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Public attitudes towards veterinarians were overwhelmingly positive during the coronavirus pandemic as pet owners increasingly relied on their animals as a society and a source of mental wellbeing.
The result, which came from a month-long review of social media posts, helps put news reports that focus primarily on pandemic-related disruptions in veterinary services, according to Colleen Parr Dekker, executive director of global communications at Elanco Animal Health spoke at the AVMA Veterinary Business and Economic Forum, which took place from 14.-16. October took place virtually.
“Just because the media is sharing a story on a topic doesn’t mean the consumer really cares,” Dekker said.
Her presentation was based on data from the Elanco Pulse Institute, a social listening center that scans online conversations to understand consumer attitudes on a range of animal-related topics, including pet care, animal welfare and veterinarians in general.
Data shows that pets have taken on a new meaning for many pet owners during the pandemic, as they have helped ward off feelings of isolation and alleviate loss of contact with friends and family. “Our pets really became a central part of our lives during COVID and our quarantine,” Dekker said. “They became our co-workers, appeared on conference calls, and became our entertainment.”
With the lockdown lifted and back to work, people are increasingly turning to social media to share how they and their pets are experiencing separation anxiety, she added.
When you listen to the news, pet owners talk about long waits to see a veterinarian or the challenges of adapting to new routines like roadside drop-off and pick-up. However, the Elanco Pulse Center did not find that. Dekker said pet owners are talking about pet adoption and pet insurance. They talk about their pet’s role in their mental health and their appreciation for veterinarians and their staff.
“What they don’t talk about are long waiting times, telemedicine and roadside charges,” said Dekker.
Between May 2019 and February 2020, the Elanco Pulse Institute found around 50,000 mostly neutral mentions about veterinarians daily when looking at social media posts in the US. Then the COVID virus spread across the country, and in March 2020, veterinary mentions rose to around 250,000 posts per day. While the majority of the comments were largely neutral, the number of positive comments increased.
What do pet owners say about vets on the internet? “They love you,” said Dekker. “They love what you do. We see them thank their vets for a job well done, recognizing you and the role you play and what you do.
“Usually people complain when they use social media, but that doesn’t happen at all when they go on social media to talk about their vet.”