The real reasons behind one of the veterinary industry's biggest problems.
For the past decade, a number of industry organizations have documented an alarming decline in companion animal visits to U.S. veterinary clinics, despite the fact that the pet population has increased during the same period (for more detail, see the October 2011 issue of our sister publication DVM Newsmagazine). Last year the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, a collaborative effort among Bayer Animal Health, the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, and Brakke Consulting, set out to explore why. The research used data from a literature review, interviews with small animal practice owners and dog and cat owners, and an online survey of more than 2,000 pet owners.
Among the study's main findings was that 12 percent of dog owners and 18 percent of cat owners had consciously decided to go to the veterinarian less often. From the data gathered and analyzed, six factors emerged that contributed to this decline in client visits:
1. The recession. This was the first thing that came to veterinarians' minds when thinking about the decline in pet visits. Of course, the poor economy and resulting unemployment have had a negative impact on spending for veterinary services. But despite what many veterinarians believe, it's not the primary reason for the drop; patient visits started declining several years before the recession.
2. Fragmentation of veterinary services. With an increase in the number and type of places that pet owners can get care—practices in pet stores and parking-lot vaccine clinics, for example—fewer visits are being spread out among more practices. Also, more pets than ever are adopted from shelters and receive initial vaccinations and spaying and neutering before their new owners ever pick them up.
3. Proliferation of Internet usage. Many of the pet owners surveyed said they consulted Web sources regarding pet health issues rather than calling or visiting their veterinarians.
4. Inadequate understanding of the need for routine care. Pet owners surveyed primarily associated veterinary care with vaccinations rather than examinations. One likely reason they're visiting less often is changing vaccine protocols.
5. Sticker shock. Many pet owners expressed surprise and frustration at the size and frequency of price increases at their veterinary clinics and said they didn't see the value for the price paid.
6. Feline resistance. Because many cats aggressively resist being put in carriers and transported to a veterinary clinic and show signs of stress during visits, many cat owners deferred taking their pet to the veterinarian.
Dr. Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, CVPM, is CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues. John Volk is senior consultant at Brakke Consulting. Send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.