Each year, Banfield Pet Hospital (banfield.com) compiles its State of Pet Health Report, which captures and analyzes medical data gathered from more than 8 million pet visits at its hospitals. However—in a departure from the traditional State of Pet Health Report format—this past year, Banfield looked outside the walls of its practices for insights on how pet owners feel about preventive care.
The State of Pet Health 2015 Report leveraged insights stemming from a large-scale, online anthropology research initiative conducted over the course of a year (see Methodology). This research, which was focused on dogs and cats, was intended to more organically understand pet owners and their attitudes toward pet care and wellness.
Banfield’s internal strategic insights team oversaw research that analyzed more than 2 million online conversations to identify what qualities owners were looking for in those providing health care for their pets. This research revealed gaps between what pet owners want and what veterinary teams are actually delivering.
A category-specific online anthropology research initiative “listened” to 2 million online consumer conversations across forums, blogs, and social communities—both pet and nonpet specific—over the course of a calendar year (June 1, 2013–May 31, 2014).
The highlights of the findings include:
- Preventive care is a decreasing priority for many pet owners. The report states, “Research shows that the pet population is growing, and pet owners continue to invest in their pets’ overall well-being. Yet, industry data shows that pets are spending less time at the veterinarian than they used to, and preventive care appears to be a low priority for pet owners.”
- Pet owners are growing more comfortable waiting longer between veterinary visits, with the majority of dog owners comfortable waiting 16.9 months in 2014 compared with 11.4 months in 2011.
- Veterinarians and pet owners differ on their definition of preventive care. While veterinarians designate preventive care as including vaccines, spay/neuter, and parasite control, pet owners say it should include diet, exercise, care, play, and emotional well-being.
- For many pet owners, interactions with their veterinarians are not meeting expectations, and are seen as transactional. That means, when they consider the overall wellness of their pets, they also turn to groomers, boarders, daycare providers, breeders, and trainers for advice.
- Pet owners most commonly look for information on behavior, health concerns, breeds/genetics, and food/nutrition/diet.
The report states that veterinarians have significant opportunities to reach clients by bridging the communication gap with regard to:
- SERVICE: Highlight the knowledge and expertise of veterinarians—beyond vaccines and parasite control.
- UNDERSTANDING: Discuss with owners their pets’ health, social skills, and behavior, and expectations for their pets’ future.
- LONG-TERM PLANNING: Incorporate discussions about pets’ life stages, breed-specific needs, and personalized care early on.
- RELATIONSHIPS: Focus communications on relationships among pets, owners, and veterinarians; emphasize the joy of pet parenting, not just medical care.
In pet owners’ own words, they wanted a veterinarian who:
- “Advises me, but let’s me make decisions.”
- “Puts my pet first.”
- “Respects me.”
- “Goes the extra mile.”
Path to Pet Wellness: The Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2015 Report reflects data collected from a very large population of pets and their owners. Although the information is vague, the results are consistent with other recent surveys1 and, therefore, likely to be largely correct. Attitudes of pet owners are changing, and clients are redefining their priorities. Veterinarians need to be aware of these trends in order to remain relevant to current and future clients.
As veterinarians, we are used to being the ones who set the “norms” for preventive care and wellness medicine, and we did that when the clients came to our clinics for annual examinations. However, fewer clients are coming in for those yearly appointments and, instead, they are increasingly relying on the Internet as a resource, talking to each other and listening to other pet care professionals, such as trainers, breeders, and groomers. Unfortunately, the information they receive is often misguided and erroneous.
Our veterinary education places us in the best position to provide accurate and correct guidance to our clients, but it is important that we present those recommendations in a manner to which the client is willing to listen. Additionally, we must address topics that are important to the pet owner, such as family relationships, pet training, and breed-specific concerns. We must reach out to pet owners by being active in the broader pet care community, and provide information on pet owners’ terms via social media and Internet-based resources. Only then can we begin to teach pet owners the value of veterinary professionals for a new version of wellness and preventive care.
—Lesley G. King, MVB, Diplomate ACVECC & ACVIM (Small Animal Internal Medicine)
University of Pennsylvania
- von Simson C, Volk J, Felsted KE. Bayer veterinary care usage study: The decline of veterinary visits and how to reverse the trend. AVMA Convention presentation, 2011, slide 68.