New Bayer study updates vets' cat-friendly progress, issues recommendations

Bayer HealthCare and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) have teamed up to improve health care for cats by getting more of them through the doors of veterinary clinics.

The cornerstone of their partnership has so far been research – learning about the barriers that are keeping cat owners from regularly taking their pets in for veterinary care, as well as how veterinarians can do a better job of encouraging more clients to come in.

Representatives from the organizations held a presentation on Jan. 21 at NAVC to share the results of “The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III,” which polled 401 practice owners to understand changes occurring since their last study regarding visit numbers, focus on cats, and attitudes toward feline practice.

According to Dr. Ian Spinks, president and general manager for Bayer Healthcare LLC Animal Health Division, North America, five of the primary takeaways from the latest study are that:

  • Visit volume and revenue are still decreasing, but the decline in visits has slowed.
  • There is a growing recognition of opportunities to better serve cats.
  • Veterinarians have a growing understanding of their capacity to help more cats.
  • Veterinarians often have good intentions when it comes to improving cat care, but they need stronger follow-through.
  • Respect and awareness for the AAFP are increasing among veterinarians.

Good intentions, poor follow-through
According to John Volk, senior consultant at Brakke Consulting, the new study indicates that veterinarians see increasing cat visits as a top priority for growth, yet “their actions don’t match their feelings about cats being underserved.”

As an example of this, he discussed how many veterinarians are not attempting to resolve the No. 1 issue that keeps clients from bringing their cats in: stress.

Bayer’s previous studies found that clients often resist bringing cats in for veterinary care because they are stressed out by the experience, and they believe their cats hate going to the veterinarian. Although Bayer presented that information to veterinarians two years ago, Volk said many veterinarians have still not made changes within their practices to mitigate cats' and owners' stress levels.

Volk said 41 percent of veterinarians said they had changed their practices to reduce cats’ stress over the past two years, 24 percent said they haven’t but they intend to, and 35 percent said they haven’t made any changes and don't intend to.

Other statistics that indicate veterinarians have room for improvement when it comes to attempting to increase their cat visits include:

  • More than half of the practices polled said their appointment books were less than 70 percent filled, which indicates there is still plenty of room to see more cats.
  • 95 percent sent reminder postcards and 79 percent made phone calls to encourage future appointments, but only 42 percent of practices monitored whether those efforts resulted in the client making another appointment.
  • 56 percent of polled practices used a standardized approach to wellness exams, while 44 percent said they left it up to each individual doctor.
  • 31 percent of practices have not trained their staff on how to make cat visits less stressful.

Reversing the trend of declining visits
Now that Bayer and the AAFP have learned more about clients’ barriers to visiting and veterinarians’ efforts (or lack thereof) to address declining visits, they have issued this list of 11 tips to help veterinarians set the stage for busier, more cat-friendly practices:

  1. Find unserved/underserved cats in your practice
  2. Educate cat owners on carrier use and transporting
  3. Make your waiting room as inviting to cats as possible
  4. Have cat-only examination rooms if possible
  5. Regularly train all staff in cat-friendly handling techniques
  6. Review and refine cat exam protocols
  7. Talk through the exam to explain procedures and findings to cat owners
  8. Use and dispense feline-friendly medications
  9. Send home exam report every time
  10. Schedule next exam before the cat leaves your practice
  11. Join the AAFP and become a cat-friendly practice

For more information about the study, visit the Bayer website or the AAFP website.

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