Do clients see pets as property, friend, or family?

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When it comes to veterinary spending, the issue isn't clients' income level but how pets fit into their lives.

It's not a news flash that you shouldn't make snap judgments about what clients are willing to pay for their pets' care. After all, that rural client may be more attached to his farm cat than you think and surprise you by opting for a complete diagnostic workup. Or that elderly woman may rely on Tootles' companionship throughout the day and be ready to spend her fixed income on a surgical procedure that will extend her friend's life for several more years. So it's always best to recommend the best care for every patient.

Dog owner perceptions (illustrations by Marci Roth)

However, a one-size-fits-all bulldozer approach to recommendations rarely works. As Cindy Adams, MSW, PhD, a professor of veterinary communications at the University of Calgary, has said, instead of heaving your recommendations like a shot put, you need to toss them like a Frisbee. This process requires interaction and collaboration, finesse and anticipation. "It's a dialogue, a conversation," Adams says. "There's a huge variability in clients' relationships with their animals. You need to know what their goals and aspirations are for this relationship."

Cat owner perceptions

As the charts on the following pages show, these different types of relationships affect how much clients are willing to spend on their pets. A low-income client who sees her pet as a family member may spend more than a high-income client who sees her pet as property. And while you may think you can spot the difference between clients' incomes (though even this is fraught with potential error), you definitely can't tell how pets rank in their lives without a few tosses of the conversational Frisbee.

What dog owners spend

Once you know how your clients feel about their pets, you can not only tailor your communication appropriately but also give your clients permission to forge stronger relationships with their pets. You do this by validating their concerns for their pet and the relationship that already exists between pet and owner. "You may be able to shift that client from an infrequent visitor to an annual or every-six-months visitor," Adams says.

What cat owners spend

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