VMX 2022 features industry overview, global research on human-animal bond

Veterinary Meeting & Expo draws thousands of attendees in person and virtually

The state of veterinary well-being, the resilience of the animal health industry, and the universality of the human-animal bond were among the topics featured at the 2022 Veterinary Meeting & Expo.

The North American Veterinary Community welcomed more than 15,000 attendees to VMX 2022 from Jan. 15-19 in person in Orlando, Florida, or virtually. Almost 13,000 participants attended the conference in person.

Veterinary Meeting & Expo attendees
Attendees at the 2022 Veterinary Meeting & Expo participate in Pilates with puppies. (Courtesy of NAVC)

During the meeting, Merck Animal Health released findings from its third well-being study, conducted by Brakke Consulting in collaboration with the AVMA to examine the well-being and mental health of U.S. veterinarians (see story).

Also at VMX, Brakke Consulting presented its 2022 Animal Health Industry Overview to offer an update on the animal health industry, including veterinary medicine, and a look at monoclonal antibodies. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute and Zoetis shared results of an international survey on the human-animal bond, which found that 95% of dog and cat owners worldwide consider pets to be family. The NAVC launched its Veterinary Nurse/Technician Empowerment Initiative, aimed at elevating and advancing credentialed veterinary technicians.

In addition, Banfield Pet Hospital and the NAVC released their annual Veterinary Emerging Topics Report, focusing this year on how to improve safety and quality in veterinary practice (see sidebar).

Brakke industry overview

Dr. Bob Jones, president of Brakke Consulting, spoke about the performance of the animal health industry in 2021. He summarized the situation as follows:

  • Another chaotic, stressful year in veterinary clinics and on the farm.
  • The animal health industry once again demonstrated its resilience.
  • Every major animal health company showed growth—some at exceptional levels.
  • The outlook for 2022 performance should be good, with an inflation worry.

In an analysis of companion animal practices, Brakke noted the return to the conventional appointment model. Surveys by Brakke found that 88% of practices allowed clients to bring pets inside the clinic in 2021, up from 21% in 2020. These type of appointments increased from 17% to 70% of all appointments.

The percentage of practices offering curbside or drop-off service, with clients not coming inside the clinic, dropped from 88% to 73%. These type of appointments decreased from 76% to 27% of all appointments.

A smaller percentage of practices offered various types of telemedicine services in 2021 than in 2020. Telemedicine service via phone remained at 1% of all appointments, with telemedicine service via other means at less than 1% total.

The consolidation of veterinary practices continues at an aggressive pace, according to Brakke, which estimates that consolidator ownership stands at 75% of specialty and emergency practices and at 25% of general practices. Brakke estimates that consolidators’ market share is approaching 50% because of the size of the practices.

In other developments, Brakke believes monoclonal antibodies will change animal health. Uptake will be slower than in human health because of the lack of third-party payers, according to Brakke, and veterinarians will continue to use proven solutions. Nevertheless, some attractive features of monoclonal antibodies in veterinary medicine are infrequent dosing, high efficacy, being given by injection in a clinic, and a good safety profile.

In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Cytopoint, a monoclonal antibody to treat atopic dermatitis in dogs. U.S. sales in 2020 were about $240 million. On Jan. 13, the Food and Drug Administration approved Solensia, a monoclonal antibody that targets nerve growth factor to treat pain associated with osteoarthritis in cats (see story). FDA approval of Librela, the corresponding drug for dogs, is expected in the second half of 2022, according to Brakke. All three drugs are from Zoetis.

Brakke believes that monoclonal antibodies have the potential to impact veterinary medicine broadly because they will serve unmet medical needs, will be priced higher than current treatment options, and must be administered in a veterinary clinic.

Brakke will present the industry overview again on March 7 at WVC.

Infographic: Return to Conventional Appointment Model - Source: Brakke Consulting survey, December 2021
During Brakke Consulting’s 2022 Animal Health Industry Overview at VMX, Dr. Bob Jones, president of Brakke, said veterinary clinics had another chaotic, stressful year in 2021. A December 2021 survey by Brakke found a return to the conventional appointment model. (Enlarge)

Human-animal bond

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute and Zoetis commissioned the survey on the human-animal bond, which was conducted by CM Research in 2021. The respondents were more than 16,000 dog and cat owners and more than 1,200 small animal veterinarians in Brazil, China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The survey found the following about pet owners:

  • 92% say there is no reason they would ever be convinced to give up their pet.
  • 90% say they have a close relationship with their pet.
  • 86% would pay whatever it takes if their pet needed extensive veterinary care.
  • 76% say they would make major life changes for their pet, if necessary.
  • 87% have experienced mental or physical health benefits of the human-animal bond.
  • 98% reported at least one specific benefit to their health from their pets, including increased happiness, reduced loneliness, or decreased stress.
Chart: Overview of HABSCORE Distribution
The Human Animal Bond Score was developed for a project that surveyed more than 16,000 dog and cat owners on four continents. The survey found no strong cultural differences in terms of how the human-animal bond is experienced and expressed. (Enlarge)

A new scale called the Human-Animal Bond Score was developed for the project. The mean global score was 57.9 out of 70. The survey found no strong cultural differences in terms of how the human-animal bond is experienced and expressed.

The higher the Human-Animal Bond Score, the higher the number of annual veterinary visits. The global percentage of pet owners who visit a veterinarian two or more times per year was 71% for a score of 63 or more, 62% for a score of 55-62, and 45% for a score of less than 55.

The survey found the following about veterinarians:

  • 81% are aware of scientific evidence showing mutual health benefits from the human-animal bond.
  • 71% believe discussing the human-animal bond is valuable.
  • 43% talk to their clients about the science behind the human-animal bond.
  • 58% believe talking about the human-animal bond encourages clients to provide the best care for pets.
  • 53% believe talking about the human-animal bond builds good relationships with clients.
  • The majority of veterinarians are interested in certification or continuing education regarding the human-animal bond. Interest is particularly high in China, at 99%; Brazil, at 98%; and Spain, at 86%.

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute and the NAVC offer certification in the human-animal bond, with the AVMA as the founding educational partner. Details are at the NAVC website. Additional survey results are at the HABRI website.

NAVC news

The Veterinary Nurse/Technician Empowerment Initiative from the NAVC encompasses new programs for credentialed veterinary technicians and a national consumer awareness and education campaign.

The new programs provide resources and support in the areas of career development and growth, scholarships for continued learning, new hands-on courses, and a webinar series to address key issues facing credentialed veterinary technicians.

In early 2022, the NAVC is launching the national consumer awareness and education campaign sponsored by VCA Animal Hospitals, with support from the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. The campaign will address the issues identified in a national survey conducted by Atomik Research on behalf of the NAVC, which found that many pet owners are neither aware of nor understand the role and educational requirements of certified veterinary technicians. After learning about credentialed veterinary technicians and their required level of education and expertise, 69% of pet owners reported that they feel more confident and comfortable with the level of care that these members of the veterinary practice provide to pets.

“A more informed and educated consumer—and a more informed veterinarian and practice manager—will not only benefit veterinary nurses and technicians, but will also benefit the practices where they work. The ultimate result being the delivery of better care for animals,” said Ed Carlson, then NAVTA president, in an announcement about the initiative. “Once this is accomplished, consumers will be as comfortable with a veterinary technician caring for their pet, as they are with an RN (registered nurse) caring for their loved one in a hospital.”

The 2022-23 NAVC officers are veterinary technician Harold Davis, West Sacramento, California, president; Dr. Bob Lester, greater Portland area, Oregon, president-elect; Dr. Karen Kline, Clackamas, Oregon, vice president; Dr. Christine Navarre, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, treasurer; and veterinary technician Paige Allen, West Lafayette, Indiana, immediate past president.

Banfield report focuses on improving safety, quality

Banfield Pet Hospital has decreased the anesthesia-related mortality rate in dogs and cats combined by implementing new standards, according to the latest Veterinary Emerging Topics Report from Banfield and the North American Veterinary Community.

The annual VET Report focused this year on how to improve safety and quality in veterinary practice overall, with a case study on anesthesia at Banfield hospitals.

Cover: January 2022 Veterinary Emerging Topics (VET) Report

To frame quality of veterinary care, Banfield uses Domains of Quality, adapted from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and first created by the Institute of Medicine. Under the framework, veterinary care should be equitable, safe, effective, timely, centered on pets and clients, and efficient.

In fall 2017, to improve anesthesia safety, Banfield implemented standards of practice to constitute the minimum acceptable level of care and best practices to meet or exceed the expected level of care. In fall 2018, Banfield added informational job aids to review and discuss the standards as well as two checklists, the Anesthesia Machine Checklist and the Pre-Induction Timeout Checklist.

Prior to the program, the anesthesia-related mortality rate for dogs and cats was an estimated 7.36 deaths per 10,000 procedures at Banfield hospitals. In the months after implementation, the mortality rate decreased to slightly over 6 deaths per 10,000 procedures.

The report goes on to offer tools for veterinary practices to improve quality. Two worksheets can help practices determine the root causes of adverse events. The report also outlines how to create champions for quality, foster communication to create and sustain a culture of quality and safety, and take steps after adverse events.

Banfield offers anesthesia resources and the series of VET Reports at Banfield Exchange.

A version of this article appears in the March 1, 2022, print issue of JAVMA.