Bayer-AAFP study breaks down why 52 percent of cat owners avoid regular vet visits

While conducting the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, Bayer and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) have worked diligently to learn why cat visits to the veterinarian have been declining over the years.

During the AVMA convention in Chicago, the two groups teamed with Brakke Consulting to present the Phase III results of the study explaining why cats are not being taken to the veterinarian regularly. They also gave veterinarians some practical tips to increase the number of cats being brought through their doors.

What barriers are keeping cat owners from visiting the vet?

The Phase III study surveyed 1,938 cat owners from the United States, as well as engaged several focus groups, Bayer said. The final data gave researchers valuable insights into the minds of cat owners regarding why they are hesitant to visit the veterinarian, or why they sometimes don't even see it as necessary.

Through the survey, researchers found that 52 percent of cats in the U.S. had not been taken to the veterinarian in the past year for necessary checkups. They also found that only half as many cats receive annual exams as dogs.
These disheartening numbers are largely due to cat owners anticipating unpleasant experiences while taking their cats to the veterinary clinic, the survey reportedly showed, as 58 percent of cat owners said they believe their cat hates visiting the veterinarian. Thirty-eight percent of cat owners also said they get stressed out at the thought of veterinary visits. 

In addition to cat owners avoiding a potentially stressful situation, the study highlighted that cat owners are more likely to perceive their pets as self-sufficient, low-maintenance creatures that very rarely need medical attention, Bayer said. The results showed that:

  • 81 percent of pet owners see cats as independent and self-sufficient, meaning they require minimal attention.
  • 81 percent thought their cat was in excellent health.
  • 53 percent said their cat had never been sick or injured.
  • 63 percent of cats in cat-only households never go outside, so their owners assume the cats are not susceptible to disease. Presenters pointed out that indoor cats still suffer from diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions, and thyroid deficiencies.

"The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III: Feline Findings confirms that we treat cats differently than dogs when it comes to caring for their health, in part because cats are so effective at masking signs of illness and injury," said Ian Spinks, president and general manager, Bayer HealthCare LLC Animal Health Division, North America.

Another reason why cat owners are less likely to visit the veterinarian than dog owners boils down to how they acquire their pets. According to the study, owners are more likely to take pets in for annual checkups if they are purposely engaged in acquiring the pet, but this isn't the case for the majority of cat owners who find cats and bring them into their homes or acquire cats for free in other ways, researchers said. Dogs, on the other hand, are often purposefully acquired at a cost to the owner, and they typically come with written care instructions. 

"Unfortunately, cats do not come with a care label or tag and, in fact, many are acquired because they are perceived to be low-cost pets," said Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, MS, Dipl ABVP, owner of Chico Hospital for Cats, and AAFP past president.

What can veterinarians do to increase cat visits?

After analyzing the study results, the research team came up with a list of concrete steps veterinary practices can take to de-stress cat owners, improve visit experiences for feline patients, and ultimately encourage more visits from cat owners. Their recommended actions for veterinarians include:

  1. Win the client over during the first visit by engaging them and setting the stage for a long relationship.
  2. Educate clients about the pre- and post-visit experience.
  3. During the exam, let your veterinary team engage the client and cement its status as the client's cat-care coach. Try to get the client to talk about their cat.
  4. Educate all staff members in feline-friendly handling techniques.
  5. Don't make the cat owner feel guilty about lapses between visits - reward good cat owner behavior.
  6. Be assertive about reminding cat owners to visit regularly.
  7. Ask every pet owner about other pets in their homes to find cats that need care.
  8. Maintain a calm, non-threatening environment with features such as cat-only waiting and exam rooms.
  9. Offer owners one-page, take-home cat health resources such as brochures or report cards.
  10. Consider becoming an AAFP Cat Friendly Practice.
Learn more about the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study on the Bayer DVM website.