. Ideally, a visit should be “a consultation instead of a rodeo,” she said.
She encouraged those in attendance to consider ways to improve a clinic visit, including the 30 to 45 minutes before a cat and its owner’s arrival. For example, she suggested teaching clients how to accustom their cats to carriers and vehicles and how to handle their cats when preparing for travel.
Dr. Colleran also encouraged veterinarians to create separate areas for only cats within clinics, including examination rooms and reception room areas, when possible. Cat toys and other enrichment resources, in examination rooms and reception areas, can help cats and clients feel more comfortable.
She noted that keeping other pets at a clinic out of sight, reducing sounds, and eliminating stress-inducing smells can help keep a cat calm.
Dr. Colleran also encouraged veterinarians to work with clinic staff to develop a summary explanation of why yearly checkups are important. For example, she said clients could be told that checkups give cats longer, healthier lives, which benefits the owners, cats, and veterinarians.
She noted that clinic employees also need to know the value of preventive care. Citing the Bayer survey results, Dr. Colleran said 20 percent of veterinarians reported they had not brought their own cats in for examinations during the past year, which could adversely influence the perceptions of the staff members who should be promoting annual visits.
Increasing visits also involves making an assertive recommendation for follow-up appointments as well as asking dog owners whether they own other pets, she said.
Attendees at Dr. Colleran’s sessions received copies of the AAFP document “Ten Solutions to Increase Cat Visits,” which was developed on the basis of findings concerning cats from the Bayer study. That document is available here. She encouraged attendees to participate in the AAFP Cat Friendly Practice program, for which information is available here.
Information about the Partners for Healthy Pets campaign is available here.
Findings from the Bayer survey are available here.