Build the bond to reach millennial pet owners

September 9, 2019
Erica Tricarico, Managing Editor

dvm360, dvm360 October 2019, Volume 50, Issue 10

77% of millennials favor veterinarians who discuss the benefits of the human-pet bond, according to speakers at last months AVMA Conference.

“We know that for millennials, their pets are their babies and they mandate quality [care],” said Steve Dale, a certified animal behavior consultant (CABC) and pet journalist, at the 2019 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Convention in Washington, DC.

And the emotional wellbeing of these pets is a high priority for this demographic, born between 1981 and 1996, which became the largest pet-owning demographic a few years ago: “Happy pets do mean happy clients,” Dale said.

You may have heard this all before, but if you haven't adjusted your veterinary business and marketing and client communication, you might be behind the curve:

> Millennials are putting a strong demand on veterinarians to deliver the highest quality of care to pets. Are you feeling this from younger clients yet?

> Dr. Google rules … at least at first. Before a veterinarian shares a diagnosis, millennials have already asked online search engines for answers. And they don't just want to hear the diagnosis-they want to know what it means. According to the Pew Research Center, 92% of millennials have smartphones (no surprise), and they're also likely to ask friends and family for advice, with 45% visiting Facebook daily.

This demographic “is more likely to use social media to learn about [their] pets and to communicate with others,” Dale said.

> Millennials are interested in-and spending money on-alternative treatments such as acupuncture and physical therapy. They spend more money on expensive pet clothes, fancy toys and responsibly sourced and grain-free foods (which could be a problem), and are more likely to take their pet to the groomer. Millennials are even setting up GoFundMe pages to help raise money for expensive medical treatments. “By 2020, millennials are going to spend more than any other demographic group, and right now, they are a significant part of the economy,” Dale said.

So how exactly will millennials affect veterinary practices? The AVMA has reported recently that veterinary visits are down because of many factors: client marketing, veterinary healthcare costs, clients' lack of perceived need for preventive care, and fear and anxiety associated with the visit. Dale says he wants to tackle that last one. Research suggests that 28% of pet owners say that thinking about going to the veterinarian is stressful, and over a third of dog owners say they hate going, Dale said. Although 85% of cats do see a veterinarian, there are still millions of cats who don't go because their owners say they “hate” taking them.

Focusing on bond-centered care may help millennials take their pets to the veterinarian more regularly, Dale explained. Approximately 77% of millennials say they're more favorable to a veterinarian if he or she discusses the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them, Dale said. Roughly three-quarters of millennials said they're more likely to visit the veterinarian if they discuss the health benefits of the human-animal bond.

Besides becoming “human-animal bond certified practices,” Dale also mentioned some other pearls for veterinary offices that are looking to reach millennials, noting the American Association of Feline Practitioners' Cat-Friendly Practice designation and the Fear Free and Low Stress Handling initiatives.

Building these family-pet bonds-and talking about them actively with clients-may positively influence the loyalty of millennial pet owners. It's another reminder that what pet owners want changes over time, and the best veterinary practices consider how they can meet these new pet owners where they are to build lifelong relationships for patient health.

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