Report outlines barriers to accessing veterinary care, possible solutions

Published on January 30, 2019

One out of four pet owners experiences barriers to obtaining veterinary care, and the primary obstacle for all pet owners seeking any type of care is finances, according to a report from the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition.

"The study results did two things: It confirmed our suspicions, but also, we were able to measure the frequency of some of the other reasons," said Dr. Michael Blackwell, chair of the coalition and director of the Program for Pet Health Equity at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work.

"Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy," was released in December 2018 and highlights several areas where pet owners face hurdles in obtaining care for their pets, including lack of transportation, no knowledge of where a veterinary facility is, and no equipment, such as crates or leashes, to move an animal. The AVCC is a group of for-profit and nonprofit veterinary service providers, animal welfare and social service professionals, and educators, working in collaboration with the UT's social work college.

The research is a part of a three–year effort financed by a $2.8 million grant from Maddie's Fund to support research about care access barriers for pet owners and development of a subsidized veterinary care system, AlignCare, designed to improve veterinary care access for underserved families.

Dr. Whang examining a dog
Dr. Audrey Whang volunteers her services during a Pets for Life event in Milwaukee. Pets for Life is a program sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States that provides direct care for pets, training for owners, and mentorship to other animal welfare organizations. A recent report identified it as a possible prototype for future programs designed to meet the needs of underserved pet owners. (Photo by Dr. Susan B. Krebsbach/University of Tennessee)

The report includes information about attitudes toward pet insurance, animal welfare laws, public health, a model comparison of for-profit and nonprofit veterinary practices, and research on pet owners experiencing housing insecurity. It also confirmed that the majority of responding veterinary providers recognized the severity of the problem, and four out of five respondents indicated they had made efforts to reduce the problem.

"This is a critical report for the future of the veterinary profession and the animals we made an oath to help," said Dr. Laurie Peek, of the Maddie's Fund executive leadership team, in a press release. "It will truly revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals."

The study outlined the following five recommendations fo​r stakeholders to consider:

  • Improve veterinary care delivery systems to serve all socioeconomic groups.
  • Provide incremental care to avoid nontreatm ent.
  • Improve availability of valid and reliable information to educate pet owners.
  • Develop public policies that improve access to veterinary care and pet retention.
  • Perform further research in other areas to understand the impact of how pets are obtained.
Veterinarians employed a variety of strategies to address needs of underserved pets (n=470)
Source: "Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy"

"We are asking that stakeholders really revisit the service delivery model of veterinary medicine—most veterinary medicine provides a service (in the form of a) for-profit, small business with limited bandwidth, and while that model serves the middle class in an excellent way, it fails to meet the (needs) of the lowest-economic families," said Dr. Blackwell. "We can't take a middle-class, for-profit business model and expect it to reach all socioeconomic groups. ... This societal challenge can be addressed, but we do have to do some things differently. ... We have to figure it out because these pets are not only in these families but will continue to be."


View the "Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy" report (PDF).


Related JAVMA content:

$2.8M grant to aid access to veterinary care (Sept. 15, 2018)

Back to Basics (Dec. 01, 2016)

Coalition wants veterinary access for economically at-risk pets (Dec. 01, 2016)