UK veterinarians regularly threatened by clients over pet care costs

British Veterinary Association survey finds practitioners, staff experience intimidating behavior

A new survey from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) found that nearly 85 percent of veterinarians in the UK have experienced some form of intimidation and have felt threatened by a client’s language or behavior.

The survey queried more than 1,600 members of the BVA.

Clients are likely to pressure their pet’s veterinarian to waive fees and become angry and aggressive over the cost of care, according to the report. This behavior includes swearing, shouting, threats to damage property, disparage the clinic on social media, and even threats of death, according to survey participants.

Support staff, women, and younger veterinarians seem to bear the brunt of client anger, according to the survey.

Other survey findings:

  • Vets who work with companion animals or in a mixed practice are particularly likely to have experienced difficult clients, with 89% reporting some form of intimidating experience
  • 6 in 10 vets said they or a team member experienced intimidating language or behavior at least every couple of months, while almost a third at least monthly
  • 1 in 8 vets said they suffered intimidating language or behavior on a weekly basis
  • Cost of treatment was one of the most common reasons for threatening behavior, with 98 percent of vets admitting feeling under pressure from clients to waive fees or accept late payment

“These statistics make for sad reading, but are certainly not surprising,” said Sam Morgan, president of the British Veterinary Nursing Association. “Working within practice we have all either been subject to or witnessed that ‘difficult’ client. We understand there can be a lot of distress when pets are ill, but this is no excuse to be aggressive or intimidating to a member of the veterinary team. It’s important not to feel alone in these situations and to ensure there is awareness and support throughout the veterinary team.”

“Every situation is different and has to be dealt with on an individual basis, but it’s concerning to see the figures around challenging client [behavior] and fees,” said John Fishwick, president of the BVA. “Owning an animal is an important responsibility and will cost tens of thousands of pounds over its lifetime. It’s important for everyone in the vet team to take pride in the healthcare and treatment they deliver, and, equally, they must feel valued for their services. These figures emphasize the importance of managing expectations around fees by ensuring a two-way discussion about options and costs so clients can make a decision in collaboration with the veterinary team.”

2 thoughts on “UK veterinarians regularly threatened by clients over pet care costs

  1. Scary figures and sadly this problem affects vets globally, perhaps even on larger scale than imagined.
    The problem is much more complex than high professional fees (well deserved by a hard working profession). However I believe our profession is further more challenged in recent years by associating itself with sales of pet products and foods that generally can be obtained much cheaper online or elsewhere. The latter resulting in added mistrust with the patient clinician bond slowly disintigrating and the vet seen as a sales person and not a doctor. Our medical colleagues have so far avoided this issue by distancing themselves from sales.
    Just a thought

  2. The problem is this (from one of the recent articles): “Economic euthanasia – the ending of a life for financial reasons- is a task which most vets dread, and they’ll do their best to avoid it”.

    You guys can now offer incredibly advanced (but also often very expensive) procedures routinely. And there is definitely perception (and I think a reality) that you “expect” pet owners to go that route. The articles I’m seeing reflect this.

    No one deserves to be threatened or cajoled into waiving their fees, but now vets are essentially shaming people if they pick “economic euthanasia” over vet bills and patient care that can easily climb into the 5-10K (US dollar) range. That’s the point where you should point blank be offering to put the animal down if the person can’t afford it. Tactfully. And you should always be considering the owner’s financial situation.

    I say this as someone who’s spent many, many thousands on my animals, and I’ve done some of those pricey procedures. But I have the money, and the animals were really dear to me. But I’ve also seen vets push people… And I’ve seen the shift in attitude. We’re in this really, really strange place where so many animals are genuinely neglected (having lost the ground we gained in the 90s and early 2000s), but at the same time, a pet owner is a bad person if they can’t or won’t spring for major surgery. In the past, I saw this kind of expectation mainly in Japan, where pet ownership has a weird dichotomy similar to what we’re starting to see in the US, and I guess the UK. Japan has a desperate situation with its street animals, even as pets are incredibly pampered and vets “expect” all owners to pay for heroic surgery/care. This was the case with an elderly lady I knew who did absolutely everything should could for street cats. But in several cases, the vets insisted on running her into debt, essentially, to keep very ill animals alive with stuff like dialysis. Or, there was the feral they insisted on doing an amputation on rather than simply euthing.

    The bottom line though, is that what vets view as “simply offering what is available” really is upselling, even if that isn’t the intent, and yeah, that shames (and then angers) people, and some of them are clearly behaving exceptionally badly.

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