Long Tail Theories No. 3: How the veterinary profession has coped through the pandemic


Welcome to the third article in our Long Tail Theories blogs: a look at what’s been happening in the animal world during coronavirus and beyond. 

These pieces mark five years of PR and marketing communications campaigns from The View for pet and vet clients.  We’ve been talking to a range of experts with fascinating insights and opinions on the business, the animals themselves and our deep relationship with them, particularly in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This time we look at vets – and their businesses.  The multiple stresses and how they’ve coped to make the best of an extraordinary time.

For the last month or so many have resumed routine surgeries and appointments although they tend to remain somewhat limited.  They’re still not conducted in a ‘normal manner’, to comply with social distancing guidelines. But, necessity being the mother of invention, the pandemic has spawned innovative new ways of working.

The roll-out of telemedicine amongst veterinary practices

We chatted with James Westgate, editor of Veterinary Times and Veterinary Business Journal. He told us: “Despite the ‘stay at home’ message, especially in the early days of the crisis, demand from clients hasn’t fallen away and pressure on vets has been enormous. The challenges have been many and varied from business to personal.”

With practices only handling emergencies in person, for the first few weeks there’s been significant take-up of telemedicine for other cases.  It sounds like the perfect solution, but is not straightforward for vets.  James explains: “It’s difficult when they can’t physically have patients in the surgery.   They can only see the animal and aren’t able to ‘palpate the abdomen’ (vets like to do this!!) and it’s not always easy to get owners to handle their pets successfully to show what may be wrong.

He continues: “The vast majority of vets are now offering telemedicine but it’s taking 30-35% longer for each consultation than before Covid. This is partly to do with the sheer amount of time it takes.  For instance they may find themselves charging £60 for an out-of-hours weekend consultation, but be hanging on a Facetime call for 10-15 minutes before an owner can locate their cat in the garden.”

But telemedicine can offer real efficiencies too.  Co-founder of charity StreetVet, Jade Statt adds: “Our work is out there in the towns and cities, giving free veterinary treatment and care to pets of the homeless.  We are conducting more telemedicine.  It means we’re able to support our clients from a distance, whether they’re now temporarily in hotels or B&Bs.

She continues: “We are looking to have telemedicine available in our future StreetVet Accredited Hostels. We will be able to triage animals to see what is needed. I think it will be a great benefit.”

Veterinary teams squeezed

According to the vet/pet specialist market research consultancy CM, 88 per cent of all UK veterinary practices have been furloughed or laid employees off.  And SPVS the veterinary leadership and wellbeing organisation polled members in April and May.  It reported that staffing capacity was running at just 40-60 per cent of the normal workforce.

Depleted teams have had to cope with all the work, whether emergency, teleconsults or increasingly now more routine in-surgery appointments.  This has posed real issues in terms of social distancing for staff, especially where animals need to be handled by more than one person at the same time.  31 per cent of the SPVS respondents said they were dissatisfied with the social distancing arrangements for staff within the workplace.

One vet questioned by CM Research explained: “I’ve been running the practice six days a week with one nurse and one manager and rest of staff furloughed. It has been exhausting. There are no funds for locums to relieve me as a vet and the practice has had to get loans and grants from the government and redundancies may occur.”

James Westgate continues: “There’s been burn-out for teams in many places, but the good news is that out of all professions, vets are one of the best placed to get through the pandemic safely, given they are so well trained in bio-security and infection control.”

Veterinary sector no longer recession-proof, but some margins increased

It’s been a strange time for the bottom line too.  Westgate says: “The veterinary sector has previously been recession-proof, but it’s probably not anymore.”  But different pictures ARE emerging.

From a business perspective, there are a few good news stories.  Some practices have increased margin while overall turnover has decreased, although much of it is due to the fact that so many staff have been on furlough – and the biggest cost is salaries.  Some, according to CM Research, have reported only a slight dip in profits due to picking up emergency work from other local practices.

And less measurable, but rather hearteningly, one of CM’s respondents said: “Most clients have been very supportive, and quite a few see veterinarians as key worker.  They’ve thanked us for doing our job”.  Another reported: “In some ways it has been beneficial as the time has allowed reflection on life.  The clinic is more relaxed.”

James again: “The backlog of patients and problems or preventative medicine (for instance vaccines that haven’t been identified as an emergency) that weren’t seen during lockdown will create a spike in demand, unless there’s a second outbreak of coronavirus and lockdown has to be reintroduced in various areas.

Despite the significant downs recently, there have been countless happy new relationships forged with pets of all shapes and sizes and a deepening relationship with existing ones.  In the next of our Long Tail Theories series of blogs, we’ll look at the human-animal bond; just what makes it so deep and so special – and how it makes us better people because of it.  Please join us next time!

 

 

 

 

The pet pendulum: the alarming ups and downs for animals in the age of Covid-19…


Young girl & puppy The View Long Tail Theories blog

…and the argument against getting a new pet. 

In this, our second blog in the Long Tail Theories series we’ve talked to our expert friends in the pet and animal health industries and we debate the huge disparities in fortune for both humans and animals during lockdown and beyond.  For a consultancy that works so much to promote the joy of pet ownership, it underlines how much The View needs to continually educate people and fly the flag for responsible care in its PR and marketing campaigns.

Though these last few months may have been golden days for many pets and their owners, for others they have been relentlessly grinding and there have been some desperately hard times.

Pet ownership – and the puppy and kitten buying frenzy

Jade Statt, co-founder of charity StreetVet, says: “We’ve heard a lot of people saying the only enjoyable part of lockdown for them was getting out and walking their dog.”

She continues: “But, with my vet’s hat on I have real concerns about people buying pets during the current circumstances.  So often the intention is good, but it can be negative for the pet.  For so many people, the reality of being in the house all day will not be ongoing.  Pets will have issues afterwards because of it.”

It’s been fairly well documented that there’s been a huge upsurge of interest in owning pets during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s surely a natural desire, when people are faced with being alone for a protracted period and want some company.  They think it’s a great time to take on a pet for the family. The broadcast content specialist Markettiers and its market research arm Opinion Matters shared various pertinent nuggets with us.  They surveyed the UK public in the middle of lockdown and found that 1 in nine of us (11 per cent) were thinking of buying a pet at the time.  A week later one in five non-pet owning adults (just under 20 per cent) said they were considering buying one.

James Westgate, editor of Veterinary Times and Veterinary Business Journal told me: “There have been a lot of people buying puppies, but until recently vets were only able to provide emergency services, so basic requirements such as inoculations weren’t conducted in most cases.”

That’s backed up by CM Research, the specialist veterinary and pet owner market research firm.  In its lockdown study of UK vets it found they’d either reduced or stopped vaccinations by 95 per cent and microchipping by 92 per cent.  They’re two core requirements for breeders and new owners.  And neutering was stopped or reduced by a staggering 98 per cent.

Our wonderful former client, the honorary president of the Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians, former RSPCA chief vet and TV presenter Mark Evans suggests: “In one way, it’s true: ‘we’re all home so now’s a great time to buy one’, but demand has outstripped supply and it’s encouraged irresponsible breeding to keep up.  This will have a negative impact on the quality of pets produced.”

At The View we conducted a quick couple of Google searches for ‘puppies for sale’ and things have gone bonkers.  Even last week it was showing over 34 million results.  And that’s just for the UK.  A search for ‘kittens for sale near me’ showed no fewer than 55.3 million results.  Google’s ‘answer box’ also reveals that people are asking ‘where can I get free kittens’.

Getting a pet – the due diligence

Paid ads from Battersea and the RSPCA are prominent at the top of the page and will provide tried and tested rehoming procedures and have vetted pets, but the big winners in the organic search stakes are the likes of Gumtree.com and Preloved.co.uk.  Clearly would-be owners have to conduct their own due diligence here.  The sometimes eye-watering sums charged for young companion animals, and the preponderance of ‘fashion breeds’ suggest perhaps not everyone is in it for the love of their animals.  This is particularly notable with mixed breeds, with ever increasing numbers of portmanteau name configurations.

Deceitful pet sellers are also using ‘petfish’ tactics to lure unsuspecting buyers. These unscrupulous people create a fictional online persona and pretend the puppy or kitten they’re selling you comes from a happy home. DEFRA has a whole campaign aimed at creating awareness around this.  It warns: “Some have severe health problems. Often, they won’t have been socialised with other animals or people.  In reality, the animal may have been bred or kept in poor conditions.”

At least Lucy’s Law legislation is now in force.  Championed by vet Marc Abrahams, it means anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder (and no younger than eight weeks old), or consider adopting from a rescue centre.  No third parties, or ‘puppy farms’ can be involved.

Accommodation with a ‘no pets’ policy

Gabby Keuhn, runs the PAAW House website, blog and dog-loving social community.  It campaigns for a change in legislation to allow pets to live in rented and leasehold accommodation.  She commented: “I am obviously in support of Lucy’s Law and anti-cruelty, but my own concern is that there will be acquired ‘lockdown’ puppies and kittens, that are now part of the family, in loving homes, but which may have to be relinquished because owners find they’re not allowed to keep them. 55% of private landlords currently have a ‘no pets’ policy”.

She continues: “This is especially pertinent for Millennials who mostly rent rather than own their own homes.  According to Mintel, 37% of under 38-year olds now own dogs. Couple this with the Office of National Statistics revealing that 35% of the rental market in Britain belongs to 25-34-year olds and it looks stark.

“I am working tirelessly to change the law, to banish unnecessarily discriminatory anti-pet clauses” she finishes.

Pets at home during Covid

Considering matters in the home, during the pandemic, Mark Evans cautions: “From a puppy’s perspective, in the first three months, the importance of its socialisation and having the right experiences cannot be underestimated.  Being stuck at home means it’s exposed to the sights, sounds and smells of a normal domestic house, but little else.  They won’t have met other dogs, which is crucial, nor people who are different from those at home (age, sex, ethnicity and so on).

He continues: “They won’t have been going out to the vet, travelled in cars, or gone on public transport.  And more DIY or vacuuming going on might make them bomb-proof, but if done badly could over-sensitise them.

“Varying experiences, handled well at this stage, are critical to a dog leading a happy, healthy, chilled-out and comfortable life. You’ll have a more ‘formed’ animal by this age. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it later.  But it’s much more difficult.

“Having a pet at this time could, on the face of it, be wonderful from a human perspective, but there’s a flipside. During coronavirus there’s been a change in the dynamic of a cat or dog’s lifestyle and exercise and the ability to spend time resting and sleeping. Not simply youngsters, but older dogs, cats, even guinea pigs and rabbits could be being hassled by bored people, who’ve run out of DIY and TV to watch.

“It may well be that the dog or cat loves playing, but, because the family is home all the time, might mean their pets never get a break.  Puppies particularly get exhausted and need sleep and peace and quiet. There’s no chance for them to get away, whereas in normal working homes people tend to go out to work or school more and leave them in peace.

“The other observation is that, for many people living in lockdown or working from home together, it’s put a real strain on relationships, again, because you can’t escape.  So why wouldn’t that be the same if you’ve got a dog?  Or it might be your partner’s dog and you find it quite irritating. Another potential stress trigger for all concerned.”

Dogs of the homeless

One of the toughest scenarios has been for those sleeping rough with their pets. We’ve witnessed it first hand as, over the last few months, The View has been proud to support the incredible charity StreetVet with its PR.  StreetVet provides free veterinary treatment and care for animals of the homeless – and has been working feverishly to develop an accredited hostels scheme, where people can go with their dogs.  The initiative was profiled last week in The Guardian. 90 per cent of current U.K. hostels are NOT pet friendly.

As the charity’s inspirational co-founder Jade Statt explains: “Most rough sleepers feel they’ve lost everything else; they simply won’t lose their beloved dog too, in order to secure a bed.  So accredited hostels would make the world of difference to them”.

Then, at the start of lockdown, councils were given just days to move thousands of vulnerable people off the streets and out of shelters into self-contained rooms, many in hotels or B&Bs.  But there was huge confusion as many were simply not set up to accommodate pets.

StreetVet has been intensely busy helping these establishments too, in this unprecedented situation.  They’ve been giving them practical help and advice so homeless dog owners can be kept together WITH their pets.  Where this is simply not possible it has even arranged places for dogs in boarding kennels until things settle down.

In our next Long Tail Theory blog, we look at how another side of the pet business world; the veterinary practice – and its patients – have fared.  Please join me then to hear some further fascinating observations and thoughts from eminent people within it.

 

 

 

If Britain is a nation of animal lovers…


…why are some experts predicting a tsunami of pets facing mental or physical distress?

Announcing a new series of authoritative views and comment on ‘pet and vet’ issues

Dogs dumped.  Cats cast out.  Animals with advanced anxiety.  Or is a golden age about to dawn for companion animals and their owners?

As we come out of lockdown and emerge into an uncertain new world, our pets are facing a potential fork in the road.   What does it mean for their physical and mental health – and ours too?  And how is the animal care sector faring from a business point of view?

At The View, we’re marking five years of delivering PR and marketing campaigns for pet and veterinary clients

We’ve met some amazing people along the way.  A number have kindly given their time to help us produce this thought-provoking series of conversations and interviews around the pet and vet industries.  They range from animal charity founders, eminent veterinarians, expert animal behaviourists, market research companies and trade press too.  They look back over these strange weeks and months, since Boris told us all to stay at home.  And they forecast what the future might hold.

Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you The Long Tail Theories…

These are just a few of the topics we’ll cover:

There’s been an explosion in puppy sales.  What will happen to these fluffy bundles when people go back to work, or sadly lose their jobs?  Will there be a nation of depressed and anxious ‘home alone’ dogs suffering because they weren’t socialised properly when young?  Or a wave of pets turning up at animal shelters seeking new homes?

While separation anxiety is recognised as a risk for animals when owners leave them at home, lockdown has been posing other pressures for pets.  Some are receiving too much attention; they can’t get away and have no down time.

We’ll consider new challenges faced by the animal health sector too, for instance lack of inoculations, neutering and routine check-ups during lockdown.  These mean serious health issues will have gone undiagnosed and a wealth of welfare concerns will be brewing up.

The pressure on veterinary professionals has also been huge.  While many have been furloughed, others have had to run emergency services with vastly reduced teams, increased hours and increased stress.

Telemedicine has been lauded as an exciting extension of the animal health offering, yet, in reality remote consulting is tricky.   The animal can’t be examined properly and the owner may struggle to communicate or understand what’s needed.  It’s also time consuming and impacts on a practice’s financial bottom line.

Then there are the dogs of the homeless.  We discuss how they’ve coped during the pandemic; the tough times they and their owners have endured. This has been especially challenging where councils have been charged with removing rough sleepers from the streets during Covid, but few establishments are set up to accept their dogs too.

The human-animal bond is exceptionally strong here and plays a huge part in supporting mental health for these vulnerable people. One extraordinary charity however has enabled people and their pets to stay together.  It’s working to establish dog-friendly, accredited hostels across the UK, with significant success.

The positivity of pets

Despite all this, legions of owners have loved the time at home with their pets.  Many have said their daily exercise with their dog is the most enjoyable part of their day.  They’re reporting their pets have played a huge role in helping reducing the stress of lockdown and buoying their mental health overall.  Care and play with a much-loved pet is something that can bring the whole family together, creating happy memories that will last for years.

The wonder of wildlife

There’s also significant evidence to show that people are waking up to wildlife. They’re noticing birds and birdsong, bees and a legion of other British beasties, sometimes for the first time.

They’re really benefiting from the therapeutic effects they give – and loving spending time in greenery and exercising in the great outdoors – even if it’s just the local park. And parents have been finding new ways to have fun with their children, learning about the different species and how to create environmentally friendly garden habitats to help them thrive.

Anyway, we’ll listen and learn from the pet experts over this series of blogs and doubtless come away with a host of fascinating observations and insights.  They can only help us have better relationships with our pets.  They’ll doubtless guide our future PR and marketing communications campaigns as well, along with our cherished Believability™ methodology.

Do look out for our inaugural Long Tail Theory blog – out shortly.  And do let us have your comments – we’d love to hear what you think!