Pet owners don't recognize what happens during exam

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A recent study by Partners for Healthy Pets found that many dog and cat owners fail to recognize what happens during their pet's physical examination and the importance of the veterinary services performed.

The study findings were announced Feb. 5 during a session by the American Animal Hospital Association at the North American Veterinary Community's 2018 Veterinary Meeting & Expo in Orlando, Florida.

More than five years of data compiled from staff and client survey responses determined that pet owners don't always hear what veterinary team members think they communicate. According to an announcement summarizing the results, the study indicates that practices have an opportunity to better communicate not only what is being done in a preventive examination but also how the examination benefits the pet.

The PHP study gathered data from practices that used the PHP's free online survey tool, The Opportunity, designed to help practices identify communication gaps between their teams and clients during a pet's yearly examination.

The study compiled responses from surveys of 1,193 practice staff members, 833 dog owners, and 527 cat owners from April 2012 through June 2017. The study revealed communication disconnects between staff and clients in the areas of pain assessment and dental examinations, among other areas.

Compared with staff members, fewer clients said pain assessment is an important component of preventive care. About 45 percent of dog owners and 30 percent of cat owners believed that a pain assessment was discussed or performed at their pet's most recent checkup. When staff members were asked whether a pain assessment is typically performed at every examination during a visit for preventive care, 73 percent said yes for dogs, and 68 percent said yes for cats.

Staff members also reported much higher rates of canine and feline dental examinations than clients did. For dogs and cats alike, 95 percent of staff members indicated that a dental examination is typically performed at every examination during a visit for preventive care. About 77 percent of dog owners and 78 percent of cat owners believed a dental examination was discussed or performed at their pet's most recent checkup.

Communication gaps were also found in these canine and feline veterinary services: general physical examination, weight and nutritional assessment, internal parasite testing, broad-spectrum parasite control, heartworm testing, behavioral assessment, vaccinations, follow-up plans based on assessments and recommendations, and retrovirus testing for cats.

"Practices that use The Opportunity to reveal their unique communication gaps have taken the first step to provide better and more valued health care for clients," said Dr. David Granstrom, PHP co-chair and AVMA assistant executive vice president, in the announcement about the study.

"The second step is to develop good communication skills by the staff. It really is the fix for ensuring that a client has full appreciation and understanding of the components of a preventive health care exam and their importance."

The results of the PHP study have been published as an AAHA-AVMA white paper, "The Opportunity: Pet owners don't always hear what we think we tell them (and how to fix that)." The white paper, survey tool, and free communication tools for staff training are available at

Related JAVMA content:

Report: Free reminder program re-engages inactive clients (June 1, 2017)

Partners for Healthy Pets shifts from ads to conversations (Feb. 15, 2016)