The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has completed a study gauging the attitudes of pet owners towards those in the veterinary field. Kristie Bradfield discovers a few interesting things.
We need vets – there’s no doubt about it. They are the champions of our animals and we tend to trust them implicitly. But is the veterinary and pet healthcare industry under pressure from increasing client expectations and media scrutiny?
At the beginning of 2014 the AVA commissioned a study to find out what pet owners think about vets. Here’s how it was broken down: 822 people were surveyed from all states and territories across Australia — 607 were current pet owners, 108 were former pet owners and 107 people had never owned a pet. Of the current pet owners, 57 per cent had more than one pet, with dogs and cats being the most popular animals.
“Many of the results were exactly what we expected, while others were a bit of a surprise,” says Graham Catt, CEO of the AVA.
Cost is a concern
Unsurprisingly, cost is the key factor in a pet owner’s decision to seek veterinary treatment — 61 per cent of pet owners cited cost as a barrier to visiting the vet for a general check-up. But it wasn’t those with lower annual incomes who had difficulty seeing a vet — it was those with the lowest disposable income.
The research also revealed a potential problem with the cost of vet services and their perceived value. Just over half (52 per cent) of all respondents said that vet fees were very reasonable or “understandable even if they can be hard to afford”, but 48 per cent deemed them unreasonably high or “a bit higher than seems reasonable”.
“When asking current pet owners to consider vet fees in the context of their emotional attachment to their pet, the figures remained largely unchanged,” Catt says. This means that despite the love and emotional attachment we have for our animals, cost is a prohibitive factor in seeking treatment. “Even among households that could find $2000 in an emergency fairly easily, more than half still indicated concern about the cost of annual health checks,” he says.
Interestingly, while 88 per cent of owners surveyed had heard of pet insurance, only 15 per cent had taken out a policy.
Pet owners in New South Wales and Queensland had a significantly higher uptake of pet insurance compared with those in all other states and territories. The other two groups most likely to have taken out pet insurance were owners who visited the vet twice or more each year (21 per cent) and dog owners (18 per cent).
Only 16 per cent of current pet owners and 26 per cent of former pet owners cited pet insurance as a way of overcoming barriers to taking pets for an annual check-up.
The AVA and its members have been increasingly concerned about a number of media stories in the past few years that have been critical about the fees that vets charge and the products and services they try to upsell. But the survey also found that these media reports had very little impact on the public’s perception of vets.
Only 37 per cent of those who listened or watched current affairs broadcast media recalled seeing or hearing coverage about the veterinary profession. These people were more likely to remember a story about vets doing a good job of looking after pets (26 per cent) than stories about overcharging (15 per cent) or selling “unnecessary” products or services (10 per cent).
In fact, rather than being wary of vets, the respondents instead considered vets on par with general practitioners, nurses and pharmacists for trustworthiness.
- Nearly one-fifth (18 per cent) of current pet owners had not been to a vet in the past year.
- The vast majority of pet owners had a favourite vet practice (82 per cent).
- 58 per cent of respondents said that upselling had never happened or hadn’t happened very often to them.
- The media has very little influence over people’s perception of vets. Only 37 per cent said they recalled hearing or seeing a story about the veterinary profession.
- Just over half of those surveyed (52 per cent) said vet fees were reasonable; 48 per cent deemed them unreasonably high.
- One in five owners were not aware of pet insurance.
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