My veterinary clinic was mainly a small animal, equine and exotic practice based in the countryside surrounding York. It had four sites, and specialised in high quality first and second opinion work.
Historically the number of rabbit clients was few and far between. We knew that our clients had rabbits; however they were rarely brought to the surgery for examination, vaccination or neutering.
Left untreated, uneven or insufficiently worn molars can lead to secondary complaints such as dental abscesses, which can cause your pet to stop eating because of pain and discomfort. This can ultimately lead to death through severe malnutrition. Blocked tear ducts are another common side effect of dental problems. Because the duct passes close to the end of the incisor teeth, any problems with the teeth can cause the duct to block. This can lead to infections in the tear duct.
We knew they had rabbits as during the outbreak of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease in 2002, we had written to all clients, and put out adverts recommending vaccination and this had pulled in nearly three hundred rabbits over a short period of time.
However there was no follow up and so rabbit work tailed off again.
n 2006 with the creation of Burgess National Rabbit Week (BNRW), later renamed Rabbit Awareness Week ( RAW), we decided that there was a potential pool of customers that we should try to tap into. This would not only increase footfall, but also supply a better service to our existing clients, and hopefully bring in new clients.
Research at the time showed that we had approximately 50 active clients. Whilst is difficult to pin down an exact spend/rabbit, it was not great, averaging approximately £30 per annum.
In the first year of BNRW, we sent out flyers to all our clients with their routine dog and cat reminders, for the two months prior to the rabbit week.
We advertised cheaper vaccines, and free rabbit health checks with the nurses. We also held talks on two evenings. To one of these we invited local rescue centres, rehabilitation centres, and other interested groups. To the second we invited members of the public.
To ensure that all the staff we up to speed, we held a number of lunch time CPD meetings for the staff, run by our own vets. For the nurses this covered areas such as examining the rabbit, holding rabbits, vaccinations, neutering and general advice. For the receptionists we covered vaccinations, neutering, and general advice.
The evening meetings were well attended, with nearly 60 people attending each one.
During that first NRW week, approximately 40-50 rabbits were seen. Initially we felt this as disappointing, however over the months people continued to pop in. In fact over the following years, with successive RAW weeks, whilst the number of rabbits actually attending the clinic have stayed low, the number of active rabbit clients has grown markedly, so at the last count the number is approximately 500.
This has had enormous economic benefits. With the average spend of each rabbit client per annum growing to over £60 per annum we had the potential to increase practice turnover by £30,000 every year.
This ties in with data that is around that shows that now the average rabbit is living to 8-10 years old, and during that life time the owners will spend approximately £3,000. Thus they have ceased to be a low spend disposable pet, and are rapidly becoming elevated to the same social status as a cat or a dog.