Converting the Anti-Vaxxer

On the back of the Anti-Vaxxer movement against childhood vaccinations, there has been a corresponding reluctance by some people to have their pets vaccinated. I’ve noticed this trend myself when calling pet owners to remind them about overdue vaccinations. The amount of misinformation out there is staggering. Over-vaccinating, autism in dogs, injections of ‘pesticides’ and fatal carcinogens are just a few of the colourful rumours doing the rounds at the local dog park, in mothers’ groups and on Facebook.

In this article I am going to outline a few of the ways that I have successfully converted non-vaccinating pet owners into compliant, happy customers.

Follow up overdue reminders with a phone call

I’ve had many discussions with pet owners about preventative healthcare and what I noticed is that many of them are still sitting on the fence regarding the safety of vaccinating their pets. Some pet owners are delaying vaccinations because they have heard and read just enough to make them doubt, but not quite enough to make up their minds conclusively.

The majority of vaccination reminders are sent via email, sms or letter. If a pet owner is having doubts about vaccination they are more likely to defer an appointment without contacting their vet to ask questions. Unless we follow up with a phone call or have a discussion in consult, there is a very good chance that they won’t be back until their pet becomes ill or injured. 

Having a personal conversation not only gives customers an opportunity to voice their concerns, it enables us to respond with the correct facts and offer reassurance about vaccinations in a non-judgemental manner. 

Indoor Pets

A common misconception amongst pet owners is that indoor pets don’t require vaccinating. This objection is particularly common amongst cat owners.

The gap in understanding seems to stem from indirect vs. direct transmission of diseases. When I explain that some diseases can be spread by handling contaminated objects or by stepping in faeces at the dog park for example, people can become more receptive to the risks. If people are genuinely confused and are open to being educated, we should spend as much time and effort as is necessary to help them understand the information they need to make a decision.  Offer to send them some email information about canine or feline diseases.

The importance of the annual health check

Underscoring the value of the annual health check not only helps to take the pressure off the objective of booking a vaccination appointment, it reminds the client that an annual health check is just as important to their pet’s well-being. I explain to pet owners that visiting the vet once a year for a health check is the same as us humans only visiting the doctor once every seven years. It’s all about perspective.

Send a clear message that early detection is the best prevention and that our goal is to keep their pet healthy and happy.

This approach can also be helpful for owners of senior or geriatric patients. It’s understandable when owners of elderly pets don’t wish to continue vaccinations when palliative care is their primary concern. However we should also be encouraging regular check ups in the interest of keeping their pet comfortable.

Create Urgency 

Not all conversations with overdue pet owners are as simple as stating the facts and sending some email information. For some, the debate about vaccinations has become a deep-rooted mistrust born from misinformation, a fear of being taken advantage of, and of course a genuine concern for their pet’s well-being. They will stand their ground and even become hostile in defence of their argument. In this case it can be a better outcome for the longer term to step back and offer to email them some information so that they can absorb it in their own time if they wish. 
Let them know that you care about their pet’s well-being. Give them the space they need to think about what you have told them and to change their mind without losing face.

Cat vaccinations can often be booked sooner when you explain that a booster may be required again after 4 weeks to maintain immunity, and that this will effectively double the cost.

Holidays coming up? Remind clients who board their pets that vaccinations will need to be administered two weeks prior to boarding. Yes – some anti-vaxxers will still reluctantly vaccinate their pets when they want to go away.

Normalise and offer reassurance

Some pet owners may be too embarrassed to talk to us about their vaccination concerns. They don’t want to feel silly and are just waiting for us to ask them about it. 
Let them know that you get asked this a lot by pet owners. Normalising their fears will help them to open up to you without the fear of being judged.
I’ve managed to book many vaccination appointments just by taking the time to chat to the pet owner about their concerns and to reassure them about vaccine reactions and what we can do to reduce the risks. 

In summary, it is my hope that someday common sense will prevail and that pet owners will become more critical of scare tactics surrounding vaccinations for pets. Pet owners generally want to do the right thing for their pets. Let’s be confident, patient and empathetic in our positions as trusted advisors, and help our clients to navigate the minefields of fact and fiction.

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