Last weekend as my family prepared for hurricane Irma, we opened our doors to a couple we hardly knew. They were a family who lived on the coast, and like so many other pet parents, they were looking for a place to go with their four cats.
I learned a lot in the 48 hours we spent with them, including their worldview towards veterinary care and their pets’ health. It was clear from our first meeting that they love their cats more than anything. They think of their cats as their children and they spoke about them almost the entire time they were with us.
Sadly, however, all four of their cats were obese. One was so large he could barely walk and could no longer clean himself. It was heartbreaking.
Probably like you, I am one of those people who, when confronted with a problem, sees opportunity. Here are three problems - and opportunities - I see with people who passionately love their pets, yet don’t go the vet.
1. PROBLEM: Lack of knowledge - Our visitors hadn’t seen a veterinarian in eight years. Two of their cats were 10 and two of them were 11. In their words, “they aren’t outdoor cats, so we don’t see the need to bring them in for shots.” The lack of education on what else is done during routine wellness exams beyond annual vaccinations is frightening. They knew there was a possibility that their cats might have diabetes, but I truly believe they didn’t understand that wellness visits are for more than just shots.
OPPORTUNITY: Educate pet owners in your community about wellness visits: Annual exams check on the overall health of pets and can often detect underlying symptoms that otherwise might go unnoticed by the pet parent. Wellness visits should be a priority for every Vet. It’s an opportunity to educate your clients even if they’re not walking through your door every month. This means utilizing social media and email marketing to promote healthy lifestyles, symptoms and diseases and seasonal pet health issues that may arise.
2. PROBLEM: Lack of trust/relationship with a practice - Prior to adopting their four cats, our guests told me a story of their now deceased cat. They took the cat to the veterinarian who said the cat needed dental work. $1,500 and one month later, the cat was still acting unusual so they decided to get a second opinion. Turns out, the new veterinarian looked into the cat’s mouth, identified cancer and said the cat had a very short time to live. The husband ended up placing a feeding tube in that week to keep the cat alive until his wife arrived home from a business trip and could say goodbye in person.
OPPORTUNITY: Building a relationship of trust with pet parents: This is key, not only for retaining clients, but it is also vital to a patient’s health. As a vet, it is your job to continue strengthening relationships with clients, even if they aren’t walking into your practice every 3-6 months (or even every year). It is also important to remind them of the importance of routine wellness exams that can identify issues like cancer early on. Sending one postcard a year is not enough anymore.
3. PROBLEM: Fear of a phone call or another way of saying it, fear of being judged. Our houseguests don’t take their current pets in for a check-up because they fear they’ll be judged. They worry that they’ll be questioned as to why they don’t bring their cats in more often.
OPPORTUNITY: Direct Appointment Booking. Yes, that’s right, this fear of being judged can easily be solved through booking appointments digitally. If clients are really avoiding going to wellness exams for fear of making a simple phone call, then clearly they don’t have a strong relationship with their practice. Overthinking the appointment-making process should not be a reason pet parents don’t bring their pets in more often. The process should be a no-brainer, and can be easily solved by booking an appointment digitally. You can assure pet parents once they come in that even though it’s been awhile since their last appointment, that they’re here now and that’s what matters.
At the end of the day, it is your job to ensure pets are healthy. You may not be able to control what goes on at home, but people who truly love their pets should not avoid visiting a veterinarian out of fear or lack of trust. This couple loves their cats, they just need some guidance from an understanding, pro-active veterinary practice who is on “their side”.