Generation Z – engaging a new generation of pet owners with preventative healthcare - Veterinary Practice
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Generation Z – engaging a new generation of pet owners with preventative healthcare

The key to engaging Gen-Z pet owners with preventative healthcare is to understand them as a group and cultivate practices that cater to their motivators and generational trends

As time marches on and society adapts and innovates, so does each new generation of pet owners. With this evolution comes new challenges and expectations for veterinary practice. But what does the new generation of pet owners expect from their veterinary professionals, and how can we engage them with preventative healthcare? These questions were posed during the “Preventative healthcare and the Gen-Z client” session at the London Vet Show 2022, chaired by British Veterinary Association (BVA) Senior Vice-President Justine Shotton.

Aidan Synnott – ASV Photogrpahy

Understanding the Gen-Z client

Sixty-two percent of pet owners are millennials or Gen-Z, and research has shown that they spend more in general and on their pets than older generations, says Ben Sweeney, Vidivet founder and CEO. These are your clients of today (and tomorrow), so understanding the trends prevalent in these generations is a valuable part of formulating a plan to engage them with disease prevention. At the end of the day, the key to engaging with Gen-Z clients is to “think about [them] just a little bit differently and understand how to connect with them,” argues Tanya Mikelsen, associate director at CM Research.

Generation Z is asking more technical questions, actively searching for answers and challenging advice but […] more likely to trust what their mates say

During her presentation, Tanya put forward four principal trends underlying Generation Z:

  • Mistrust – Gen-Z is a group shrouded in doubt over what to believe and what not to believe, and they are very distrustful of the general services provided. With a wealth of often contradicting information at their fingertips, they are “scrolling very fast and getting lots of information from a multitude of channels,” observes Rebecca Ellis, brand and customer manager at MSD Animal Health. Generation Z is asking more technical questions, actively searching for answers and challenging advice, but “unfortunately, they are more likely to trust what their mates say,” explains Rebecca
  • Planet guardianship – environmentally friendly and sustainable services and values are at the heart of the Gen-Z mindset. Seventy-five percent of Gen-Z consumers consider sustainability more important than brand names when making purchase decisions, and 81 percent are willing to pay at least 10 percent more for sustainable products (First Insight et al., 2021)
  • Holistic health – mental health and well-being are highly valued by Generation Z and are woven into everyday life; you only have to search #mentalhealth on social media to see this. Tanya explains that they are known for championing mental health and are the most likely generation to have gone to therapy, with over 91 percent reporting physical and/or psychological problems due to stress
  • “Zero-effort” – Gen-Z was “born connected”; “they are not tech savvy – they are tech innate,” argued Ben. But thanks to technology, Gen-Z has come to expect services to be personalised, effortless and easy to access – the pandemic has intensified this expectation, reveals Tanya

What are clients looking for when it comes to preventative healthcare?

Another fundamental aspect to consider when creating a plan to engage Gen-Z clients with preventative healthcare is how this aspect of veterinary practice differs and what your clients want from these consults. Marnie Brennan, professor in epidemiology and director of the Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine at the University of Nottingham, observed three essential areas to recognise when it comes to preventative medicine.

What’s in a consult?

It is crucial to remember that the types of interactions occurring in disease prevention consults differ from those in other branches of healthcare. In these consults, a veterinarian will discuss and act on up to eight different healthcare problems. They are also more likely to see more than one animal, conduct a full clinical examination, weigh an animal and have discussions on obesity, dental disease and behavioural problems when compared to other healthcare consultations.

Practice-wide approaches

Operating with a practice-wide approach to preventative medicine is essential, so consider how to adapt the role of veterinary nurses, receptionists and technicians to include disease prevention (such as dental healthcare). Look at the journey your client takes to reach a consult room, discover where the touchpoints are and consider which members of staff are involved. What are the available sources of information available? How can you integrate with their expectations? Do your clients know who they can talk with?

Look at the journey your client takes to reach a consult room, discover where the touchpoints are and consider which members of staff are involved

Client-centred care

Client-centred care has a focus on “assisting someone in developing that knowledge and skills and confidence, even, to make informed decisions about what goes in an animal,” explains Marnie. This method facilitates information flow from vet to owner, providing clients with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their pet. Consider what your client wants and expects from a consult and allow them to ask questions and voice their concerns. For example, Marnie observed that clients “absolutely expect more than a vaccination to be given in a preventative healthcare consultation”.

Motivation and social marketing

Motivation is integral to engaging your Gen-Z clients with preventative healthcare, and the way to increase motivation is via social marketing, argued Rebecca. But this “is not just about social media – social marketing is about creating campaigns around influencing public health”. The essence of social marketing is using behavioural science to understand needs and motivations to positively influence public health using the COM-B model (Figure 1).

FIGURE (1) The COM-B model for behavioural change. By aligning capability, opportunity and motivation together, you are more likely to see a change in behaviour and do so in a shorter timeframe

Traditionally, social marketing is seen in stop smoking and drunk driving campaigns, but recently it has been used in the COVID-19 vaccination drive. We can, therefore, learn from the recent human healthcare campaigns, which revealed that Generation Z“ want to be much more involved in these questions”. In light of this, observed Rebecca, “we have had to change not only our channels, but our language and our motivators”, and having and understanding digital channels and trends is a huge part of this.

Over the last six months, social media channels such as TikTok and Instagram have overtaken Google as the search engine of choice. Imagery, videos and infographics will, therefore, help engage with younger people: “These days, there is so much out there, and people are scrolling so fast and looking at lots of different data – it needs to be eye-catching.” But ensure the pertinent information is at the top of the page, reminds Rebecca, as research has shown that Gen-Z never scrolls more than 30 to 50 percent of a phone screen.

Engaging with Gen-Z clients: practical tips and tricks

The good news? The motivation is already there! With statistics showing 31 percent of Gen-Z owners insure their pets compared to 8 percent of boomers, we know that they want to protect their pets. But the real challenge comes from turning motivation and engagement with the idea of preventative healthcare into footfall to your practice. The fact that Generation Z is very passionate works in your favour, observes Rebecca: “They like to get behind a cause, so you can give them a cause to get behind, to get passionate about and share [with others].” (Why not market “protecting your work-from-home (WFH) buddy”, for example?)

So, let’s consider some practical actions to bring Gen-Z clients to your door that work on the underlying trends and passions of that generation.


Become “knowledge brokers”

Gen-Z clients “are sceptical and untrusting, but they are in a position where they are […] more likely to accept the feedback and advice you give them if you explain in such a way that shows the evidence is there,” explains Tanya. By becoming what Marnie terms “knowledge brokers”, we can teach clients to critique knowledge and assist them with navigating the wealth of information out there. It is essential, therefore, to give them clear answers, keep it honest and transparent, and provide credible information, suggests Rebecca. This way, they are less likely to go to other less reputable channels that we don’t necessarily trust.

By becoming what Marnie terms “knowledge brokers”, we can teach clients to critique knowledge and assist them with navigating the wealth of information out there

Practise client-based care

Tailor your consults to the Gen-Z client and be more prepared to spend time answering any questions they have. “I know you’re doing this already, but they expect just a little bit more,” says Tanya. This time will pay off, as the more knowledge and understanding they have of how your offering will impact their pet’s physical and mental health, the more likely they are to invest in the products and services you recommend.

So, why not:

  • Provide information on what they can expect before the consult and suggest they prepare questions in advance to streamline your services and dispel mistrust
  • Walk the owner through the process and results when you conduct an examination – tell them what is normal or abnormal, what you’re doing and why
  • Make the first appointment face to face. “You can’t replace the vet,” says Ben. “They still trust you – they don’t necessarily trust you until they’ve met you, but you need to give them the opportunity to come to you”
  • Involve the whole team! Have a practice-wide consensus on the purpose and content of consultations, including how you communicate costs and risks to owners and the role of each team member. Owners also appreciate being able to ask questions at reception, so make it obvious who they can approach and when, says Marnie
Aidan Synnott – ASV Photogrpahy

Planet guardianship and holistic health

As environmental crusaders, Gen-Z customers will go for the options with the lowest environmental impact, so the core of your offering should value sustainability. Look beyond the products you offer and consider how you operate in terms of eco-friendly practices, but also be prepared to answer questions on the sustainability of your suggestions and whether there are alternatives such as titre testing. There are fleets of electric vehicles out there doing deliveries, says Ben, so can you get products delivered directly to these clients? This way, you provide low-effort, personalised and sustainable offerings to cater to your Gen-Z clients.

Ensuring that your practice considers the physical and mental well-being of their pets will also help engage Gen-Z clients. So, consider working with behaviourists, chiropractors, physiotherapists and other veterinary technicians and/or offer alternative services such as photobiomodulation therapy to broaden your repertoire of holistic therapies.

You can check out our sustainability and mental health columns for more tips on sustainable and holistic practices.

The “lazy”, tech-innate generation

A simple way to gratify the “lazy” generation is, unsurprisingly, to invest in technology. Healthcare is continuously innovating, and it’s worth getting on board with innovative technology that could make your practice run more smoothly:

  • Alternative communication strategies: nurses and receptionists have a key role in client education, rapport building and developing trust, but there is sometimes a misconception about the amount of free time they have, explains Marnie. So, consider what else is available, such as interactive webinars and an active social media presence
  • Online booking: marketing preventative healthcare is all well and good, but without the opportunity to act on quickly and fit in with their busy lifestyle, it will “drop to the bottom of the to-do list,” observes Rebecca. Convenience is key – “we have to be where they are when they want us,” says Ben, and online booking can help do this without pressuring your receptionist and out-of-hours teams
  • Wrap-around services: Clients also want to know that their pets are doing fine, so investing in technology that provides a wrap-around service to support your in-house team without pressuring them can be a great solution. Continuous glucose monitors and systems that measure a pet’s drinking habits are great examples
  • Rapid test results: Artificial intelligence machines can provide test results in the timeframe of a consult, and they can be included in a health plan if you’re not making money off products


It is likely that your Gen-Z clients are already engaging with preventative healthcare on some level but motivating them to come into your practice and have these discussions is the main challenge. But, as Tanya observed, Gen-Z pet owners are very passionate and “tying [preventative healthcare] into their passions is really important”. So, by considering the trends and motivators common in Generation Z, you can inspire them to be proactive when it comes to preventable diseases.

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