Survey: Pet owners prefer seeing their veterinarian in person

Most pet owners believe the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) should be established in person rather than virtually, according to an AVMA survey that also found a majority of owners prefer that a veterinarian oversee their pet’s care.

The AVMA conducted its 2023 Pet Owner Attitude Survey to better understand animal owners’ attitudes and experiences following the COVID-19 pandemic, and their thoughts on some of the trends in veterinary care that emerged from it.

Namely, some advocates have been pushing for the creation of a new midlevel position and to eliminate the requirement for establishing a VCPR in-person prior to using telemedicine. 

A large dog receives medical treatment from a veterinary professional
Almost half of respondents to the AVMA’s 2023 Pet Owner Attitude Survey say their pet’s health and safety is their number one priority when seeking veterinary care while telemedicine availability is a low priority.

The survey’s findings, published November 7, indicate that both changes would be met with resistance from pet owners, who prefer and recognize the importance of an in-person relationship with a licensed, fully qualified veterinarian. The results also show a strong preference for veterinarian-led care as opposed to delegating responsibility for care decisions to nonveterinarians, including a proposed midlevel employee. Further results are as follows:

  • 88% of pet owners agree that having a veterinarian physically examine their pet and talk to them in person is what leads to the best care.
  • 79% of pet owners prefer that a veterinarian oversee their pet’s care.
  • 76% put their pet’s health and safety above all else as a top priority for veterinary care.
  • 72% prefer to meet a veterinarian in person before allowing them to care for their pet.
  • 80% agree it would be dangerous for anyone other than a licensed veterinarian to make recommendations about life-or-death decisions for their pet.

“Pet owners want to feel confident that their animal companions are receiving the highest quality care. This new research shows that pet owners have a clear preference for in-person and veterinarian-led care, which we know is the best option for animal health,” AVMA President Rena Carlson said in a press release.

“The in-person visit and physical examination is the most valuable tool a veterinarian has. It allows them to use sight, sound, touch, and smell to identify potential health issues, supports the collection of diagnostic samples necessary to develop a treatment plan, and helps avoid a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, which can lead to additional animal suffering and more cost for the pet owner,” Dr. Carlson said.

On an encouraging note, given recent scheduling challenges faced by both pet owners and veterinary practices, pet owners responding to the survey indicated success in getting a timely appointment for their pet, with 76% reporting a wait of less than a week for an appointment, and 60% waiting just one to three days. For those whose pets needed emergency care, 78% of pet owners were able to receive help in two hours or less, according to the survey of 1,000 pet owners across the U.S.

These findings line up with current veterinary data that suggest demand is gradually normalizing, according to the AVMA.

The AVMA’s survey was fielded online from September 8-14 and completed by 1,000 pet owners across the United States.

A version of this story appears in the January 2024 print issue of JAVMA