Fearless columnist Natalie L. Marks is an educator, consultant and practicing Chicago veterinarian. Dr. Marks is a leader within the Fear Free movement, was a member of the original Fear Free advisory board and is Fear Free Certified Elite. She passionately believes that all veterinarians should be committed to the physical and emotional health of their patients.Read Articles Written by Natalie Marks
Living with a human or furry family member who is battling a chronic disease can be incredibly stressful. Living with a chronically anxious dog or cat can be just as difficult, and it’s a situation many veterinarians fail to recognize.
Traditional solutions to pet behavior issues haven’t been consistently available during the pandemic because, in many cases, clinic hours and services are limited and in-person training classes have been canceled. Add to that those clients who lost jobs and aren’t spending as much money.
How then can we do the best medically for our patients and financially for our hospitals? While we don’t have a magic bullet, one important tool for managing pet behavior problems is your home-delivery platform and .
Get the Word Out
Offering home delivery of products and promoting the service through your website isn’t enough. You need to oversee marketing initiatives and team training to ensure consistent messaging. Work on e-blasts to pet owners, find different touchpoints throughout your clients’ virtual or in-person hospital journeys, and encourage engagement through your social media posts.
Most importantly, focus on your pharmacy web pages. Consider building out the pages by grouping products. Make sure your veterinarians and customer service representatives know how to easily access your online pharmacy so that they can show it to clients directly or provide email links. If this isn’t your area of expertise, ask for help.
Most home-delivery platform providers have great customer support, and if you want to build an even better website, outsource the page development. The investment will be well worth it not only in the short term but also as demand grows.
Thankfully, products that address pet behavior issues come in many forms (from plug-in diffusers to wraps and supplements) and provide various comfort levels for pet owners (think “natural” methods vs. more traditional pharmaceuticals). The beauty of home delivery is that you can service all these clients by providing many choices without having to maintain high levels of inventory within the hospital. Additionally, you can provide your clients with options that fit their lifestyle, budget and goals.
The first pet behavior category to feature on your website — I’ve discussed this in previous articles — is pheromones. Whether you’ve used these only in your hospital or integrated them into the treatment plans for patients of all ages, pheromone therapy is a natural, convenient, and low-maintenance plan for use at home. For example, Adaptil diffusers, which feature the comforting pheromone found in the milk as puppies nurse, are easy for busy clients to start using to help reduce anxiety in their dogs. I recommend Adaptil collars for puppies, newly rescued dogs and any dog going through a major life change, such as a move, a newly arrived baby, a long road trip and even a new housemate. Similar diffuser options for cats include Feliway, which also features a specific version for inter-cat reactivity.
Nutraceuticals and supplements need a place in your online pharmacy. These products work in many different ways but with the same goal of reducing anxiety and stress in dogs and cats. Consider these:
- Zylkene, a supplement from Vetoquinol that contains hydrolyzed milk protein to help calm and relax dogs and cats.
- Anxitane, the chewable tablet containing L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea leaves, to calm cats and dogs. The Virbac product pairs well with a behavioral modification program.
- Calming Care, a probiotic made by Purina that, when absorbed, calms the body through the brain.
- VeggieDent Zen chews, another Virbac offering formulated to calm dogs, and one that supports dental care. Using the same L-theanine theory behind Anxitane, the amino acid influences GABA in the brain to reduce anxiety and increase mental focus.
- Solliquin, a Nutramax chewable supplement formulated to reduce anxiety in dogs and cats. The efficacy lies in three ingredients: L-theanine, the amino acid found in green tea, and Magnolia and Phellodendron extracts.
Don’t forget about pharmaceuticals for use in more severe cases of anxiety, especially in dogs. Elanco Animal Health’s Clomicalm (clomipramine hydrochloride) is an FDA-approved medication for the treatment of separation anxiety. It binds to the serotonin update receptor and, in turn, prevents it from removing excessive amounts of serotonin.
Another option I recommend for your online platform is Reconcile (fluoxetine hydrochloride), which is approved for the treatment of separation anxiety. The PRN Pharmacal drug is similar to Clomicalm in that it prevents the reuptake of serotonin, creating a more positive neural state for the patient.
While pharmaceuticals show statistical significance in controlling anxiety, some limitations exist. As I’ve previously written, it’s incredibly important to educate clients that medications need to be paired with a behavioral modification platform. This is a great opportunity to partner with boarded veterinary behaviorists who perform telehealth consults.
Finally, many devices support other strategies for behavioral modification in dogs and cats. Many veterinarians are hesitant to market over-the-counter products that can be found on discount websites, but remember that clients love three things: convenience, one-stop shopping and your recommendation.
Avoid the overhead of in-hospital inventory costs by maximizing your offerings and letting your clients decide. Classic solutions include the Thundershirt and associated products like wraps, chews and oils. Cats and dogs can benefit from compression garments, but client education is the key to success, so make sure to feature on the website a quick guide to using the products appropriately.
A newer technology to help treat separation anxiety is Calmer Canine, a technology from Assisi Animal Health that uses targeted pulsed electromagnetic field signals, or tPEMF. Previously used in human medicine to help with depression and anxiety, Calmer Canine produces invisible signals designed to calm the anxiety center in the brain. Dogs wear the device, which fits like a halo over their head.
It’s Up to You
Behavioral challenges in dogs or cats, especially those that involve separation anxiety, can erode the human-animal bond, creating stress instead of removing it. Our goal should be to preserve the bond, serve clients in the best way we can, adapt to a changing world and embrace new technology.
The responsibility might seem overwhelming, but your online pharmacy and the home delivery of behavior products can be sources of comfort and strength for your clients. They will appreciate the convenience and your educational support, and your practice will become even healthier.