How to get more pets to the vet

October 22, 2019
Matthew Salois, PhD
Matthew Salois, PhD

Dr. Matthew Salois worked in private industry, government and academia before joining the AVMA in 2018 as director of veterinary economics. From 2016 to 2018, he served as director of global scientific affairs and policy at Elanco Animal Health, supervising a team of scientists in veterinary medicine, human medicine, animal welfare, economics and sustainability. Before joining Elanco, Dr. Salois was chief economist with the Florida Department of Citrus, where he led economic and market research activities to drive industry growth and profitability for citrus growers. He previously served as an assistant professor at the University of Reading in the U.K., and also has held positions with the University of Florida and University of Central Florida. Dr. Salois earned his PhD in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida, and holds an MA in Applied Economics and a BS in Health Services Administration from the University of Central Florida.

dvm360, dvm360 December 2019, Volume 50, Issue 12

Our AVMA data shows us that preventive care improves when the veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) is stronger. Are you doing what you can to make sure the next time that patient comes in, wellness care is on the table?


Did you know that the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) plays a critical role in whether clients bring pets to the veterinarian for routine wellness and preventive care?

It's true. Based on the research reported in the AVMA's most recent Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, we can safely say that developing a strong veterinarian-client bond can help us get more pets into practices on an ongoing basis for the preventive healthcare we know they need.

What the data show

Let's dig into the research, and you'll see what I mean. The AVMA's pet demographics survey asked pet owners not only about what pets they have, but also about how frequently each pet sees a veterinarian, and why they do or don't go to the veterinarian. Among its key findings:

  • Nearly 30% of pet owners don't regularly bring their companion animals to see a veterinarian at least once a year. That's more than 48 million pets that aren't getting regular preventive care.
  • Veterinary visits vary by species. The research found that even for dogs-which typically get more veterinary care than cats, companion horses or birds-nearly one in five don't see a veterinarian at least once a year. Nearly half of all cats (46%) and companion horses (44%) don't get to the vet annually, and fully 88% of pet birds don't.
  • The primary reason pets don't get the wellness care they need is that their owners don't understand the value and need for it. For instance: Among dog owners whose pets didn't get to see a veterinarian, 35% said they didn't go because the pet hadn't been sick. Another 21% said that the animals didn't need vaccines or that they had treated the pets themselves at home. This same reasoning showed up across all companion animal species; dogs are just an example.
  • When pet owners cited financial reasons for not going to the veterinarian, it was primarily a question of affordability, not value. Encouragingly, only 5% of those who didn't get to the veterinarian said it was because veterinary care wasn't worth the price charged.

Pets need a ‘regular' veterinarian

Where does the VCPR come in? Among pet owners, and especially dog owners, our research found that both price and convenience are less of a factor for owners who have what they consider a “regular” veterinarian. Most pet owners without a regular veterinarian choose a veterinarian based on location and price. Those who do have a regular veterinarian are influenced more by the veterinarian's level of perceived knowledge, quality of care and demonstrated compassion.

Talk up preventive care

Whether in person, in newsletters or on social media, why not take every opportunity you have to tell clients about the importance of preventive care? The AVMA has resources to help, including posters, client brochures, FAQs and more at

For veterinarians in daily practice, this underscores the importance of building a relationship with the client by becoming that “regular” veterinarian. That status allows veterinarians to talk about preventive care, demonstrate and explain its value, and make a dent in the number of clients who don't understand why and how much it matters.

Remember: More than half of the pets who aren't getting to the veterinarian regularly are staying home because their owners don't understand why they need to go in for regular exams, vaccinations and other wellness care. The better job we do talking about the importance of preventive care with clients, the better chance we have of reducing the number who don't bring in their pets just because they weren't sick or injured, or had been given vaccines or parasite preventives at home.

How to become the ‘regular' veterinarian

To move the needle on preventive care, one of the first priorities is to solidify and maintain your position as a trusted partner for clients-in other words, improving the veterinarian-client relationship. One of the most effective ways is to forward-book each patient's next wellness exam when you already have them in the hospital. Whether they've come to see you for an injury, illness, vaccination or other care, you can get their next preventive visit on the calendar right away-and make it much more likely they'll come in when they should.

Let's forward-book!

Partners for Healthy Pets offers a free forward-booking toolbox on its website. It includes training materials and videos, so implementation is pain-free. The AVMA is one of the lead collaborators in Partners for Healthy Pets, and we strongly recommend using this program.

Because you're probably not booking your own appointments, this could be a matter of training client service representatives to do this with every client. You can play a role, too. If veterinarians walk clients from the exam room to the front desk, the veterinarian can tell the front-desk staff when the patient should come back. When veterinarians are busy, the same protocol can ask veterinary technicians, assistants or receptionists to do the same thing.

Whatever steps you and your team can take today to get clients from any veterinarian to their veterinarian will, in the end, improve the chances those pet owners will get their favorite animals in to you.

Matthew Salois, PhD, is chief economist and director of the Veterinary Economics Division at the AVMA.

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