Preventive health

When the first COVID-19 lockdown came into force in March 2020, in line with RCVS guidance most veterinary practices suspended routine preventive appointments in order to avoid non-essential travel and minimise risks to veterinary staff and clients. This resulted in concerns around the potential for infectious disease outbreaks due to loss of vaccine protection, and population increases due to the lack of neutering, particularly in cats.

During subsequent lockdowns later in 2020 and the beginning of 2021, many practices were able to continue to offer routine appointments. However, the requirement for social distancing and COVID-19 secure ways of working reduced the number of pets that could be seen daily 1,2. Despite these restrictions, our data show very little effect on the proportion of dogs, cats, and rabbits in the UK who have received preventive healthcare*.

 

Uptake of preventive health measures in pets

Overall, there was no significant change between August 2020 and May 2021 in the proportion of dogs who have received preventive care. However, primary course vaccinations, regular boosters, worming and being currently registered with a vet are lower when compared to pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, 23% of dogs (2.2 million) are not vaccinated with regular boosters (18% in February 2020) and 29% (2.8 million) are not neutered (29% in February 2020).

In cats, a higher proportion have been neutered (86% in February 2020, 90% in May 2021), microchipped or insured when compared to pre pandemic levels. However, the proportion who have received regular boosters, a primary course of vaccinations when young or who have been wormed is lower. In 2021, 10% of cats (1 million) are not neutered (14% in February 2020) and 39% (4.2 million) have not received regular boosters (36% in February 2020).

For rabbits, a higher proportion have been neutered and are insured, while the proportion who have received regular boosters and have been wormed have decreased when compared to pre-pandemic levels. Both the proportion of rabbits that had been microchipped or treated for fleas had decreased in our August 2020 survey, but have now returned to pre-pandemic levels. In 2021, 37% of rabbits (340,000 rabbits) are not neutered (43% in February 2020) and 50% (450,000 rabbits) are not receiving regular boosters, which is higher than pre-pandemic levels (42% in February 2020).

 

Preventive healthcare issues due to the pandemic

We asked owners if there had been any issues with getting appointments for routine vaccinations due to factors related to the pandemic. 8% of owners told us that they had struggled to get an appointment with the vet for a booster vaccination, of which 6% said their practice had a waiting list for vaccinations and 2% said their practice was not offering vaccinations. However, the vast majority (86%) said they had not had either of these issues (7% said they didn’t know or couldn’t recall).

With the first lockdown coming in springtime 2020, a drop in the proportion of cats who were able to be neutered could have easily resulted in a high number of unwanted litters at this time. In response to this concern, many veterinary and welfare organisations, including PDSA, produced information for owners on how to care for their cats if they were unable to have them neutered. Although 14% of owners of female cats told us that their cat had had at least one litter prior to being spayed, and 62% of these said that the litter was unplanned, these proportions have not changed significantly since we last asked these questions in 2017.

The financial impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, although at the time of writing the government’s furlough scheme is still in place and will be providing support for many. 7% of owners told us that they are increasingly worried about how they’ll pay for vet bills if their pet falls ill or gets injured and 2% say they have had to get help from others (e.g. family, friends, loan) to pay for vet bills since the start of the pandemic.

 

Hear from the Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association, Daniella Dos Santos, MRCVS:

Daniella Dos Santos, BSc, BVetMed, MRCVS, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association

Footnotes

* vaccinations, neutering, insured, microchipped, registered with a vet, receiving flea and worming treatment

1. RCVS. (2020). RCVS publishes results of Covid survey conducted during November lockdown - Professionals. https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/news/rcvs-publishes-results-of-covid-survey-conducted-during/

2. RCVS. (2021). Sixth Covid impact survey finds improvement to practice cash-flow - Professionals. https://www.rcvs.org.uk/news-and-views/news/sixth-covid-impact-survey-finds-improvement-to-practice-cash/