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What Pet Owners Expect of Veterinarians


TAMPA, FLA. — What do pet owners want from their veterinarians? According to a 2014 survey, they disdain medical jargon they don’t understand, want tests results shared, and expect full transparency regarding their pets’ care. “In other words, pet owners want to be treated as partners,” said American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) CEO Dr. Michael Cavanaugh at a “State of the Industry” meeting March 13 during the American Animal Hospital Association Conference, Tampa, FL.

The survey polled just over 1,000 pet owners, and was conducted by IDEXX, a diagnostic provider and innovator in veterinary medicine.

Nearly every owner surveyed suggested that their bond with their veterinary practice was paramount (93 percent). In reality, of course, people don’t bond with buildings or practices, per se, but instead with veterinarians and veterinary technicians on staff.

Technology has dramatically changed veterinary medicine over the past few decades, veterinarians can do so much more to help our pets. These days, pretty much anything a medical doctor can do for you, your veterinarian can do for your pet. For example, if your doctor detects a heart irregularity, the next step is often an ultrasound. Dogs and cats can also develop heart disease, and the very same ultrasound equipment is used for them.

Another example is after-care for knee or shoulder surgery. Rehabilitation is considered the standard of care for people, and increasingly a prescription for rehab is common following knee or should surgery in dogs.

Yet another advance are specialists. These days, it’s not just the general veterinarian down the street who may care for your pet; an array of specialists can be consulted, including but not limited to experts in cardiology, neurology, dentistry, oncology, behavior and internal medicine. If you happen to have a pet bird or lizard, there are even veterinarians specifically trained to treat those species.

Without doubt, people do want the best for their pets. Several studies confirm that over 90 percent of pet owners consider their pets members of the family.

Still, it turns out, according to the IDEXX surgey, what people seek most from their veterinarians is the same as it’s always been: professional service from someone who is caring, friendly, trustworthy, kind and compassionate.

“Veterinarians continue to hold a very special place in the medical community,” Cavanaugh said. “It really is about trust, and all those other good words.”

Ultimately, it’s the pets who win when clients like and trust their vets and vet techs. The IDEXX survey also showed that when pet owners are bonded to practices, they’re more likely to do all they can – within their budget – for their pet(s).

In fact, if a practice is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, 44 percent of those surveyed indicated they would even pay more for pet care because of the level of care their animals were likely to get. Only about 15 percent of practices in the U.S. are AAHA accredited. To be accredited, hospitals must pass on approximately 900 standards of veterinary excellence. Once these standards were explained to those taking the survey, just over half said they’d drive farther to find an accredited facility, and 81 percent suggested they saw the value in an accredited practice.

One problem with this survey is that it was somewhat skewed because the pet owners interviewed regularly visit a veterinarian. Despite industry efforts, regular preventive care visits continue to decline, so many pet owners are regularly seeing a veterinarian. According to a 2012 study from Bayer Animal Health, here are two explanations for the drop in visits:

1) Dr. Google: In an effort to save time and money, many pet owners are alternatively seeking pet care advice from the Internet. Pet websites enjoy tons of traffic, and 39 percent of pet owners will go there before their veterinarian. However, according to the IDEXX study, when a trusted veterinarian recommends appropriate websites, pet owners are less likely to go online to “double-check” the veterinarian.

2) Sticker shock: Just over half of all clients suggest the price of a vet visit is often higher than expected. Others feel veterinarians focus on making money over caring for the pet by promoting unnecessary vaccines or procedures. No surprise, though, when pet owners trust their veterinarian, they’re more likely to accept pricing.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dog visits to the vet have slipped 21 percent since 2001, and cat visits have taken a free fall, dropping 30 percent. As a result, preventable illness in pets is on the rise, which is frustrating for veterinarians. Obviously, they can’t help pets they’re not seeing.

“It’s really very simple: If we can get people to see veterinarians once or twice a year, pets would be healthier, and living longer, and overall pet owners could actually save money,” said Cavanuagh.

According to the IDEXX study – the secret sauce might be as old school as the vet (and also veterinary technician) being a trusted pal. With a trusting relationship, it’s ultimately the pet that wins.

©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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