Catalyst survey documents DVMs' perceptions on cat care


National Report - Nearly one-third of the veterinary professionals surveyed don't typically bring their own cat in for an annual wellness examination.

NATIONAL REPORT— Nearly one-third of the veterinary professionals surveyed don't typically bring their own cat in for an annual wellness examination.

Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of the Catalyst Council, says these findings represent a call to action for veterinarians and cat owners as it relates to improving veterinary care for cats.

The survey, conducted by the Catalyst Council in collaboration with DVM Newsmagazine, was crafted to better understand veterinarians' and veterinary team members' attitudes about cat care, reports Dr. Alexis Nahama of VCA Antech and board chair of the Catalyst Council. In so doing, Nahama says, it will help the profession better understand and build a strategy aimed at improving the level of veterinary care to this underserved area of the market.

"Our reasoning behind the survey and the project was to identify some of the fundamental behaviors that drive some of the issues that we have in our industry," Nahama tells DVM Newsmagazine. "We wanted to look at this in a very pragmatic way. We know that visits are going down. We all know that cats are not treated the same way as dogs in hospitals. We wanted to look at our own perceptions as professionals."

The survey, Brunt says, offers insight from veterinarians about cat care. "I think it underscores that we only promote what we believe in and do. There's an opportunity here," Brunt adds.

For example: About 71 percent of the veterinary professionals surveyed have cats living in their homes, but more than one-third of the survey respondents do not routinely bring their cats in for an annual wellness exam.

Survey respondents were asked to choose a statement that best corresponds with their feelings about their own cat(s). The results included:

  • 3.4 percent: "I don't think there's a good enough reason to provide my cat with medical care unless he/she is not feeling well."

  • 29.3 percent: "I bring my cat in only when vaccinations are needed or if he/she gets sick."

  • 63.9 percent: "I always bring my cat(s) in for annual wellness check-ups."

  • 3.4 percent: "I feel the trip is so stressful on both of us that unless my cat is sick, it is just not worth doing that to him/her."

The survey asked respondents to select what they do for their own cat:

  • 21 percent: "I think annual deworming is sufficient."

  • 16 percent: "I deworm quarterly because my cat(s) goes outside."

  • 24 percent: "I deworm semi-annually because my cat(s) is strictly an indoor cat(s)."

  • 39 percent: "My cat(s) is never really exposed to anything, so I don't deworm."

When it comes to heartworm prevention in cats, about 34 percent of respondents said they "made a deliberate choice to put my cat(s) on a heartworm-preventive product because I believe he/she is at risk for heartworm."

One-quarter of the veterinarians report they aren't using a heartworm preventive product or only do so seasonally because "the risk is considered too low."

About 13 percent of the respondents said that their cat is "indoor-only and doesn't need heartworm prevention."

The survey netted responses from 173 veterinarians, registered veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants/technicians and practice managers. About 76 percent of the respondent base were veterinarians. Office managers accounted for 12 percent of the respondent pool, 4 percent were credentialed veterinary technicians, 2 percent were veterinary assistant/technicians and 6 percent were in "other" category.

"We think the lesson for us is that we can do a lot externally and we can try to change the consumer's perception, but all of that effort might fail if we don't convince ourselves this needs to change," Nahama adds.

To help, the Catalyst Council is spearheading a cat-friendly makeover for 20 veterinary hospitals this year. The pilot project will involve retraining, development of client educational materials and creation of new systems to help build feline patient visits.

Catalyst Council describes the cat- friendly makeover as a multi-step, implementation-centered behavioral enhancement program for animal hospitals with the help of ThinkPets, a new company that provides personalized pet-owner education and reminders. Progress will be measured through online analytics to allow veterinarians to measure reminder, wellness and overall practice performance.

"We can try to blame the economy or look at the problems in the marketplace or identify other forces that we cannot control. We can also look internally at the areas we can control. In the end, it will benefit patients," Nahama adds. "And that's what it's all about."

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