Steps in the Right Direction for more Veterinary Visits

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Ways you can help practices engage cat owners and increase veterinary visits

During my years working in companion and mixed practices, it wasn’t unusual to get a call from an apologetic client to let us know they were running late or needed to cancel their cat’s appointment altogether. The moment the dreaded carrier appeared – and sometimes even before (credit that feline “sixth sense” about vet appointments) – the cat would suddenly disappear into thin air, only to reappear once clinic hours were over.

For many cat owners, getting their pet to the clinic is literally half the battle and the number one obstacle to feline veterinary care. No wonder that a 2012 Bayer study found that over half the companion cats in the U.S. don’t receive regular vet care, with 40 percent of owners saying they get anxious just thinkingabout making the appointment. This lack of routine care visits has put millions of cats at risk and impacted the bottom line for countless clinics.

Thanks to several factors, it looks like the decline in cat care is showing signs of improvement. Initiatives like the Human-Animal Bond Certification Program, Fear Free Certification, and designation as a Cat-Friendly Practice have come along at the perfect time. Their focus on the client’s emotional well-being is being embraced by pet owners – particularly millennials – who recognize the importance of regular visits and preventive care, make up 35 percent of cat owners, and are willing to spend whatever it takes to keep pets they consider family members healthy.

Last year, the Cat-Friendly Practice Survey published some compelling data to show how practices are benefitting, starting with a whopping 99 percent satisfaction rate among participating clinics! The survey reported that 75 percent agreed their feline visits had increased for checkups, with 79 percent noting an increase in revenue. 80 percent said they received more positive feedback from their clients, and 61 percent noted a decrease in staff injuries when handling cats. As of last fall, only about 2,000 of the approximately 25,000 veterinary practices in North America were CFP certified, so discussing these results with your companion animal customers who might consider it is certainly worthwhile.

There are still numerous cat owners who believe the stereotype that cats require minimal veterinary care and assume their pets are in excellent health as long as they’re acting fine. It may not seem worth the stress to take a “healthy” indoor cat to the vet for a checkup. That’s why it’s important for practitioners to educate their customers on the importance of preventive care and explain that cats are instinctively driven to hide pain or illness, so regular checkups may be the only way to diagnose a problem.

Stress-free visits

Back to the issue of getting those cats to the clinic in the first place. You can help your practices provide the information and products to keep cats comfortable on the trip to and from the clinic and during the exam. Be ready to discuss products that reduce anxiety-like feline pheromone travel wipes, sprays, collars or diffusers; supplements containing L-theanine, tryptophan or melatonin in treats or drops; and calming wraps. Most owners take their new cat or kitten to the vet during their first year of ownership, so having these products on hand explain and send home, along with demonstrating the best way to get a cat in and out of the carrier, helps set them up for a lifetime of successful, stress-free visits.

Behavioral issues are the most common cause of euthanasia for cats, with estimates as high as 50 to 70 percent of all euthanasia cases resulting from behavior problems. Behavior is usually considered a lower priority than illness, but with studies showing that 90 percent of pet owners look to veterinarians for help with behavior issues, it’s critical for veterinary professionals to discuss these problems with their clients. Both pharmaceuticals and the drug-free products mentioned above may be used to treat behavior problems, so be ready to discuss and recommend these items to your clients. Inappropriate elimination is often the result of stress, and litter box issues are the number one reason cats are surrendered to shelters. Once any medical condition is ruled out, having products on hand like Cat Attract or Litter Magnet to encourage litter box use may solve the problem and save the pet.

Some pet owners still believe the myth that “indoor-only” cats don’t need vaccinations, so it’s up to clinic staff to educate customers that inside cats can still be exposed to disease – tracked in by dogs or humans – or picked up when that indoor cat escapes outside. As Dr. Karen Stasiak, a regional strategic veterinarian with Zoetis says “I tell pet owners that all young animals need to complete the full vaccine series. After that, lifestyle can help determine needed vaccinations.”

Nutrition

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) not only what cats eat, but how they eat is an important – and overlooked – aspect of feline health. Allowing cats to enjoy normal feeding behaviors, such as frequent small meals, can help reduce or prevent stress-related issues like cystitis or obesity-related problems. One of the most common areas of concern among cat owners is digestive health, and the AAFP has an excellent client brochure on this topic and many others that can be downloaded at catvets.com/guidelines/client-brochures.

Almost 60 percent of cats are classified as overweight or obese, which can lead to serious health issues like feline diabetes, hepatic lipidosis (or fatty liver disease), and arthritis. Cats are obligate carnivores, so eating meat is essential to their survival, and cats require two to three times more protein than dogs. Cat owners look to their veterinarian to recommend a quality diet, including specialized food to address specific health issues or prevent problems in the future.

Pet food is the single greatest source of spending among pet owners, so helping your customers retain or regain this revenue will make you a valued partner. According to Nielsen, e-commerce sales of pet food and treats increased by 53 percent in 2018. With space at a premium in many vet clinics, your customers will appreciate any home delivery options your company offers, to increase convenience and owner compliance.

While cats are still seen by veterinarians far less than dogs, positive changes seem to be occurring. The majority of pet owners today are millennials, a group that tends to seek out and value expert advice, so helping your customers with the tools and information they need to engage cat owners and increase veterinary visits benefits everyone.