Dr. Karen Felsted: Do Pet Owners Even Understand the Need for Veterinary Care?

One big reason the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study has gotten so much press is that it is one of the most actionable studies ever done in veterinary medicine.

A very surprising finding was the number of pet owners who really don’t understand the need for veterinary care, which of course means we have to do a better job in educating them. This is something veterinarians and team members have been focusing on in the past but evidence from the Bayer study indicates we need to do more of it and do it differently.


Take a look at the above chart; as you can see, many pet owners are confused and misinformed.  About 1/3 of pet owners surveyed in the Bayer study agreed with the statement (either completely or somewhat) that “except for shots, I would not take my pet to the veterinarian.”  While another 1/3 didn’t agree with that statement, they didn’t disagree either.  So that means we have almost 2/3 of pet owners who are not firmly committed to visiting a veterinarian for anything other than “shots.”

Another statement pet owners were asked about was “I would only take my pet to the veterinarian if it was sick.”  Again, about 1/3 of pet owners agreed with this statement and another 18 percent were neutral; that means that over 50 percent of pet owners are not firmly committed to visiting a veterinarian for preventive care.

The last set of bars shows that about 1/4 of pet owners agree with the statement that “routine checkups are unnecessary” and another 1/4 are neutral meaning they don’t disagree with the concept.  Again, about 50 percent of pet owners aren’t firmly committed to the idea that routine checkups are important.

These are big numbers—the majority of pet owners really don’t fully understand why veterinary care, particularly preventive care is necessary.  In addition to the information shown here, it was also noted that many pet owners believe older pets need less care and indoor pets need less care—this clearly doesn’t make sense!  Certainly indoor pets are less likely to get hit by a car or get into a fight with another animal, but they are still just as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease.  We all know that as we get older, we are more likely to become ill—things just don’t work as well as they used to.  However, pet owners don’t seem to be translating that knowledge about themselves to their pets and they think that as pets age they need less care.

The responsibility for education falls on veterinary practices—both veterinarians and other team members.  What do you think we should focus on to better educate pet owners?

– Dr. Karen Felsted