It’s no surprise that nutrition is often the last topic discussed in a veterinary clinic, if discussed at all. As a result of misinformation readily available from sources other than the veterinarian – think internet, TV, print advertising, and the clerks at the local retail outlet - clients often tell veterinarians the food choices they make for their pets instead of the other way around. And the choices they’re making may not be the best for their pet. If veterinarians are to regain their role as nutritional advisors, rather than surrender it to the internet experts or stocking clerks in a retail store, several things need to happen.
Take time for a nutritional history. You don’t have time not to discuss nutrition. Not only is it important to ask the type of food the client is feeding, you also need to determine the amount and frequency of feeding, as well as how many and what kinds of treats the pet gets each day.
Address pet obesity. In today’s market, over 50 % of cats and dogs are overweight or obese. Diet is key in the management of obesity, yet many veterinarians are reluctant to discuss the subject for many reasons: the owner herself/ himself is overweight, clients perceive it as an insult or a cosmetic judgment, it is not an urgent concern, etc. We need to explain that dogs with proper weight outlive their obese counterparts by as much as two and a half years 1 and that overweight cats develop medical issues such as diabetes and arthritis.
Feed healthy pets. Many veterinarians have a gross misconception of how much of their revenue results from diet sales. The national average is 4-6% of total revenue. Why not focus on feeding healthy pets, which in most practices constitutes a higher percentage of the pet population rather than just feeding the few that need therapeutic diets?
Designate at least one person on your staff as your hospital’s nutrition resource. Every staff member brings at least one unique skill to the team. With the wide variety of educational offerings provided by manufacturers of veterinary therapeutic diets, any team member willing to study can become the “go-to person” in the hospital for nutritional questions. Most clients appreciate the correct nutritional information for their pet if you take the time to present it.
Remember that good nutrition is good medicine. The words of Hippocrates “Let food be your first medicine” also apply to pets. While many staff members may recoil at the thought of “making sales”, the same employees may embrace the idea of “feeding more pets” especially when challenged with the alternative - pets being fed diets of questionable quality recommended by inexperienced pet store employees and TV personalities.
And remember that good medicine is good business. If you practice good medicine and put your patients first by recommending quality diets for healthy pets as well as sick patients, the dollars will take care of themselves. And while markup on food is traditionally not as high as other products, remember that the client will make monthly diet purchases and that revenue will add up quickly, while increasing client traffic in your hospital.
This article first appeared in Benchmarks 2015: A Study of Well-Managed Practices.
Dr. Genie Bishop is a former practice owner and now is the Scientific Communications Manager/Veterinary Marketing for Royal Canin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.