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My Pet World: Veterinarians review the state of their industry

April 17, 2012|By Steve Dale

DENVER — The Conference of the American Animal Hospital Assn., held March 15 to 18, was attended by more than 1,200 veterinary professionals.

AAHA Executive Director Dr. Michael Cavanaugh kicked off the event with the State of the Industry 2011 review. While Cavanaugh's message wasn't all sunshine and lollipops, he was noticeably more optimistic than last year.

For example, visits to the veterinarian ended their long drought. For the first time in years, dog visits to a vet office increased (just under 2% compared to 2010), while cat visits went up a whisker.

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"We're nowhere near where pets should be to get the preventive care they need," Cavanaugh said. "Still, this is a sign we may finally be turning a trend around."

Several talks at the conference focused on the overall decline in veterinary visits, which predates the floundering economy. As a result, many preventable conditions and illnesses are on the rise, affecting quality of life and perhaps the life span of pets.

Cavanaugh and Dr. Ron DeHaven, executive vice president and chief executive of the American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA), shared the stage to speak about the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare, a combined effort of organized veterinary medicine, industry and nonprofits to better understand why pets aren't being taken to veterinarians as they should be, and to do something about it.

It turns out that veterinarians and technicians are not always delivering the messages they think they are to pet owners. The reverse is also true: Clients' perceptions of what they've been told by veterinary staff aren't always in sync with what veterinarians think they've conveyed. To help solve the problems, the Partnership has created a survey for veterinary offices to give to staff and pet owners.

As an example of the communication gap, veterinary professionals often believe they're discussing heartworm disease with pet owners — yet most dog owners (64%) leave the veterinary clinic without heartworm medication. Dr. Mark Russak, newly elected AAHA president, called this number a "tragedy."

Cavanaugh added, "If I were king for the day, every dog and cat would have protection. In dogs, heartworm is easy to protect, and not easy to treat. In cats, there is no treatment. Year-round protection should be the standard of care."

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