01 March 2017, at 12:00am

A NEW study conducted by Bayer HealthCare, in collaboration with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), reveals that 78% of veterinarians in the USA believe that better care for cats represents one of the most significant missed opportunities for the profession.

The study found that 46% of veterinary clinics have recently started taking specific steps to increase visits among current feline patients, attract more cat-owning clients, and make their practices more “friendly” to cats. But there is still much to be done.

Results from the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III: Feline Findings were presented at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando in January. This third in a series of studies sponsored by Bayer HealthCare’s animal health division was presented in partnership with the AAFP and Brakke Consulting. The study’s findings are based on a nationally representative online survey of 401 veterinary practice owners in November 2012.

The purpose of the study is to improve veterinary care of pets by determining why visits are declining and helping veterinarians reverse the trend, according to Ian Spinks, president and general manager of Bayer’s animal health division in North America.

Earlier phases of the study found that cats were less likely to receive regular veterinary care.

“The new study aims to deliver actionable insights that improve feline healthcare and strengthen veterinary practices,” he said.

It found that despite the fact that most veterinarians recognise that cat owners consider a visit to the veterinarian to be stressful for themselves and their pets, nearly one- third of practices have not trained staff on how to make visits less stressful for cat owners.

In addition, relatively few practices have adopted procedures such as: consulting rooms used only for cats (35%); cat-only waiting areas that are physically and visually separated from dogs (18%); and cat- only days and appointment hours (11%).

“To some extent, veterinarians’ own biases may play a role in how they pursue feline patients,” said Dr Elizabeth Colleran, owner of Chico Hospital for Cats in Chico, California, and past president of the AAFP. 

“For example, the study found that, while veterinarians are nearly equally likely to own a dog or cat – 81% versus 70% – 48% prefer dogs while only 17% prefer cats.”

The study further confirmed a preference for dog over cat patients by veterinarians, who indicated: dogs are easier to work with than cats during “wellness exams” (90 versus 65%); cats are more challenging to diagnose than dogs (57 v. 34%); and dogs actually enjoy visiting the clinic (79 v. 15%); 20% of vets with cats reported not having conducted a wellness exam on their own cat in the past 12 months.

Bayer and the AAFP have come up with “practical tips” to increase the number of cat consults including: find the un-served/under-served cats in your practice by asking about other household pets on every visit and tracking reminder compliance; and educating cat owners on carrier use and transport.