How Preventive Care Can Help Meet the Higher Standards of Today's Pet Owners

The pet ownership landscape is always evolving but one tenet remains true: pet owners care a great deal about their pets. According to a study from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, 95% of global pet owners consider their pets part of the family and 60-70% of participants were considered either mildly or highly bonded to their pets.

However, this potent human-animal bond is accompanied by higher expectations from today's pet owners and rising worries about care costs. In fact, 72 percent of pet owners responding to an exclusive Redfield & Wilton Strategies survey conducted on behalf of Newsweek said the cost of looking after their pets has increased in the past year.

  Wondering how to talk with clients about preventive care? Learn how to start the conversation in our e-book, 5 Tips for Talking with Clients about Preventive Care

Instead of worrying about these demands, veterinarians can reframe their mindset and embrace the connections of these highly involved pet owners. Veterinary teams can keep them focused on the foundation of long-term health: preventive care and regular diagnostic screening.

Today's Pet Owner

Today's most significant segment of pet owners trends younger, with millennials making up the highest percentage (33%), and Gen Z not far behind. For veterinarians and their teams to build trust and connection with their clients, it's critical to understand these pet owners better.

One aspect of millennial pet owners that can invoke frustration is the increased number of questions and requests for education and explanation compared to other demographics. To meet this expectation, veterinarians can communicate differently. This is the focus of much continuing education today—moving from one-directional client communication in the exam room to two-directional shared decision-making. The main impetus for this change in strategy is the change in the pet owners themselves.

Another concern of today's pet owner is the cost of care itself. In the Newsweek survey, 43 percent of poll respondents said they were very (21%) or fairly (22%) concerned about their ability to financially support their pet, while an additional 22% were only slightly concerned. While there are many reasons for increased veterinary costs it remains a significant concern. This is where client education can come into play. Let pet owners know that preventive care can help keep patients healthier and save money over the pet's lifetime.

Preventive Care for Elevating Care

68% of U.S. pet owners bring their pets in for routine wellness visits at least once a year. But shockingly, nearly one-third of pet owners don't remember being asked or have never been asked about preventive care and screening diagnostics. When surveyed about their reponse after reading a definition of preventive care diagnostics, 94% in the U.S. had a favorable opinion.

This is an area where veterinarians have a tremendous opportunity to provide client education. An IDEXX study shows routine diagnostic screening can help uncover potential issues in up to 40% of dogs and up to 60% of cats.1 But yet veterinary teams sometimes hesitate to recommend investing in screening tests for otherwise "healthy" pets. It's possible some veterinary teams hold preconceived notions that clients won't see the value in this testing. Even when well-intentioned, this hesitation can be misguided. Give pet owners the facts and an opportunity to make the best decisions for their pets and family. They might surprise you.

Tips For Effective Client Communication

Veterinary teams are more successful when they create a trusting bond with their clients and are effective communicators. 89% of pet owners globally say they have a close relationship with their pets. Keeping that connection in mind, here are some tips to help make the regular diagnostic screening recommendation a successful conversation with today's pet owner.

  • Start conversations on the very first visit. Pet owners at the first puppy or kitten exam or first veterinary visit with an adult or senior rescue pet are a very receptive audience. This time allows the team to lay out the preventive care lifetime journey for that pet at a high level, so the pet owner has clear expectations. This also allows them to financially prepare for the type of care they will choose for their pet and ask about payment options or resources.
  • Consider how these conversations will begin. The transition from traditional veterinary one-directional delivery in the exam room to shared decision-making between the veterinary team and the pet owner is critical. In this latter scenario, the veterinarian must act as the pet's medical advocate, provide clear education and recommendations to the pet owner, and, most importantly, remove personal judgment from the conversation. Today, veterinary technology exists to facilitate two-way conversations with clients. Encouraging the pet owner's participation as the pet's medical advocate at home and a key partner in compliance is equally important.
  • Remember that most communication is nonverbal. While it may take some practice and even possible role-play, positive body language is essential during these conversations. If possible, mirror the pet owner's body language (sit if they are sitting), maintain non-threatening eye contact, be an active listener, and convey clinical empathy.

Although veterinary medicine was born out of the tenet of preventive medicine, it is not always part of the discussion with pet owners. There are often good reasons for this, including staffing shortages, time constraints, and the assumption that pet owners already know the principles of preventive care. However, even in veterinary hospitals where preventive care is a core part of the mission, the value of these recommendations and routine testing can always be better communicated to pet owners.


1 Data on file with IDEXX.

Natalie L. Marks

Dr. Marks is a veterinarian, previous veterinary hospital owner, consultant, media expert, national and international educator, and angel investor with over 20 years experience. She is a passionate communicator within multiple media formats, such as industry magazines and national conferences. She has won many industry awards, including the Dr. Erwin Small First Decade Award, given to the veterinarian who has contributed the most to organized veterinary medicine in his or her first decade of practice. Other notable awards that she has received are Petplan’s nationally recognized Veterinarian of the Year (2012), America’s Favorite Veterinarian by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (2015), and Nobivac’s Veterinarian of the Year for her work on canine influenza (2017). The views and opinions in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Vetiverse or IDEXX.

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