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Animal Attraction: Study shows decline in veterinary visits

by Stacy Fox

Posted on April 7, 2014 at 10:54 AM

The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA)—the prestigious, peer-reviewed animal health journal—published in their April edition, the findings of a feline health study conducted by Bayer HealthCare in collaboration with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and Brakke Consulting. The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III: Feline Findings found that more than half (52 percent) of America's 74 million cats are not receiving regular veterinary care, potentially putting their health at risk. The study's findings align with data from the 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, published by AVMA, which showed feline visits to veterinarians declined by 14 percent between 2001 and 2011, while the cat population increased by nearly 5 percent.

"The purpose of the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study is to improve the veterinary care of pets by determining why cat visits are declining and helping veterinarians reverse the trend," said Ian Spinks, president and general manager, Bayer HealthCare LLC Animal Health division, North America. "We are confident that publication of its findings in the official journal of the 85,000-member, American Veterinary Medical Association will enhance Bayer and AAFP's efforts to support veterinarians as they work to ensure America's cats receive regular medical care."

Study reveals simply getting a cat to the veterinary clinic among top obstacles to regular veterinary care.

The Bayer Feline Findings Study involved four distinct phases of research, including: two, separate nationally representative online surveys of 1,938 cat owners and 400 U.S. companion animal veterinary practice owners, respectively; and a total of 12 focus groups—six each—involving cat owners and veterinary practice owners, separately.

The Bayer Feline Findings Study revealed four major reasons why a majority of cat owners do not take their cats to the veterinarian for routine annual examinations, including: 

  • Lack of knowledge: Most cats (69 percent) are acquired at no cost, with little or no instruction on proper veterinary care.  More than one-third of cat owners (37 percent) noted they didn't even think their veterinarians recommend annual exams and 81 percent believed their cats are self-sufficient and in excellent health, thereby requiring little attention.
  • Feline resistance to pet carrier and travel: Fifty-eight percent of cat owners report their cats hate going to the veterinarian. The study found most cats fear being placed into a cat carrier and transported by car, so many owners simply opt to avoid the hassle. In fact, for 38 percent of owners, just thinking about bringing their cats to the clinic was stressful enough.
  • Stressful experience in the veterinary clinic: Once at the clinic, more than half of cat owners are less than completely satisfied with waiting room comfort, reflecting the fact that only 18 percent of veterinary practices have created cat-only waiting areas that are physically and visually separated from dogs. The study also found nearly one-third of practices have not trained staff on making visits more comfortable and only 11 percent have established cat-only days and appointment hours.
  • Value: When asked how satisfied they are with their veterinary experience, 59 percent of cat owners indicate they are least satisfied with "value for money." The study shows that oftentimes pet owners do not understand that the procedures done when their cat visits the veterinarian can improve their quality of life. Veterinarians should take the opportunity to educate clients on the value these visits bring to their cat.

First visit to veterinary clinic provides key opportunity to influence pet owners to return annually.

"In the Bayer Feline Findings Study, we offer veterinarians four straightforward and easily implementable recommendations on how to increase feline visits to their clinics," said study co-author Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, MS, Dipl ABVP, owner of Chico Hospital for Cats, Chico, Calif. and past president of AAFP.  "Publication of this study in JAVMA will enable thousands of veterinarians to review its findings and assess whether the proposed solutions meet their needs. I believe, should they opt to implement them, the number of cats receiving routine annual wellness exams in their practices will increase, as will their revenue."  The study's recommendations for action by veterinarians follow:

  1. Educate cat owners on the need for and benefits of routine exams. The Bayer Feline Findings Study found that 83 percent of new cats are taken to the veterinary clinic within the first year of ownership. Veterinarians should make that first visit with their cat patient count by emphasizing the need for annual exams and advising on signs of illness to watch for. "This first visit gives veterinarians their best chance to educate pet owners that cats need the same level of veterinary care typically provided to dogs," said Colleran. "This opportunity should not be missed."
  2. Reduce the stress to cats and owners before and during the visit to the clinic. Veterinarians should provide information to owners on ways of making their cats feel comfortable in the cat carrier and car. They should create a calm, non-threatening environment in the clinic for their feline patients, including a cat-only waiting area and exam room.
  3. Provide written reports on exam results and recommended care for the next year, including wellness visits. Veterinarians should provide care instructions to pet owners in writing and give them access via email or phone to a knowledgeable staff member who can answer their questions in a timely manner.
  4. Make routine feline healthcare as economical and easy to pay for as possible. Veterinarians should provide bundled preventive care plans that clients can pay in monthly installments and offer discounts to owners with more than one cat.

Bayer HealthCare