Worth the Effort

Companion Inside Sales

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If you’re a cat owner or have friends or family with feline companions, you know just how adept they are at hiding in plain sight. You’re sure they’re around somewhere; you just can’t see them.

Unfortunately that same scenario is true for most companion animal clinics – they know plenty of their clients have cats – they just aren’t seeing them. Bayer’s Veterinary Care Usage Study from a few years ago found that more than half of America’s cats don’t receive regular veterinary care. Since that 2012 study, companion cat numbers have increased to around 94 million, but the negative perceptions that go with taking a cat to the vet haven’t changed. That lack of veterinary care puts the health of millions of cats at risk and represents a significant amount of lost revenue to your customers.

The majority of cats are acquired free, with no instruction on veterinary care, and most cats adopted from shelters have already been spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Cats are often perceived as “self-sufficient” and since they tend to be masters at masking pain or illness, many owners don’t think it’s necessary or worth the stress to take a “healthy” indoor cat to the vet for a checkup. Fortunately, most owners DO take their cat to the vet during the first year of ownership, so it’s important that clinic staff make that initial visit count and take the time to educate cat owners on the benefits of regular preventive care.

Minimizing stress
Minimizing the stress of that first – and every subsequent – visit makes all the difference. Forty percent of cat owners say they get anxious just thinking about making a vet appointment, and the No. 1 obstacle to client visits is the dreaded carrier and car ride. A proactive veterinary staff should provide information on how owners can keep their cats comfortable on the trip to the clinic, and then provide a calm, non-threatening environment when they arrive. Be ready to discuss the variety of products available that your veterinary clinics can recommend to keep cats anxiety-free – like pheromone sprays, collars and diffusers, calming wraps and supplements. Even clinics that are short on space to stock carriers should have one on hand to demonstrate how much easier top-opening styles are for getting cats in and out, and show how some procedures can be done without removing the cat at all.

If space is at a premium, clinics may not have the luxury of a cat-only waiting area, so quickly getting them into a feline-friendly exam room may be the best alternative. Warming mats covered with a pheromone-sprayed towel give cats a sense of security on the exam table, and pheromone diffusers should be in every feline exam room. Fear Free expert Dr. Marty Becker recommends the person holding the cat wear de-shedding or grooming gloves to provide a calming “massage” during the exam. Finicky cats may turn down treats, but it’s hard to resist the lure of catnip on that warm towel!

Cats are susceptible to several serious diseases which often don’t show clinical signs until they‘ve progressed. It’s important to stress the need for diagnostic tests such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV), along with fecal exams, blood and urine tests that can detect chronic kidney disease (renal failure), hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus and parasites.

Nearly 60 percent of cats are considered overweight or obese, which can lead to a number of health issues. Emphasizing the importance of proper nutrition and recommending a quality diet, including specialized foods that address cats’ specific health issues, may not only prevent future health problems, but improve the health of your customer’s bottom line. Pet food is the single greatest source of spending, so be ready to discuss the variety of diets your company offers, as well as home delivery options, to pet owners. A veterinary-recommended diet delivered straight to the customer not only increases compliance, but regains lost revenue to the clinic. A win-win for everyone.

Compliance – or the lack of it – can be a serious issue, particularly when it comes to cats who can be difficult to medicate, to put it mildly. Familiarize yourself with the feline-friendly products you offer: once-daily ear treatments and oral medications; one-dose injectable antibiotics; small-gauge needles and lidocaine gel for insulin injections or blood draws; flavored liquids or pill pouches to turn medications into a tasty “treat”. Veterinary staff who follow up with a phone call or text to answer any questions and offer help with dosing issues increase both compliance and customer loyalty.

Identifying issues
Inappropriate elimination – or litter box issues – are the No. 1 reason cats are surrendered to shelters. Ruling out an underlying medical issue should be the first step, and clinics who put together handy “urine collection kits” make it much easier for cat owners to collect that all-important sample. A small amount of No-Sorb litter, a bulb pipette, and a plastic specimen jar in a zip-top bag with simple instructions are all it takes. If the problem is a behavioral one, products like Cat Attract or Litter Magnet, Kitty Box Ramps to help arthritic, senior cats access the box, or a change of litter (with that convenient home delivery option) may solve the problem.

Speaking of shelters, according to ASPCA figures, of the more than 3 million cats in shelters in a given year, less than 3 percent are returned to their owners. That’s a startling statistic to share with your customers when discussing the importance of microchipping. I’m amazed at the number of Facebook posts I see on any given week between the local “lost pets” group and my neighborhood association about indoor cats who have escaped, or the friendly cats who show up looking “lost” at someone’s door. A microchip could reunite many of those pets and owners.

Seventy-eight percent of vets surveyed in the Bayer study agreed that cats are often a “missed opportunity”, but less than half of them were working to attract more cat owners to their practice. Obviously, devoting more time to client education, and promoting the products and procedures that benefit feline health is well worth the effort. Taking a proactive approach by discussing products and effective marketing ideas with your customers will be a huge help in getting cats out of hiding and into the veterinary clinic.