Why Preventive Pet Care Has Declined

Lab puppy with vet and owner in exam room

Are you the type of proactive pet owner who hits the veterinary clinic annually or even semi-annually in the interest of basic wellness, disease prevention and early detection? Or do you tend to visit your vet only when your pet is already sick? Sometimes it’s unavoidable — illness and accidents have a way of coming on suddenly. But if you’re honest with yourself, you can probably see yourself fitting into one of these two categories. I know I can.

I’m more likely to wait until I’m already ill before seeing my general practitioner (which is also when I finally address my routine care). And, yes, sometimes this is also the case with my own pets’ care. Unfortunately, this is the same attitude that many clients adopt.

As veterinarians, we want to see our patients on a regular basis (at least once a year) to offer wellness plans and help head off disease. The trouble is that most of our clients are, well, only human. They’d rather procrastinate and rationalize than do all the preventive sort of things that we all know we should.

Be honest: We know that preventive care is cost-effective and that we’d be healthier for it, but forking over the cash for routine blood work or a wellness procedure (like dentistry) has a way of roadblocking our best intentions. That’s human psychology for you, and basic wallet-guarding behavior, which might not be so problematic were it not for the current state of the economy.

It’s clear that the economy isn’t making it any easier for veterinarians to gain client compliance when it comes to routine visits. In fact, studies show that while pet ownership went up 2.1 percent in 2010, vet visits are moving in the opposite direction.

It is partly the economy. But it's also possible that many vets haven’t made compelling cases for why pets need to be seen on a regular basis. When you consider the lifespan of the average pet, a visit to the vet once a year is the equivalent of a human getting a check-up only every six or seven years.

Delaying regular veterinary exams may be contributing to the rise in common and preventable conditions, such as dental disease and flea infestations. Periodontal disease can have an impact on how the kidneys, liver and heart function. Pet obesity is another preventable problem that, if corrected early, can extend the lifespan of a pet — and it's hard to put a price on that.

I believe there’s something to be said for glamming up wellness and prevention, so that pet owners can come to understand how crucially cool the not-so-sexy world of wellness can be. This is partly why the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare was created this year. It’s an organization that's made up of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and other groups to help troubleshoot this issue.

There’s also something to be said for placing more emphasis on preventive care at the general practice level. While there has been growth in relation to emergency clinics and specialty practices focused on pet sickness, perhaps many problems could be diagnosed and treated earlier by your regular vet — before they escalate to the point when a pet needs specialized (and often more expensive) care.

The good news is that times are changing. Veterinary medicine, much like human medicine, is making inroads when it comes to nutrition and other approaches to wellness. Sure, some of that is for economic reasons, but I have no beef with that — if it gets more pets to the vet, I can live with that.

Now if only it could help me get my own pets to the vet.

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