The Perpetual Fight Against Fleas

When flea products with fipronil began appearing on retailers’ shelves about a year ago, veterinarians grew concerned about revenue loss and their ability to advise clients on flea products.

Veterinarians and industry advisers say retail sales equate to less veterinary control over a veterinary medical product.

The conventional wisdom is that being able to buy flea prevention while doing routine shopping is more appealing to the average customer than making a special trip to the vet’s office. But convenience might be hurting efficacy.

“In my investigation of more than 1,000 flea-infested homes in Tampa, I found that the No. 1 cause of ongoing infestations was lack of an understanding of how to use the flea control product,” says Michael Dryden, DVM, MS, Ph.D., widely known as Dr. Flea for his pioneering efforts in flea research. He is the Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Parasitology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.

“The lack of education for how to apply, frequency of use, etc., will continue to grow when veterinarians aren’t part of the conversation.”

Besides contributing to flea infestations through potential misapplication, Dr. Dryden says, fipronil products—given their current high efficacy and reliability—could experience resistance issues without veterinary oversight.

“Also, just because fipronil is considered a safer product to mammals, it doesn’t mean a problem can’t arise. Even people working at veterinary schools initially equate an animal’s itching to meaning fleas. This isn’t necessarily the case.”


While veterinarians’ primary focus is supporting patient welfare, concern for practice revenue decline is an inevitable and legitimate concern.

Based on a March 2011 market research study by market research firm GfK Kynetec, there was a 5 percent decline (approximately 4 million doses) in the dispensing of flea products from U.S. veterinary clinics in 2010. This figure is assumed to be low, considering that only 21 percent of veterinarians polled say they’ve tracked this data while 79 percent say they do not.

“Many of my clients recognize revenue loss from these products being available elsewhere,” says Gary Glassman, a CPA with Burzenski & Company P.C. in East Haven, Conn. “But many don’t know the extent because they do not track it. Most are unhappy about it. Many don’t want to fight with clients about where they buy their products, but many just don’t understand the financial ramifications.

“We are seeing what I refer to as leaks in the system for lost sales,” Glassman continues. “So far the impact has not been major and many people will not react until it hurts. This will require major losses in revenue. If hospitals understand the ramifications today, maybe we can influence their behavior before it is too late. They need to fight to keep the sale.”

Even with competition from online and retail sales of pet medications, Glassman says, most veterinarians aren’t looking to change their ways and end reliance on medicinal sales.


Circle of Life
Click here to download a handout depicting the flea life cycle and give it to your clients when discussing flea control solutions.


“Practices are not moving away from selling flea/tick medication,” Glassman says. “We are looking for flea and tick sales to account for about 5 percent of a hospital’s gross income and another 5 percent from heartworm or combo products as part of a healthcare plan. In the Southeast, where fleas and heartworm are more relevant on a year-round basis, these product sales are more relevant and can account for up to 12 to 14 percent of sales.”

Glassman says veterinarians will not be able to follow the human-medicine model of not selling medication in-house.

“The business model for how hospitals make money has been established in such a way that these sales are extremely important to profitability,” Glassman says. “It will be disastrous to let these product sales disappear unless the profession is ready to charge what it really costs to do major medical procedures, and then the question is if they do change, will and can clients pay for them at those rates?

“If clients do not support the veterinary channel and the companies that support the veterinary channel, it will have major implications to how veterinary services are offered to clients,” Glassman adds.

Keeping track of sales is necessary in the current competitive market. Competing with offers and convenience provided by retailers will likely be a must.

“If product sales are dropping, hospital owners need to know that and develop market strategies to help keep the sale in house,” Glassman says. “Hospitals can only compete in two ways, one based upon price and the other based upon offering the conveniences that others outside the profession have done. Product sales in veterinary hospitals are the No. 1 profit center on a per-square-foot-basis and hospitals cannot afford to let these sales disappear unless they are prepared to capture the lost margin through other services. With veterinary visits dropping, veterinarians are in a difficult place.”

One Company’s Stance

Both brand-name and generic flea and tick control products are available in any pet specialty store and at many retailers. However, still Merial says it sells only to veterinarians.

“Merial’s longstanding policy, which remains unchanged, is to sell Frontline brand products only to licensed practicing veterinarians who maintain active relationships with clients and patients,” says Natasha Mahanes of Merial in Duluth, Ga. “We enforce this policy because we believe that veterinarians are the professionals with the training and experience to best advise pet owners on the appropriate use of our products.

“Client Connection Plus enables veterinarians to reinforce important messages about the dangers of parasites and parasite control and prevention and encourage pet owners to visit the veterinary clinic, resulting in more protected pets leaving veterinary clinics,” Mahanes continues. “In addition, Merial is launching two initiatives—‘It’s Flea & Tick Time’ and 12.12.12—to further propel parasite control and prevention to the forefront of the industry’s and pet owners’ minds.”

“It’s Flea & Tick Time” is a consumer-directed campaign to demonstrate to pet owners why seeing a veterinarian for flea and tick control is so important.

Sergeant’s, the manufacturer of the generic form of Frontline (Fiproguard), which does sell its products directly to retailers, says the increased availability of reliable flea control products means higher compliance by pet owners.

“Providing fipronil formulations for the over-the-counter channels should increase compliance as they are more affordable,” says Caryn Stichler, vice president of marketing at Sergeant’s Pet Care Products Inc. in Omaha, Neb. “This is especially important in the current economy, where more and more people are forced to cut back.”

Stichler says personal views on OTC fipronil sales varies from veterinarian to veterinarian, but she says most veterinarians contacted by the company voiced support for the idea that pet owners are more likely to comply with flea treatment protocols because the product cost is lower at retail.

“Veterinarians are very important to the pet industry overall, and in educating pet owners about the very real dangers of not treating their pets for fleas and ticks,” Stichler says. “This is very much the same as the importance of physicians to human health care.

“Many human products have also moved to OTC channels, but the role of the physician in educating patients and in prescribing medications that require a prescription has not diminished,” Stichler adds.

In efforts to mitigate misapplication or misuse of a product purchased from a retailer, Stichler says, Fiproguard’s packaging devotes substantial room to application directions, including easy-to-understand images.

“We have produced several videos to educate pet owners about different aspects of flea and tick control, available on our website,” Stichler says. “One of the videos features a veterinarian, Dr. Tony Johnson, demonstrating application of Fiproguard on a dog and providing advice, much like he would in an office visit.”

<HOME> 6/25/2012 2:44 PM

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