Veterinary practices are busy places right now, and one big reason is that veterinarians are seeing more new patients and new clients. As the line graph below demonstrates, there has been an uptick in pet ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The graph, based on data from VitusVet, shows mean numbers of new pets and new pet owners seen by veterinary practices on a weekly basis. Although these numbers dipped early in the pandemic and declined again with the resurgence in the fall, the number of new pets being seen by veterinary practices increased significantly from late March to early July 2020. In fact, the mean number of new pets per practice rose from 25 per week in late March to 39 in early July—an increase of more than 50%.
Are new pet adoptions responsible for all of this increased activity? It’s hard to tell. But data from 24PetWatch and Best Friends Animal Society provide a glimpse of what’s going on in animal shelters.
The table shows that the rate of pet adoptions—adoptions as a percentage of animals taken into shelters—had in fact risen in 2020 to 59.19%, for January through November, compared with 54.64% in 2019. But the number of pets brought into shelters, or intakes, fell substantially during the pandemic. So the actual number of pets being adopted was lower than the number adopted during the same time frame the previous year.
Veterinary practices are busy, and many of the patients they’re seeing are newly adopted pets. Assuming these adoptions are successful and pets remain in their new homes after the pandemic, this could have long-term implications for veterinary businesses and pet health. Veterinarians who develop and solidify relationships with these animals and their owners can hope to keep providing high-quality care for these new patients for years to come.
Here are some ways to build these relationships:
- Develop a regular communication program that connects the practice with clients on an ongoing basis through email, texts, social media, and other digital platforms. Use these communications to show that you care about clients’ animals and are available to answer questions on everything from nutrition and behavior to pain and illness.
- Find opportunities to talk about preventive care with clients. Help them understand everything the veterinarian looks for during a wellness examination.
- Forward book each pet’s next preventive examination, in addition to any needed rechecks. Forward booking is a convenient service for clients and helps ensure that more animals get needed wellness care. It also allows your practice to have more control over scheduling, which can be especially helpful during busy times.
- Be upfront with clients when talking about price, cost of care, treatment options, and payment options. With unemployment high, paying for care could be a concern for many pet owners.
- Proactively communicate about financial options, which can help clients make the decision to seek veterinary care, as can being thoughtful in developing care plans for patients whose owners are struggling financially.