JAVMA News logo

December 15, 2021

Lots of online love for veterinarians during pandemic

Published on December 08, 2021

Public attitudes about veterinarians have been overwhelmingly positive during the coronavirus pandemic, as homebound pet owners grew more reliant on their animals for companionship and as a source of mental well-being.

The finding, which comes from a monthslong review of social media posts, helps to put news reports focused mostly on pandemic-related disruptions to veterinary services into perspective, according to Colleen Parr Dekker, executive director of global communications at Elanco Animal Health, who spoke at the AVMA Veterinary Business and Economic Forum, held virtually Oct. 14-16.

“Just because the media might be sharing a story about a topic doesn’t actually mean that the consumer really cares,” Dekker said.

Mature man working from home in his studio office space with his dog sitting on his lap.

Her presentation was based on data from the Elanco Pulse Institute, a social listening center that scans online conversations to understand consumer attitudes on a range of animal-related issues, including pet care, animal welfare, and veterinarians in general.

Data show pets took on new importance for many pet owners during the pandemic, helping to stave off a sense of isolation and alleviate loss of contact with friends and family. “Our pets really became central to our lives during COVID and our quarantine,” Dekker said. “They became our co-workers, they appeared on conference calls, and they became our entertainment.”

With the lockdown lifting and as people return to work, increasingly they are taking to social media to share how they and their pets are experiencing separation anxiety, she added.

If you listen to the news, the story is that pet owners are talking about long wait times to see a veterinarian or the challenges of adjusting to new routines, such as curbside drop-off and pickup. That’s not what the Elanco Pulse Center found, however. Dekker said pet owners are talking about pet adoption and pet insurance. They’re talking about their pet’s role in their mental health and their appreciation for veterinarians and their staff members.

“What they’re not talking about is long wait times, telehealth, and curbside drop-offs,” Dekker said.

Between May 2019 and February 2020, looking at social media posts in the U.S., the Elanco Pulse Institute found roughly 50,000 mostly neutral mentions about veterinarians daily. Then the COVID virus started sweeping across the nation, and in March 2020, veterinary mentions jumped to around 250,000 posts a day. While the bulk of the comments were primarily neutral, the number of positive remarks increased.

What are pet owners saying about veterinarians online? “They love you,” Dekker said. “They love what you’re doing. We see them posting about thanking their veterinarians for a job well done, recognizing you, and the role that you play, and what you do.

“Typically, when you see people take to social media, they do so to complain, but that’s not at all what’s happening when they go to social media to talk about their veterinarian.”