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Put Pet Anxiety on Your Radar for Veterinary Practice Conversations

By Pam Foster
January, 2017

It’s no secret that pet anxiety is rampant, and clients are seeking solutions to ease their dog’s or cat’s suffering.

But is this topic really worth your attention as a veterinary distributor rep? After all, you’re already super busy with a big list of products to discuss during your clinic visits.

The following information will help you decide.

First, let’s look at the main types of pet anxiety.Vet Advantage image: Help veterinary practices provide relief to clients whose pets suffer from anxiety.

Separation anxiety: According to an AVMA Collections article, “Separation anxiety is one of the most common canine behavior problems and is diagnosed in 20% to 40% of dogs referred to animal behavior practices in North America.” 

Noise anxiety: A Dogtime article notes that, “The estimates vary, but somewhere between 5 million and 15 million dogs suffer from noise anxiety severe enough for their owners to seek help.” This can include fireworks, thunderstorms, or even loud trucks rolling down the street.

Travel anxiety: This comes from an article by “According to our survey of over 2,000 dog owners across the United States, over 5% of dogs suffer from issues during travel.” That’s just one survey. We’re assuming that the statistics may be much greater, since we know many pets that have travel anxiety on long and even short car rides.

Vet-visit anxiety: For years now, Dr. Marty Becker has championed a national Fear Freesm initiative to help ease pet anxiety problems related to clinic visits… and in March of this year, AAHA introduced its Fear Free Certification Programdeveloped by Dr. Becker.

My own pup suffers from noise anxiety (thunderstorms and fireworks) and car-ride anxiety. Those are his little legs under the bed in this photo.

Vet Advantage image: Help veterinary practices provide relief to clients whose pets suffer from anxiety.

So the big question for you is — where should clients go to find help for their pets’ anxiety? 

Ideally, they should start with a visit to the vet clinic. And that’s where you come in.

You can help clinics become more comfortable as the go-to resource for pet owners seeking solutions.

To explain why and how you should discuss pet anxiety with your clinics, we posed the following questions to three industry professionals who specialize in anxiety management: 

  • Jennifer B. Styrsky, Ceva Marketing Manager, Behavior
  • Heidi Hungerbuhler, Virbac Technical Services Field Veterinarian
  • Derek J. Archambault, Director of Marketing


What is the main problem or struggle in trying to manage anxiety in veterinary patients today?

Dr. Styrsky: I think there are many reasons we struggle with behavior in veterinary medicine. Probably the biggest reason is lack of awareness, on both the pet owner and veterinarian’s part. Pet owners don't recognize or understand what fear and anxiety look like in their pets or believe that the "problem" behavior is just part of pet ownership. They then don't seek advice. Veterinarians face the same lack of awareness — for the most part, veterinarians are still not trained in basic animal behavior. That lack of training, I think breeds fear. They don't want to ask the pet owner about behavior problems because they think the exam will take too long, they won't have the answers, more issues will raise their heads, etc. In a nutshell, it's lack of awareness of what behavior problems look like and the solutions for those problems for both pet owners and veterinarians.” 

Dr. Hungerbuhler: “Busy schedules often mean that owners are gone from the home 8-10 hours a day. Long hours coupled with a changing view of the place of pets within the household may lead to the kind of anxiety we rarely used to cope with in the veterinary profession. Although there are many pharmacological interventions that can be used, applying behavioral techniques is important to curbing the destructive result of anxiety induced behavior. Teaching clients those behavior strategies and ensuring that they are performing them in the home is a time intensive challenge.”

Mr. Archambault: “A major challenge with managing anxiety is that it manifests itself in so many different ways, and clients may not necessarily associate behavioral issues with anxiety issues. ‘Bad behavior’ may not be just a lack of training or discipline, but actually have its roots in anxiety issues such as separation anxiety, sound aversion, and more. In addition, once the problem is identified, unless it is destructive, clients may not want to go to a pharmaceutical solution to resolve the issue. Some clients are less receptive to pharmaceuticals (anxiolytics) for anxiety or behavioral issues than they are for other medical issues. However, many of those clients are open to alternatives, including supplements, as it gives them a non-pharmaceutical place to start addressing the issue. Clients have unprecedented access to information about products via the internet, so having a range of options is important so that the issue can be addressed regardless of how they feel about different solutions.”


What is the overall opportunity for practices if they offer anxiety solutions?

Dr. Styrsky: “The opportunity lies very close to home. You don't have to be a behavior expert to start practicing behavior medicine in practice. If a veterinarian recognizes fear and anxiety in their patients, they can make the pet's visit less stressful. We know both dog and cat owners experience stress either thinking about or actually bringing their pet to the vet. It's the first step to helping more patients and is the easiest to master. Once a veterinarian recognizes the body language of dogs and cats, this can naturally evolve into asking more questions of the owner about how the pet behaves at home. Pointing out signs of fear and anxiety educates the client and may prompt them to discuss behavioral issues they didn't realize were a problem.” 

Dr. Hungerbuhler: “More practices are trying to incorporate a ‘fear free’ exam model into their protocol, and treating anxiety is the core principal of that technique. Reputation is an important component to building a client base, being known as the doctor that helped calm a household by reducing the stress of the beloved pet will certainly draw in additional clients. Overall, considering the behavior of the pets as part of the wellness of the household is necessary piece of being “the other family doctor”.

Mr. Archambault: “Practices that consider anxiety as part of their examination process and questioning can ensure that both the client and the pet are happy, healthy and safe. It can help identify behavioral issues that could lead to physical issues for the pet if left unaddressed, or the client making a decision regarding keeping the pet if the issues become too severe. From a financial standpoint for a clinic, not only does that mean happy clients in the short term, but also happy pet families that will continue to care for pets for generations.

One of the biggest causes of anxiety is the vet visit itself. Having a protocol regarding managing that anxiety will make the experience for everyone involved. Calming supplements given in advance of the vet appointment can help to sooth the patient. By solving this common anxiety issue, the client will look to the clinic as a partner in maintaining their pet’s health as well as making it easier for clinic staff to properly care for the pet.”


What are the specific benefits of these solutions?

Dr. Styrsky: “By focusing on the clinic environment, you can make the experience more pleasant for pet and owner. When everyone involved in the veterinary exam has a better experience, those are the patients more likely to return for routine care. This means better care for the pet and a healthier bottom line for the practice. This also helps keep pets in their homes. We know that 80% of the pets relinquished to shelters are done so because of behavioral problems. Most veterinarians don't realize that they lose, on average, 15% of their clientele to behavior problems every year.”

Dr. Hungerbuhler: “Clients that have dealt with the anxiety induced destructive behavior of a pet will seek any solution to address the problem. By taking the time to correctly diagnose and address the issue we will make the clients very loyal to both that specific doctor and the practice as a whole. Additionally, we can be the assigning the first line treatment instead of having the client choose an anecdotal remedy or online advice.”

Mr. Archambault: “Clinics have the opportunity to sell calming solutions, including supplements — this not only provides a great solution for clients right there in the clinic, but can also generate a highly profitable stream of revenue for the clinic.”


How would you suggest that distributor reps open the conversation with veterinarians — to help them offer today's solutions? 

Dr. Styrsky: “I suggest starting in clinic. The veterinarian will have the most control over the environment and compliance. Start simple, the changes in the hospital don't have to be dramatic to have dramatic effects. Placing anxiety product- sprayed towels over cat carriers the minute the cat is brought into the clinic helps provide a visual and auditory barrier, and it helps the cat feel safe and secure in her environment. Providing treats/food during any aversive event can help dogs have a better emotional state during the event.” 

Dr. Hungerbuhler: “Simple questions about what the doctors are experiencing in the exam room can help open a window into their practice philosophy and daily caseload. Ask them about their comfort level in addressing behavioral problems. Bring resources they can trust into their practice, take the time to meet with the local behaviorist and collect data driven solutions that they will feel confident in prescribing.”

Mr. Archambault: “A great way to start the conversation is to ask how they help their clients manage vet visit anxiety, something that every vet clinic deals with on a daily basis. A recommendation to give a problematic pet a calming product such as a supplement can help make the vet visit a much better experience. Once the client experiences the positive effects of a solution that works, a conversation can happen about other anxiety- driven behavior issues that may be happening at home as well.”


Do you know of any resources reps can use to help educate practices and also enhance client education about better anxiety treatments/management?

Dr. Styrsky: “There are many resources available to help make happier vet visits: Sophia Yin's Low Stress Handling Certification, becoming Fear Free Certified, and accessing Ceva materials on Making Happier Vet Visits. Most people forget that AAFP also has Cat Friendly Practice® certification. This is a wonderful opportunity to focus on the cat which often gets overlooked. There are multiple brochures from many companies, including Ceva and AAFP on how you can decrease the stress and anxiety of your pet.”

Dr. Hungerbuhler: “Many communities have a board certified veterinary behaviorist who may be willing to do CE lectures and even attend open houses. Often, the behaviorist works with trainers in the community that can assist local practices in implementing the behavior techniques that need to be performed in the home. Finally, some manufacture representatives have technical services veterinarians that they work with that may be able to do an evening CE lecture or an in-clinic seminar about the current trend in anxiety treatment.”

Mr. Archambault: “The VetriScience web site has extensive product information, including a technical video which describes how the products works to calm and focus a pet. Sharing these resources can help a rep become a valuable source of technical information.”


Armed with these terrific tips and resources, you can be the representative who brings up pet-anxiety solutions during sales call… helping your customers provide relief to their clients.


Topics: Anxiety