The Busy Season
HELP VETERINARY PRACTICES DRIVE HOME THE IMPORTANCE OF PREVENTIVE
CARE TO THEIR CLIENTS
If you’ve been in the animal health field for more than a year or two, you know that spring is a busy season for veterinarians. While large animal practices are in the midst of calving and foaling, their companion animal counterparts are scheduling annual appointments for customers. Pets spending more time outdoors are exposed to more opportunities for accidents and illness, but a majority of springtime appointments are focused on prevention, with heartworm tests, vaccinations and flea and tick preventives. It’s an opportune time for you to help your clinics give their customers a broader view of “prevention” and the many benefits to the health and wellbeing of their pets beyond those yearly shots and heartworm checks.
Many pet owners never question bringing their animals in for annual boosters, but may feel preventive care or wellness exams aren’t necessary – especially if their pet looks and acts healthy. Veterinarians who take the time to educate their clients about the importance of preventive care and explain that averting a health issue in the first place is nearly always much less expensive and more successful than treating it, help their customers positively impact their pet’s quality of life.
One of the biggest health threats to pets is obesity (no pun intended.) Nationally, over 50 percent of dogs and nearly 60 percent of cats are overweight or obese. Animal Planet even started airing the show “My Big Fat Pet Makeover” last fall. Unfortunately, many pet owners and even veterinary staff often don’t recognize or discuss obesity in pets, even though it limits mobility, can lead to and exacerbate arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and can increase the risk of certain cancers – all of which may drastically shorten the life of a pet.
Fortunately, pet obesity is both preventable and curable, so veterinarians that help customers get their pets to an ideal weight and maintain it will improve both the length and quality of life. Clinic staff can help calculate the appropriate caloric intake for the pet and then recommend a low-calorie, nutrient dense prescription diet and treats, and food puzzles that slow down eating and provide mental stimulation and exercise.
Dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions in companion animals, and can lead to serious systemic illness and a shortened life span. Pets – particularly cats – often show no signs of oral pain or problems. Daily dental care can prevent costly treatments, so clinic staff should take the time to explain and demonstrate products and schedule a follow-up visit to monitor results or schedule a cleaning. Setting up home delivery helps increase compliance and practice revenue. Brush up on the variety of products you carry in the dental category like pastes, gels, and rinses, chews, treats and brushes to discuss with your customers.
The popularity of supplements for both pets and people has exploded in recent years. According to market research source Packaged Facts, over a third of U.S. households with dogs use supplements, as do about 20 percent with cats. While many are beneficial as part of a prevention program, supplements don’t have the same oversight or regulations as FDA-approved drugs, so there is a risk of incorrect or misleading claims or label information.
Veterinarians should take the lead in recommending quality products based on a pet’s specific needs. A quick review of the benefits of the top supplements, the brands you carry, and knowing if they carry the National Animal Supplement Council quality seal will be helpful in conversations with your customers.
Omega-3 fatty acids have wide-ranging benefits for humans and animals. The best sources are oils from fish and algae. DHA/EPA omega-3 fatty acids combat harmful inflammation, help preserve memory and cognition and aid eyesight and the nervous system. DHA/EPA is helpful in treating arthritis, allergies and skin conditions. When I worked extensively with shelter animals, I saw so many with dry, brittle coats and flaky skin – often the result of poor diets. The transformation after adding fatty acids to a quality diet was obvious in just a matter of days.
Probiotics are another product with numerous benefits, including improved digestive health, enhanced immunity and disease prevention. They’re particularly helpful during periods of potential stress, such as when pets are being boarded, traveling, undergoing surgery and anesthesia, or being treated with antibiotics. There are great cross-selling opportunities when you’re taking orders for these related products. Veterinary formulations and whole food probiotics containing at least 1 billion CFUs (colony forming units) ensure a quality product.
Glucosamine products are everywhere – one reason joint health supplements are the most commonly purchased pet supplement, and the ones with the most hype and hoax. Most pet owners don’t have the expertise to recognize false or misleading information, so it’s important for clinic staff to explain the importance of veterinary formulations of glucosamine that have been well-researched, have clinical evidence of results, listed ingredient sources and proven quality control.
Since many supplements are offered in treat form, it can be easy for pet owners to inadvertently overdose their pet on a favorite additive due to a lack of information. It’s important for veterinarians to recommend therapeutic dosages based on a pet’s weight, age and medical condition. The long-term effects of excessive doses of many common supplements haven’t been thoroughly studied, so “too much of a good thing” could potentially harm a pet.
Working on wellness
Rather than simply recommending a product that clients may or may not pick up later – or simply buy somewhere else – suggest the clinic staff give a first dose during the appointment. Consumer research shows that 81 percent of customers will try a product after receiving a sample. The pet owner can take the first bottle home, staff can schedule a follow-up call or appointment to see how it’s working and set up regular home deliveries to ensure compliance.
With so much emphasis on preventing disease with vaccinations and dispensing products for parasite prevention this time of year, it’s a natural progression for both you and your veterinary clients to expand the topic of “prevention” and discuss the wellness benefits to pets with the many products and services available. It’s a great opportunity to turn annual appointments into healthier revenue, and most importantly – healthier pets.