More Pets = Fewer Vet Visits? What’s Up With That?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Decrease in Vet Visits

If you’re reading this, you’re unlikely to comprehend this simple math problem: Despite an increase in the population of pets, the total number of visits to the vet is on the decline.

That’s weird, right? You’d think an increase in the pet population would call for a concomitant rise in the number of vet visits. But it’s not. And that’s exactly the conundrum we veterinarians currently seek to comprehend.

Veterinarians have been experiencing a decline in vet visits for a few years now. The implementation of three-year protocols for vaccines, coupled with the downturn in the economy, is presumably to blame for the bulk of it. We've observed that our clients are way more willing to forgo an annual checkup if they don’t really need any “shots” that year.

We get it. We'd be stupid not to recognize that a progressive vaccine protocol (fewer vaccines) means a readjustment in how our clients perceive our services overall. We understand that just as dentists were forced to reevaluate their practices in the wake of fluoride supplementation (far fewer cavities to treat), we’ll have to find our way as well.

Yes, we veterinarians have been thrust into the twenty-first century knowing that lots of pet owners don’t see the same kind of value in us as they once did. And those that do often find they don’t have the impetus to bring in their pet when the annual vaccine issue doesn’t offer that extra inducement.

So when you consider the recession we’ve just endured, is it so shocking that our pets have taken a back seat to our collectively floundering finances? Is it so incomprehensible that some pet owners might consider a reduced-frequency vaccination protocol a reason to neglect their pet’s general health? Not really. Consider the findings from the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study (a popular and well-regarded study that released its final set of findings last July):

“Some pet owners think that routine checkups are unnecessary for dogs and cats. The cost of veterinary care can be much higher than many pet owners expect. Plus, cats are plain difficult to take to the clinic.”

According to the study, these three primary client-related factors (low perceived necessity for checkups, the expense thing, and cat issues) are primarily associated with the recent decline in veterinary visits for dogs and cats.

The study then went on to identify three primary environmental factors associated with the decline: The recession, fragmentation of veterinary services (i.e., visiting low-cost clinics for wellness and vaccination, where available), and the use of the internet as a source of information about animal health.

Which all makes sense. After all, competition in veterinary medicine is stiff enough among the high-frills and no-frills crowds that pet owners start dealing with their pet’s healthcare piecemeal and start losing their sense for the fundamental value of maintaining one primary healthcare provider. It’s understandable that with a wider marketplace for vet services we’d see some clients fall through the cracks in our imperfect system.

Then there’s the internet to consider: A full fifteen percent of pet owners in the survey said that with the internet, they don't rely on the veterinarian as much. Thirty-nine percent look online first if a pet is sick or injured. And when veterinary care starts to cost so much and information comes so cheap, who wouldn’t jump online at the first sign of trouble? They’d be stupid not to.

These are all sound reasons why more pets = fewer vet visits. Do you have any of your own insights as to why this is happening?

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