You probably saw a lot more pet photos on your feed in 2020. Spending more one-on-one time at home with our pets altered how people approached pet ownership. We spoke to Banfield Pet Hospital President Brian Garish and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Molly McAllister about the key pet health trends of 2020 — and top predictions for 2021.
Based on social media, it seems like a lot of people adopted puppies in 2020. Is that true?
Garish: Yes. At Banfield, we’ve long recognized that pets, people, and society are all connected, and this became even more evident during the pandemic. Spending time with my cats, Ashin and Kenji, brings me tremendous joy. They show me love and seeing their antics always makes me smile. In talking with clients and veterinary teams at our hospitals, I know many people feel the same way. We saw a boom in people turning to pet ownership for much-needed companionship and comfort – and Banfield’s data backs this up.
To identify the top pet-related trends of 2020, we looked at Banfield’s electronic veterinary health records system — the largest in the US — and analyzed data from more than 3 million pets seen at Banfield over the past year. Banfield saw 9.2% more juvenile dogs under 1 year of age and 12.4% more juvenile cats in 2020 compared to 2019 — the first time in 10 years there's been a percentage increase in juvenile pets seen.
Other than more time to play, did pets benefit in any other way from all the one-on-one time with their owners?
Dr. McAllister: Our dogs and cats thrive on routine. So when our day-to-day lives changed, it begs the question: how did our pets handle it? Luckily, a Banfield survey found that 45% of owners believe their pets seemed happier and more playful since the start of quarantine.
We came up with the term “helicopter pet owners” in recognition that all the one-on-one time with our pets allowed us to be more observant of their health. Pets seen for injury visits increased 5.1% in dogs and 7% in cats compared to the year before, and pets diagnosed with mobility-related issues (i.e. arthritis and general lameness) increased 8.2%.
We’re encouraged that people were more committed than ever to ensuring their pets got the care they needed — and hopeful this trend will continue in 2021.
Obviously, many of us dealt with some not-so-fun moments in 2020, but did our pets experience this as well?
Dr. McAllister: Yes, they did. Compared to 2019, Banfield in 2020 saw a 5.2% increase in pets diagnosed with skin issues, with treatments administered for skin allergies surging 58.7% in April 2020 when stay-at-home orders went into full effect; an 11.4% increase in visits related to vomiting; and a 25% increase in pets being seen for fear/anxiety. Further, a recent Banfield survey found that 24% more pet owners said their pet had gained weight in October 2020 compared to five months prior.
Pets with itchy skin, vomiting, anxiety, and weight gain is appropriate for 2020, but luckily pet owners and veterinary teams were there for pets through it all.
With our own health a top priority this year, did you see an increase in people more proactively concerned about their pets' health, too?
Dr. McAllister: Banfield’s data found that owners were more committed than ever to getting their pets to the vet in 2020, especially their cats. Kitten vet visits increased 20.4% in 2020 compared to 14.3% for puppies.
Banfield also saw changes in the way owners obtained advice and support. Beginning in mid-March through the end of 2020, chats on Banfield's telehealth service, Vet Chat, more than doubled in daily volume.
What precautions did pet hospitals like Banfield take in dealing with the influx of preventive pet healthcare this year, and how did that differ from past years?
Garish: As an essential business playing a critical role in supporting public health, we are taking numerous steps to provide high-quality care to pets while maintaining a safe and healthy environment for all. In addition to more robust cleaning and disinfection protocols, our hospitals follow social distancing guidelines and use drop-off appointments and curbside check-in/check-out whenever possible.
We can safely meet our clients’ needs at home, including over-the-phone consultations for nonurgent matters. We continue to encourage our millions of Optimum Wellness Plan clients to take advantage of our telehealth service, Vet Chat. Our telehealth services allow pet owners to connect with a veterinarian day or night for general pet care advice and triage support through the Banfield app and right on our website. We also offer an online pharmacy.
So that's the tail end of the 2020 trends, but what about 2021?
So many people adopted pets in 2020! Do you expect a similarly high rate of adoptions to continue in 2021?
Dr. McAllister: We expect to see adoptions continue through the first half of 2021 as people bring pets home for the holidays and many are still working from or staying close to home. That said, as much as we saw a rise in pet adoptions, pet surrenders may unfortunately spike in 2021.
Most people understand puppies and kittens are a lot of work, but some underestimate the time, money, and training that pets require throughout their entire lives.
The good news is pet owners can partner with their veterinary teams on ways to make pet ownership feel more manageable. In addition to taking care of a pet’s health, veterinarians can advise on everything from financial matters to behavioral issues — the most commonly cited reason for surrenders related to a pet, according to a survey from the ASPCA — and even refer owners to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist if needed.
At Banfield, we are passionate about keeping pets out of shelters. In 2020, Banfield donated millions of dollars in cash and pet-related services for programs benefitting pet owners, shelters and its own veterinary professionals impacted by COVID-19. The Banfield Foundation, the charitable arm of Banfield Pet Hospital, launched a COVID-19 Respond and Rebuild program in April, committing $500,000 to provide immediate support to organizations helping pets receive care during these challenging times.
How do you see the reality of people returning to their offices, or likely just spending less time at home in 2021, impacting pets and their relationships with their owners?
Dr. McAllister: Some pets may not be used to the increased alone time. As a result, we’ll likely see a sharp increase in the number of pets, mainly dogs, displaying separation anxiety, which could manifest itself in a number of ways, including destructive behavior.
In cats, who are experts at hiding it when something is wrong, we may not see immediate, obvious changes, but they too may be stressed by yet another change in the daily routine. This might show up as changes in litter box usage, over- or under-grooming, or altered feeding behavior.
Pet owners who relied on their pets for companionship and comfort throughout the pandemic might feel a little anxious about leaving their pets, too. Veterinarians can provide tips and prevention measures owners can start implementing to get ahead of any problems.
What are some ways you think pet owners will choose to ensure their pets are comfortable and well-taken care of while they are away from home more?
Dr. McAllister: With people more committed to their pet’s care, we’ll likely see a boom in pet services like dog walkers, pet sitters and doggy daycare to help keep pets company and exercise them when owners are no longer able to spend all day with them.
What technology or gadgets do you expect pet owners to rely on most in 2021?
Dr. McAllister: If pet owners can’t physically be home all day with their pets, they’ll find new ways to connect with them. Pet owners started experimenting with devices that allow you to see, speak to, and give treats to pets in recent years, but we’ll see a rise in their popularity once stay-at-home orders lift. People will turn to cameras and virtual feeders to make sure their pet is safe at home (or to try to catch bad behaviors!) and continue to foster that human-animal connection via treat giving or quick interactions through the mic.
How are veterinary practices working to prepare for increased demand in 2021 now that pet owners are more attuned to their pets’ health than ever before?
Garish: Banfield is focused on delivering digital and personalized offerings to meet the evolving needs of our clients. In 2020, we were able to care for more pets than ever thanks to the hard work of our veterinarians and veterinary technicians. As a practice, we’ll continue to ensure our people are supported so they can remain focused on delivering high-quality, compassionate care to pets.
The role of certified vet technicians (CVTs) will be more important than ever. Much like a nurse practitioner (NP), CVTs can offer services like administering vaccinations or checking vital signs in partnership with a doctor. At Banfield, appointments with our CVTs increased 280% in 2020 compared to 2019, allowing us to care for all those quarantine puppies and kittens.
Thoughts on workplaces becoming more flexible to allow pets in the office?!
Garish: We expect workplaces to update their policies to allow pets in the office. At Banfield we’ve been welcoming dogs into our headquarters for more than 20 years, so we know firsthand the positive impact pets can have in the workplace. Research has shown that pet-friendly policies can positively impact everything from recruiting and hiring, to morale, productivity, and retention.
Overall, what are your most important pieces of advice for pet owners in 2021?
Garish: When I reflect on how my relationship with Ashin and Kenji grew this year and the memories we made, it brings me joy (and a lot of pictures on my Instagram feed 😊). They’ve taken good care of me, and I need to do my part to keep them healthy. Having a trusted relationship with my local veterinarian is essential. I recommend that all pet owners take the time to find a veterinarian that will act as a partner in the lifelong care of their pet.
At Banfield, we believe we can advance human health through pet health, elevating societal well-being. That’s why we’ll continue to provide high-quality care to the growing number of pets and owners that rely on us, no matter what 2021 brings.