First-time dog owners are discovering that dog ownership is not as simple as they thought, according to a new survey by Merck Animal Health, and the cost to dogs may be substantial.

While people adopted pets in record numbers at the outset of COVID-19 for comfort and companionship, the survey found that 73% of people who became first-time dog owners during the pandemic pet adoption boom have considered rehoming their dogs once the pandemic ends. Among the reasons given, the survey revealed:

  • 58% wished that taking care of their pet’s health didn’t take so much time
  • 38% of pandemic puppy owners were surprised by how attention puppies require
  • 35% said that giving their dogs flea and tick preventive treatments was an unexpected hurdle

In other words, where Wired magazine announced the pandemic pet adoption boom back on April 18th, 2020 as “the feel-good pandemic story you need to hear right now,” the story now points toward a possible conclusion that will not feel good for pets, shelters, and animal rescue organizations.

How can veterinary teams help?

The good news from the Merck survey is that 70% of respondents indicated they would like to learn new ways to keep their dogs healthy, whether their dogs were puppies or adult dogs. This need for information, of course, suggests that while new dog owners are considering rehoming their pets after the pandemic, many have not made up their minds. Right now, they’re simply looking for pet-ownership support in the form of trusted pet health information, and logic dictates that how this need is met will play a determining part in whatever ultimate decisions new dog owners make about their pets. Yet only 19% of respondents had spoken to their veterinarian during the pandemic.

While the survey did not indicate why dog owners had not spoken to their veterinarian, it is reasonable to presume the reasons included two grounded in the realities of life and the pandemic:

  • Pet owners do not know that they can ask veterinarians for general information about caring for new pets.
  • Pet owners find it difficult to set aside time to chase down information while dealing with life turned upside down by COVID-19.

Speaking to both possible reasons, the press release about the Merck survey concludes with a quote by Dr. Courtney Campbell (DVM, DACVS-SA), who says to pet owners, “I encourage all new pet families to foster an open and trusting dialogue with their veterinary medical team. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or get your questions answered.”

The problems facing practices in responding to questions about new pet ownership, however, are substantial. In addition to staffing issues, curbside service, and other challenges imposed by COVID-19, practices are busier than ever, meaning practice teams may have little or no time to answer questions by new dog owners.

To help practices get new dog owners the information they need while saving practices time, we’d like to remind all subscribers to ClientEd, the pet health education resource for pet owners, that they have access to a wealth of pet health education handouts that they can print or email to new pet parents.

If you don’t have time to figure out which of your clients are new dog owners, the simplest thing to do to support new dog owners is to send out a quick email from your hospital’s email platform along these lines:

Subject Line: Important information for new dog owners

Many new dog owners are discovering that taking care of an adult dog or puppy is not as easy as they anticipated and have many questions. To assist new pet parents, we wanted to send out some helpful general information about caring for a new dog. If you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Haven’t Heard of ClientEd?

As a unique pet health education library designed to strengthen your veterinary team’s roles as animal health educators, ClientEd encourages client compliance through easy-to-understand information. Written and reviewed by animal health and communication experts, ClientEd contains more than 2,100 handouts that cover a wide range of pet health topics and species. Handouts are written in plain language, include many custom illustrations, and can be shared in print or digital form.

ClientEd is easily integrated into practice websites, including WebDVM custom veterinary websites. This helps your practice support your clients 24/7 with credible information that is quickly available, easily understood, and supports active decision-making. ClientEd also integrates into many popular practice management systems, streamlining workflows and providing library access to all veterinary team members.

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