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Study Reveals Causes for Yearly Decline in Vet Visits

Posted: January 17, 2011, 7:40 p.m., EDT

Study Reveals Causes for Yearly Decline in Vet VisitsA new study reveals why companion animal veterinary visits have been declining over the past several years. The reasons, as cited by the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, are: the economic impact of the recession, fragmentation of veterinary services, consumers substituting Internet research for office visits, feline resistance, perception among pet owners that regular medical check-ups are unnecessary and the cost of care.

Bayer Animal Health, Brakke Consulting and the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues released the study today.

The study included individual interviews and focus groups with veterinarians, focus groups with pet owners and a nationally representative survey of 2,000 dog and cat owners to determine the factors contributing to the decline in veterinary visits.

According to a recent survey conducted by the NCVEI, 56 percent of veterinarians reported that patient visits for the first nine months of 2010 were down compared to the year-ago period. But declines in veterinary visits have been documented as far back as 2001, according to the three groups behind this new study.

The six root causes defined:

• Economic impact of the recession—Although the study did not reveal an exact figure on how much of the decline in veterinary visits is attributed to the recession, the study does indicate that the recession has exacerbated the outcome, according to Karen Felsted, DVM, CEO of NCVEI.
• Fragmentation of veterinary services—Now, more than ever, pet owners can take pets for treatment to veterinarians at mobile vaccination clinics, animal shelters and pet store clinics. These visits may offset annual visits with their regular veterinarians, according to the study.
• Consumers substituting Internet research for office visits—Fifteen percent of pet owners said that with the Internet they don’t rely on the vet as much. Thirty-nine percent look online before consulting a vet if a pet is sick or injured.
• Feline resistance—One-third of cats owned by study respondents have not seen a veterinarian in the past year. This, in part, is attributed to what is called “feline resistance,” which the study defines as the hiding, aggression, vocalization and stressed/fearful behavior cats exhibit when crated and transported to unfamiliar surroundings. Unwilling to do battle with their pets, cat owners become more comfortable with longer time between exams, according to the study.
• Perception among pet owners that regular medical check-ups are unnecessary—Pet owners who responded to the survey believed by a wide margin that older pets require less medical attention than younger animals, even though older animals are susceptible to a range of chronic and costly illnesses like diabetes, cancer and arthritis, according to the study. Respondents also indicated that indoor pets need next to no veterinary care because they are less exposed to environmental threats.
• Cost of care—Fifty-three percent of pet owners surveyed reported that the costs of a veterinary visit are usually much higher than they expected. Affluence also plays a role, according to the study’s findings. As household incomes decline, so do veterinary visits.

“By far the most important finding, from a health perspective, is the misperception by many pet owners that regular medical check-ups for pets are unnecessary,” said Ian Spinks, president and general manager of Bayer Animal Health North America. “This could be driven by the absence of professional patient care guidelines that recommend annual physicals. The unintended consequence is that many pets aren’t getting the care they need for healthy, long lives.”

Dr. Felsted also commented on why regular check-ups are important.

“People often associate clinic visits with ‘shots’ or ‘vaccinations,’” she said. “But that’s not all that happens during a visit. Veterinarians perform a full physical exam on the pet during which they look for problems with the eyes, ears, skin, internal organs and other body systems. Pets, like people, can develop health conditions that, if undetected, become costly-to-treat chronic illnesses.”

In terms of veterinary pricing, “veterinarians must learn to manage pricing and communicate the value of regular care to avoid deterring pet owners from making annual visits a priority, said Ron Brakke, president and founder of Brakke Consulting. “Veterinarians can take specific actions to grow client traffic and improve pet care. As a profession, veterinarians need a consistent message about the importance and frequency of veterinary care. It is likely that the trend can be reversed, if the proper actions are taken.”

Brakke Consulting and NCVEI are also assisting in developing solutions to increase veterinary visits.

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Reader Comments
I am guilty of the same. My 20 yr child is going to Rutgers, we foot the whole bill. Have you checked out the price of college? She commutes to classes. During the 1980's my college costs started @ 1 grand, and in four years, my dad shelled out 1,500.00$. My spouse, works for the government, and has lost six days pay- due to the sequester. With two dogs, I have learned to administer vacines. Rabies- I look for low cost clinics, sometimes, there have been free rabies shots. Things financially are hard.
Helen, Morganville, NJ
Posted: 9/21/2013 7:13:01 AM
Personally, I think vet visits are unnecessary and I hate vaccines. I have seen *loads* of animals, especially cats, who have significant brain damage and/or nervous system damage from vaccinations. Some are so bad that the animal can't even stand up without looking like it's drunk, wobbling around uncontrollably. There's plenty of evidence showing that vaccines cause a lot of problems with animals. My cat got rabies and distemper vaccines when she was fixed and that's it. Unless the rabies virus changes, there's no need for "boosters" because immunity has already happened. Yearly vaccinations are not only dangerous, but completely unnecessary especially for indoor cats who don't even try to get outside.

My cat lets me cut her claws, brush her teeth and examine her ears whenever I see fit. Her teeth and gums are healthy as is the rest of her body. I don't feed her that junk food they sell at grocery stores or vet offices, I go to PetCo for the highest quality food available, both dry and wet foods. I supplement her wet food with lots of extra taurine as well as giving her clean water, distilled in this case. When I switched her from tap water to reverse-osmosis filtered water, she immediately began drinking it more and still does with the distilled water. I monitor her bathroom habits, which are consistent as well as everything else.

On top of that, it's too expensive and in the past, I used to hate how vets would always try to push vaccines and shots on me that were unnecessary. The only way I would take her to a vet would be if something was really wrong with her. It's always important to develop a strong bond of trust especially with a cat. I view yearly vet visits (and doctor visits for that matter) as unnecessary and expensive. My cat is my baby and I'd take her if something was wrong, but not until then. I don't want more vaccines and crap pushed on me or her. I keep her teeth clean, her claws trimmed and I give her only the best foods free of grains like wheat and corn and she couldn't be happier.

If you want to increase people's vet visits, lower the prices and stop pushing stuff on people that they don't want. Realize that yearly vaccines are unnecessary especially with rabies and I'm sure TITOR tests would prove that.
Mike, Baltimore, MD
Posted: 11/28/2012 2:42:43 PM
Quite an interesting article.I have been watching the trend for past couple years and had started making changes to get and keep clients
Jim, valrico, FL
Posted: 2/13/2011 2:47:33 PM
I have worked in Veterinary practices for over 20 years and was raised by a veterinarian (my father). We were by no means rich in comparison to human doctors. The thing that people do not realize is that Veterinarians come out of vet school with as much or more student loan debt as a human doctor. And pet owners expect these veterinarians to be as knowledgeable as a human doctor. And Veterinarians charge 100 times less than human doctors for the same type of procedures. No one notices this because they think their doctor charges them only $10-20 which is only their copay for the insurance that they carry. If pet owners are going to continue to expect (as they should) state-of-the-art care for their pets then they may have to look into pet health insurance as a way to help them afford it. Veterinarians have to be paid a living wage and also pay their employees all a living wage as well (and those vets and coworkers also have families to raise). The only way to make it cheaper would to government subsidize veterinary care like human care is subsidized. And we all know how well that is working...
Furthermore, the shelters and low cost clinics are run as non-profit charitable organizations with grant money....maybe all veterinary hospitals should become charitable organizations so we can cut costs and provide services cheaper...just some thoughts
Anne, Charlottesville, VA
Posted: 2/11/2011 9:48:37 AM
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