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December 15, 2019

Understanding, enticing pet owner spending

Published on November 25, 2019
Left profile headshot of a Golden Retriever
Veterinarians can take a larger portion of the pet products market, according to lecturers at a recent AVMA conference.

People in the U.S. spent about $30 billion on veterinary services out of $70 billion on pet care in 2017.

Lisa A. House, PhD, professor and chair of the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, said about 60% of homes have at least one pet. AVMA data indicate most pet owners bring their dogs or cats to veterinarians, although, they are more likely to bring in dogs than cats.

Whether people bring in pets and how much they spend depends on influences including income, education, and culture, she said. During the seventh annual AVMA Economic Summit this October, she was among several lecturers who described some of the influences on pet-related spending.

Dr. House recommends building relationships and helping owners understand the value of pet care, as well as reaching out to minority communities that tend to spend less on pet wellness. She also noted that people who have wellness plans are 15% more likely to bring in a cat and 8% more likely to bring in a dog.

Michael Johnson, president of Finn Cady Strategy & Brand, said every store, shopping site, and service competes against veterinarians for people’s money. When a person pays his utility bills, he has less money to spend on pet care.

Johnson recommends trying to “delight” the ideal clients by tailoring services to them, finding their unmet needs, and building relationships with them during positive experiences rather than illnesses. That could include finding new clients by partnering with pet stores on weekends, for example.

Clients also want veterinarians’ recommendations on pet products, and clinics can carry some of those products, he said. He posited whether clinics should offer, say, a free two-minute checkup when people buy dog food.

“Every single encounter you have should end in a product sale,” he said. “They’re looking for that from you.”

Nicole O. Widmar, PhD, a professor and associate head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, presented preliminary results from a series of surveys she conducted in summer 2019 with a partner from Cornell University and her doctoral student. She said about 6% of people surveyed buy dog-use products, such as food bowls or toys, from their veterinarians. About 30% buy flea and tick medicine from veterinarians.

Those who buy flea and tick products online instead of through veterinarians were most likely to cite the convenience or cost.

Dr. Widmar also said that, among 1,245 people surveyed, 32% said they might use telemedicine for human health care and 27% said they might use it for pets. Among the respondents who own pets, the people who are responsible for the pets’ care were more likely to consider telemedicine services for their pets, she said.