May we present ... the 5 ways to screw up a new puppy or kitten visit

September 29, 2016
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.

Don't deny the gift of a lifetime of care in your veterinary practice by making these common mistakes.

This puppy's whole world can be in your hands. (Shutterstock/Igumnova Irina)

The moment a new kitten or puppy owner walks through your clinic door, you've been gifted a golden opportunity. Similar to choosing healthcare for our human loved ones, owners want to find topnotch care for their pets. Their first visit is a chance to sell your services and your practice. But without the right preparation, you and your team members can slam the door on future visits from your new client. Consider these five ways you can flub clients' first experience at your practice:

1. Assume what clients can and can't spend

You're not your clients' personal accountant, so don't play one. It's not for you to decide who appears to have the funds to cover every possible preventive measure for a pet and to try to anticipate who will-or should-hold off. Often when we make these assumptions, they're inaccurate, and it offends our clients. It's our responsibility to provide the treatment and preventive care options-from conservative to all the bells and whistles-and allow our clients to make those decisions.

2. Don't value a low-stress experience

There's nothing more upsetting for a pet owner, especially someone new to pet ownership, than seeing her companion in distress. Our team looks more professional and caring when we take an extra few minutes to get to know our patients and move slowly with them. Always prioritize a patient's needs over the task at hand. Try these tips to get started.

  • Offer healthy treats

  • Pet the patient

  • Talk sweetly to the patient

  • Offer soft, comfortable bedding

  • Play soothing music in the exam room

Making the visit as low-stress as possible also helps us establish a positive relationship with our new patients from the start. Our patients remember more than what we give them credit for, and a stressful visit will stick with them. And remember, it will also make your job much easier on future visits. See more tips here.

One last tip: If you do nothing else to make your practice low-stress for patients, please separate your cat and dog patients in the lobby! This is one of the most common hot button issues for cat owners.

3. Leave out family education on zoonotic disease

At the top of the list of our important duties is to educate pet owners on the risks of zoonotic disease and proper precautions to avoid transmission. We see intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms much more frequently in young puppies and kittens. So be sure to educate families with young children to wash their hands after playing with their new pets and before handling food.

Remind clients to regularly pick up pet feces from the yard and dispose of it. Explain that people shouldn't walk barefoot in areas soiled with animal feces. And lastly, for clients with very young children, emphasize the dangers of eating dirt or soil, which could be contaminated.

4. Pass judgment on the breeder your client chose

We typically know which breeders in our area are unscrupulous and potential puppy mills, but we should refrain from openly sharing our opinions on these breeders with people who've already bought a pet. By this time, that breeder has finalized the transaction, and the family is in love with the new pet. When we make negative comments in these situations, it only worries the family and passes undue guilt onto them.

Try to redirect your efforts by educating clients about whether there have been outbreaks of certain diseases stemming from that breeder and recommending the patient be tested. In general, other commentary isn't necessary.

5. Don't cover the basics

Taking in a new puppy or kitten is a huge household change for the family. We shouldn't assume pet owners already know basic husbandry, even if they have other pets. It may have been some time since they've had a young pet, and there's so much more to client education beyond listing out the vaccines pets need and setting up their neuter or spay surgery.

For example, you'll also want to discuss how to puppy- or kitten-proof the home. Topics to cover:

  • Ensure electrical cords aren't exposed

  • Block stairs

  • Keep medications (and trash cans!) out of reach

  • Don't share toxic foods. Here's a quick list to avoid. Then use these cat and dog handouts to reinforce your message.

Also be sure to cover the high-quality diet you recommend, how to get into a routine with the new pet-especially for puppies-and training.

Clients only retain a small percentage of what's covered during the exam-it's usually a lot to digest, and they're simultaneously focused on keeping their pets calm during the appointment. Use client handouts to help educate new pet parents on the topics they need to keep top of mind. (See the Puppy and Kitten Care Toolkit for more resources, including handouts and tools to educate new pet owners.)

The gift that keeps on giving

With a well-trained team, a welcoming and clean facility and these tips in mind, you can ensure a successful first visit for new puppy and kitten owners. Winning over these first-time patients and their pet parents can help you lock in a lifetime of high-quality healthcare for these pets at your practice.

Ori Scislowicz is a team leader LVT at CVCA - Cardiac Care for Pets in Richmond, Virginia.