Why Have Routine Vet Visits Been Declining Since 2001?

A study shows that for various reasons, people believe routine visits are unnecessary -- no wonder emergency visits are increasing.


Americans spend $53 billion on their pets each year on items such as gourmet dog food, designer collars, and luxury beds, yet dog visits to the vet have slipped 21 percent since 2001, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. But emergency visits are up, indicating people are waiting until their pets are really sick to do anything about it. And the rates of chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, and arthritis are increasing in dogs.

When I saw these statistics I was surprised. Like most dog parents, I consider my dog a member of the family and want to make sure she’s at the peak of health. Wouldn’t it make more sense for visits to the vet be on the rise instead of declining?

In 2011, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a study that examined the reasons for the decline in vet visits. The study found that some pet parents think that routine checkups are unnecessary and the cost of veterinary care stopped others from scheduling appointments. The study’s authors pointed out that the recession was one contributing factor, but this doesn’t explain why overall spending on pets has increased every year.

The most notable barrier to regular vet check-ups were the fact that most vaccinations are now required every three years instead of annually, and 33 percent of dog owners agreed that if their pet did not need to be vaccinated every year, they would not take the animal to the veterinarian as often. Add to this the accessibility of the Internet to find answers about animal health and the preponderance of mobile clinics at pet stores and other locations providing low-cost vaccination alternatives, and you get a clearer picture as to why veterinarian visits are down.

In order to better educate the public, the AVMA, the American Animal Hospital Association and more than 90 other veterinary organizations are spending $5.5 million in an advertising campaign to promote yearly veterinary clinic visits for dogs and cats. The ads point out the benefits of visiting your vet regularly, explain how our dogs’ natural tendencies are to hide illnesses and vulnerabilities as an evolutionary response, and how a veterinarian can uncover these maladies.

Additionally, the AAHA is providing information to the public on how you can best maximize your visit with your vet. The organization recommends making note of any new or out-of-the ordinary behavior, such as your dog drinking more water than usual, suddenly having accidents in the house or sleeping more than normal, and to discuss these behaviors during your appointment. It’s also a good idea to write down (or snap a photo of) the type of food, treats and supplements you give your dog. If you’re like me, you remember the dog food by the look of the package and not by name.

On a recent weekend, I took my dog Sasha, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, to the vet to get her rabies vaccination. While we were there, our veterinarian checked out her gait, asked about any changes in her health and behavior, and answered my questions, in addition to administering her shot. Sasha wasn’t necessarily pleased with this activity, but I rewarded her with a walk at her favorite squirrel-filled park afterwards. I felt better knowing that she’s healthy, especially since she’s eight years old and entering her more senior years.

And because we all have a lot of things to remember, there’s a handy website, Healthy Pet Checkup, where you can register your pet and receive yearly email reminders to schedule your next vet visit.

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About the author: Cathy Weselby is a purple-lovin’ ambivert who enjoys exploring new places and ideas, the arts, humorous memoirs, collecting old magazines, and making collages. She and her husband live with Sasha, a rescued Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.

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