Human/Animal Bond Impacts Veterinary Spending, Dip Seen In Number of Veterinary Visits

While American families own more pets and spend more on dogs — not cats — at veterinary clinics, the number of doctor visits has declined, according to data from the U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook. The publication was released this month by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Members of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) plan to tackle the issue of declining feline veterinary visits — despite rising cat ownership numbers — at the first CATalyst Summit in February.

“We dont know exactly why it is happening, but it does represent a call to action for the profession to ensure that cats medical needs are adequately met,” said Valerie Creighton, DVM, AAFP president.

As a group, the AAFP works to dispel the myth that cats are “independent creatures that do not require the level of medical attention that pet dogs receive,” she said. “We know that this is not true, and in fact, cats can be quite adept at hiding signs of illness until more advanced stages. We need to take a proactive approach and intervene earlier to maintain wellness in these cherished pets.”

The summit will provide an assembly for key industry players — from business and academia to humane groups and private practitioners who have a vested interest in championing feline health. 

“Our desired outcome will be an effective national initiative that will pave the way to improved medical care,” Creighton explained. “This will benefit all of us, and most especially the cats!”

Overall, the AVMA research shows that pet owners are motivated to pay for pet care because of their personal bond with pets, not their financial ability. In addition, pet owners are buying fewer drugs at the clinic.

With advances in veterinary medicine, pet owners are spending more money on pet care though AVMA experts attribute the increase to major services instead of routine care. In fact, the number of annual visits has dropped, which some attribute to the change in vaccination protocols. For example, in 2006, dogs averaged 1.5 visits to the doctor while that number was 1.9 in 2001.

However, in 2001, physical exams — not vaccines — were the number one reason dog owners took their pets into the veterinarian. Data for the Sourcebook was collected in 2006 from 50,000 pet owners. It has been published every five years by the association.