When you think about small animal preventive care, what topics come to mind?
If you’re like most vet students, your list probably looks something like this:
- Physical exam
- Core vaccines
- Non-core vaccines (depending on lifestyle)
- Fecal parasite exam
- Feline infectious disease testing (FeLV/FIV)
- Canine heartworm and tick-borne disease testing
- Parasite preventatives
- Wellness laboratory testing (CBC/Chem, urinalysis)
While all of these things are certainly important, I’d like to encourage you to broaden your definition a bit.
In most cases, your vet techs will review all of the above items with your clients and hopefully gain authorization to perform these tests/treatments before you even enter the room.
In some cases, you may need to put in some more time, educating the owner about the value of these items… but, in many cases, the patient’s preventative care has already been authorized and you may be tempted to just enter the room, check the requested items off the list, and send the client on their way.
Resist this temptation!
What preventive care recommendations should you discuss with veterinary clients?
Preventive Care Topics for Veterinarians
While you may not have time to touch on every single one of these topics at every visit, focus on the following topics when speaking with your clients:
Dentistry: This should be an important topic at every single veterinary visit. Whether you are talking to clients about home care, recommending a thorough dental cleaning, or addressing a particular problem that you observe on your exam, dentistry should play a role in every client conversation. Even young puppies and kittens with completely healthy teeth should receive information on dental hygiene and preventative care, so clients can keep those teeth healthy.
Nutrition: As you are surely aware, clients are bombarded with nutritional misinformation on a daily basis. As veterinarians, it’s our responsibility to help them sift through this misinformation and understand how to distinguish fact from fiction. Ask your clients what they are feeding their pets and address any potential concerns associated with those diets.
Body Condition: Obesity is a common condition in pets, affecting 59.5% of cats and 55.8% of dogs.1 Therefore, weight management is a topic that should be discussed in the majority of your wellness appointments. Whether you’re providing weight loss information or helping to prevent unintended weight gain, this is a valuable component of preventive care.
Behavioral Issues: Every wellness visit should include at least a brief discussion of the pet’s behavior. Behavioral concerns are a common cause of stress to pet owners, they disrupt the human-animal bond, and they can potentially lead to pet relinquishment or euthanasia. When asking about behavioral issues, don’t just ask an offhand “any behavioral issues today?” Take a minute or two to ask your client whether their cat is using the litter box appropriately, or how their dog is doing with their new baby. The earlier you can get involved in managing potential behavioral issues, the better the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Increasing the Impact of Preventive Care Recommendations
In a perfect world, all of our clients would listen to all of our recommendations and do exactly what we recommend. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world! Use these tips to help improve your client compliance.
- Explain your recommendations. When clients are hit with a laundry list of recommendations, they can become overwhelmed. Take the time to explain the “why” behind your recommendations, personalizing your recommendation for their particular pet. Don’t fall back on blanket recommendations; instead, explain the impact a particular preventive care element could have on their particular pet.
- Make strong recommendations. Pay attention to your language. Avoid using phrasing like “I recommend…” or “I think we should….” and instead say “Fido needs…” It’s a small change, but it can have an impact!
- Be consistent. Clients may need to hear a recommendation several times before they agree to it. There will probably be a time when you’re hesitant to recommend something because the client has declined it several times in the past. Try to avoid this temptation. Make the best possible recommendations at every visit, regardless of the client’s previous actions, because today may be the day that the client finally okays your recommendation.
- Help clients set priorities. If your client is on a limited budget, they may be unsure where to start. Use your medical knowledge to help clients prioritize recommended preventive care.
Partner With Your Client
Preventive care is more than simply presenting a treatment plan and checking items off a list. Partner with your clients to discuss the pet’s well-being and make decisions that will help improve the pet’s health and welfare over the long haul. By taking time to explain your recommendations and have a true discussion with your patient’s owner, you can improve your patient’s veterinary care and the quality of their life.
- Pitofsky, M. (2019, March 12) Have you tried to help your pet lose weight? You aren't alone as most cats and dogs in the US are overweight. USA Today.