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AAHA study looks at pet-owner purchasing habits


Just 37 percent of dog owners purchase heartworm medication from veterinarians.

LAKEWOOD, COLO. — Just 37 percent of dog owners purchased heartworm medication from veterinarians, according to new data from VetInsite Analytics, and there is wide disparity in purchasing habits based on the region of the country.

The survey, "Close-up Look at 2010 Purchasing Behavior" from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), examined data from 3,800 veterinary hospitals in the United States and 30 in Canada. It also looked at information from some 19 million pet records. It found that 47 percent of owners purchased heartworm from veterinarians in states like Texas, but the number dropped substantially on the West Coast.

Some of the other findings included:

  • Dog owners are more likely than cat owners to purchase flea, tick, heartworm and NSAID medications from veterinarians.

  • Both cat and dog owners value the advice of the veterinarian above what they hear from friends or read on the Internet.

  • Unique visits decreased by about 1 percent in 2010, but overall revenue increased 3 percent overall.

  • 58 percent of surveyed practices report revenue increases.

  • The study noted that 79 percent of veterinary industry revenue was attributed to dogs compared to just 21 percent for cats.

  • The average transaction charge for dog visits was $109.26 compared to $90.73 for cats.

  • Regional purchasing behaviors between dog and cat owners for flea-and-tick medications were similar across the nation, with the most flea/tick medications purchased in South and Texas. Results weren't much different for heartworm medications, purchased most by veterinarians for dogs in Texas and the Great Lakes region, and for cats in Texas and Florida.

  • Numbers of doses were down for both types of medications nationwide. However, the study notes the numbers of flea-and-tick doses dropped about 4 percent from 2009 to 2010 and heartworm doses dropped about 7 percent.

While most pet owners in 2010 purchased flea/tick, heartworm and NSAIDS from veterinarians in 2010 (39 percent), another 32 percent opted for alternative channels—such as online pharmacies and pet stores—and 29 percent choose a combination of the two.

  • Dog owners were more likely to buy medications from a veterinarian (44 percent), but cat owners most often purchased medications through alternative channels (39 percent).

  • Dog owners who didn't purchase medications from a veterinarian most often planned to buy from pet specialty stores in 2011, followed by online pharmacies, mass merchandisers or discount stores and club stores over the next year.

  • Cat owners favored online pharmacies, followed by pet stores and mass merchandisers or discount stores.

But regardless of where they purchase medications, pet owners value advice from a veterinarian above other sources, AAHA reports.

Dog owners most often seek the advice of a veterinarian, followed by veterinary technicians, friends, pet-store employees and, lastly, the Internet. Cat owners who purchase from veterinarians place the DVM at the top of the list, too, followed by veterinary technicians, friends, the Internet and pet-store employees.

But while cat owners who buy flea-and-tick medications through alternative channels seek the advice of veterinarians first, they value the advice of friends over veterinary technicians, followed by pet-store employees and the Internet.

Overall, dog owners had good things to say about purchasing pet-health supplies from veterinarians, AAHA says. In fact, 68 percent of respondents expressed positive comments.

Of the dog owners who purchased supplies from veterinarians, 80 percent had positive things to say, citing veterinarians as trustworthy experts on pet care. The 15 percent who communicated negative comments focused on expense.

For dog owners who purchased supplies through alternative channels, 44 percent made positive comments about veterinarians' expertise, about 50 percent complained about expense.

The study, AAHA says, reinforces the belief that veterinarians are a trusted source by pet owners. Veterinarians also have significant influence over what products pet owners purchase, the association adds.

The study highlights growth opportunities in the cat market, and points out that pet owners are well aware of alternative channels for purchasing medications. Pet owners will continue to use alternative channels unless veterinarians get better at communicating the value of their services, AAHA concludes.

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