By Dr. Becker
In 2013, an online pet prescription company called PetCareRx conducted a survey of over 1,100 pet owners from 440 households “to discover how much the rising costs of pet healthcare are affecting the lives and lifestyles of pet parents in the United States.”1
According to the American Pet Products Association, in just five years the average annual cost of caring for a dog has increased 15 percent to $1,649, and cat care costs have risen by 28 percent to an average of $1,271 per year. During the same five-year period, the median U.S. household income has dropped 7.3 percent.2
PetCareRx concluded from their survey results that indeed, the cost of pet healthcare is having a dramatic effect on the lives and lifestyles of pet parents. Three out of four pet owners are concerned about their ability to afford the care their pet needs.
Most Pet Owners Would Pay Any Amount of Money to Keep Their Pet Healthy
According to the survey results, the number one pet owner fear is that their pet will “suffer from a chronic or acute illness.”
Interestingly, the survey revealed that while 73 percent of pet owners say they would pay almost any amount of money to keep their pet healthy, 35 percent avoid veterinary visits to “save money.” If pet owners don’t see the value in routine visits to traditional veterinarians as helpful in preventing illness, it could explain these conflicting concerns and priorities.
It’s interesting to note that in my recent video discussion with Dr. Barbara Royal, a holistic and integrative veterinarian here in the Chicago area, she mentioned that her practice has tripled in size in just the last year. She also knows of other holistically oriented practices that are experiencing tremendous growth. The expanding popularity of non-traditional vet practices seems to point to an increase in the number of pet parents searching for – and willing to pay for -- alternatives to the traditional preventive health care approach.
Also interesting is that pet owners across all income brackets are cutting back on flea/tick and heartworm preventives, vaccinations, and veterinary drugs, presumably to save money. If the vast majority of pet owners are willing to pay any amount to keep their pet healthy, why are they backing away from the foundational elements of “preventive” healthcare according to the traditional veterinary community?
Could it be that more pet owners are questioning the value of chemical pesticides, vaccines and other drugs in keeping their companions healthy?
And how many pet parents have owned or know of a dog or cat that has suffered an adverse reaction from a pest preventive, vaccine or medication? Is it possible the decrease in use of these chemicals is not so much about money as it is about concern for the health of pets?
The #1 Fear of Pet Owners: Their Pet Will Get Sick. So Why Are Preventive Care Veterinary Visits Declining?
When pet owners were asked about their top fear for their pet, 37 percent gave as their number one fear that their pet will suffer from illness. Of note is that only 11 percent list as their number one fear an inability to pay for pet health care. These results indicate pet owners are much more concerned about their pet becoming ill than their ability to pay for treatment.
This is further illustrated by the fact that the second most popular money-saving action among those surveyed was to learn about preventive health and wellness. In addition, over 20 percent of pet owners surveyed invest in preventive exams and seek homemade remedies.
While PetCareRx and the traditional veterinary community in general prefer to look at pet care spending trends as primarily a function of the economy, I interpret these survey results differently.
When 73 percent of pet parents surveyed agree with the statement, “I would consider paying almost any amount of money to keep my pet healthy,” it can’t also make sense that they are cutting back on products and services that presumably keep their companion healthy. So what’s the real reason a declining number of pet owners are visiting traditional vets and agreeing to the usual protocol of pest preventives, vaccines and drugs that treat symptoms rather than the disease?
The survey also asked pet parents what they would be willing to cut back on for their pet’s health. Over 80 percent said they would eat out less. Over 70 percent would cut back on household expenses, 66 percent would take fewer vacations, and 41 percent would reduce the amount they put into savings.
Clearly, based on these survey results, pet owners are willing to make significant personal and financial sacrifices to keep their animals healthy. So again I must ask, what’s the real reason that pet parents are spending less on traditional forms of pet healthcare?
Does Traditional Preventive Healthcare Serve the Needs of Our Pets?
The preventive pet healthcare that most holistic and integrative vets (including me) provide doesn’t involve the traditional menu of revaccinations and administration of pesticides and other chemicals. We don’t view those things as “preventive,” but often as barriers to good health.
Our focus is measuring your pet’s organ function and overall health, nutrition and diet, appropriate supplementation, exercise and other lifestyle habits. Your dog’s or cat’s wellness and nutritional goals change yearly, and once your pet reaches middle age, it’s best to do a review every four to six months and make adjustments as necessary. It’s really a simple concept: preventive healthcare should assist and maintain health. It should help pets avoid preventable disease without burdening their bodies with unnecessary, potentially devastating chemicals.
Effective preventive healthcare takes a proactive approach. Regular wellness visits should be about checking the status of your pet’s health and taking proactive steps to prevent serious disease from developing.
This is, in my experience, where so many traditional veterinary practices miss the boat. Might it be the reason for the decline in traditional vet visits and the use of vaccines, pesticides and other chemicals?