Cat and Owner at a Veterinary Clinic

Shift to Preventive Veterinary Care May Be Curative

Remember the adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Many people assume the statement was made during a discussion about health and healthcare, which is the context in which the quote is most frequently used today.

But they’d be wrong.

Benjamin Franklin wasn’t contemplating proactive healthcare for himself or preventive veterinary care for his animals when he penned those words. He was actually dispensing fire safety advice and advocating for an organized fire department in Philadelphia (identifying himself only as an “old citizen” in an anonymous letter to the editor of his own newspaper).

Franklin’s wisdom still rings true. Not just in support of fire safety but in promoting a paradigm shift in companion animal medicine. Just as dental and human health have moved to a proactive approach to care, veterinary care for U.S. dogs and cats is in transition: away from annual vaccines and symptomatic care to a preventive care model based on regular physical exams. And although that’s not historically how veterinary medicine worked, companion animal veterinary practices are successfully making the shift. (Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.)

Are there opportunities for marketers of pet health-related products to align product messages with preventive or wellness care?

Like so much else in veterinary medicine, the answer is “It depends.”

ALIGNING BRAND AND/OR PRODUCT MESSAGES WITH A PREVENTIVE CARE APPROACH

Any animal health or pet food company can support preventive healthcare for companion animals. In fact, many organizations do through membership in Partners for Healthy Pets, a unique collaborative alliance of more than 100 veterinary associations, colleges of veterinary medicine and animal health companies. If your organization already belongs to this coalition dedicated to improving pet health, thank you! And if your company isn’t involved in Partners for Healthy Pets, please consider supporting its efforts.

When it comes to product messaging — and this may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth noting — some products and services naturally align with a preventive approach to pet healthcare. Other products don’t. Pet food, vaccinations, internal and external parasite preventives, and reproductive counseling are all examples of products or services that fit into a preventive care paradigm.

Where do you start bringing product or brand messaging into alignment with preventive care? Here are three suggestions:

1. Identify where your product fits within the AAHA-AVMA preventive care guidelines

You’ll want to review the preventive healthcare guidelines developed by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and then consider your answers to these questions:

    • Does my company’s product (or service) help prevent or reduce risk of a particular problem or health condition? Or is this product used to treat a specific health issue?
    • If the product (or service) helps prevent or reduce risk of a health condition, what are the benefits to pets, pet owners and veterinarians of prevention versus treatment?

The prevention-related benefits that are identified can be incorporated into product positioning, messaging and communications to veterinary professionals and/or pet owners.

Sometimes, however, when you want to change how veterinary professionals and pet owners approach a particular potential health issue, you need to create an environment in which change can occur. In 2002, that was the case for Novartis Animal Health U.S. and its parasiticide products (Sentinel®, Interceptor®, Program® and Capstar®).

What did Novartis do to facilitate change? The company brought together experts in parasitology, internal medicine, public health, veterinary law and private practice to identify best practices and establish guidelines for internal and external parasite control in dogs and cats. These experts became the inaugural Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), an independent authority that wrote up guidelines on how veterinarians and pet owners could better protect pets from parasites while reducing the risk of zoonotic parasite transmission.

More than 15 years after its creation, CAPC still advocates for year-round heartworm and broad-spectrum parasite control for dogs and cats and year-round flea and tick control for dogs. Now a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, CAPC enjoys funding from a broad group of sponsors that reads like a who’s who of veterinary diagnostics and parasite preventive products companies.

2. Help create better informed pet owners

When it comes to wanting long, healthy lives for dogs and cats, we’re all on the same page with pet owners. But there appears to be a substantial gap between what veterinary professionals communicate and what pet owners understand when it comes to preventive healthcare. To help close this gap, educational efforts are needed to help pet owners understand the value and benefits of preventive care and the role that veterinarians play in their pet’s life. We can do that through repeated and targeted communications. (Remember, the “marketing rule of seven” states a prospective consumer needs to “hear” a message at least seven times before they’ll take action.)

Research shows today’s pet owners are different when it comes to their approach to pet healthcare. The Pet Owner Paths™ research commissioned by Merck Animal Health found “new school” pet owners — those born between 1980 and 1998 (millennials) — are poised to be excellent veterinary clients because they see themselves as conscientious pet parents. Specifically, these pet owners invest more time in their pets, evaluating their needs more thoroughly and spending more money than “traditional” pet owners (born between 1946 and 1979; baby boomers and Generation X). Millennial pet owners are also more likely to value prevention and use products preventively and/or continuously rather than intermittently or as a treatment.

The Pet Owner Paths study also found that millennial pet owners are going to do their own information gathering and research, both online and off. Almost 9 out of 10 (89 percent) millennial pet owners do some research prior to visiting the veterinarian, compared with 41 percent of traditional pet owners.

Marketing to these pet owners now and in the future will require a shift in technology use by veterinarians and animal health and pet care product marketers. This is supported not only by the Pet Owner Paths research but by the 2016 U.S. Study of Pet E-Commerce. That study found dog and cat owners are more active online than the general adult population. It also revealed dog and cat owners are more likely to participate in online social networking, downloading, visiting news and information websites, blogging and purchasing products online than the general population. So if you’re going to be where your clients are, you need to make a firm commitment to a robust and varied online presence.

And, yes, we know there’s plenty of misinformation and anti-vet advice thriving on the internet. But it also means that there are opportunities for animal health and pet care products marketers to create and share content that’s accurate, informative and transparent — the type of educational information that veterinary professionals would be willing to recommend to their clients.

3. Support veterinary practices with tools to help them educate their clients

We get that your sales reps have jobs to do — highlight and sell specific products and/or services to veterinary hospitals and other retail outlets. But your sales force is also a great resource for veterinary practices (assuming practice managers aren’t ducking your reps’ calls) that you can use to deliver training and educational materials to veterinary teams. You can also provide veterinary practices with tools and training to facilitate client communications and with content to share with their clients.

STILL PLENTY OF WORK TO BE DONE

The companion animal veterinary profession’s transition to a proactive approach to pet healthcare has made considerable positive progress. During the first stage, awareness of the importance of preventive care and the capacity to deliver healthcare based on regular exams has been created. While the second stage — a change in pet owner attitudes toward regular pet healthcare visits — has yet to occur, there are signs that the message is breaking through. Gaining widespread acceptance among pet owners for preventive pet healthcare may require a change in pet owner generations — one that’s already begun.