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Access to Veterinary Care

Amanda Landis-Hanna, DVM, PetSmart Charities, Phoenix, Arizona

November / December 2018

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Every year, lack of access prevents millions of pets from receiving veterinary care.1 Access barriers can include language, transportation, education, culture (eg, community shaming for castrated male dogs), socioeconomics, medical or mental illness, and rural or urban veterinary deserts.



Identify existing resources within the community.

  • Reach out to local municipal animal shelters that may provide free or discounted preventive care services (eg, vaccinations) and pet food.
  • Contact local humane societies that may have access to translators, mobile clinics, transportation options, or community education opportunities.
  • Consider partnerships and volunteer opportunities within the community (eg, recent graduates who volunteer at a shelter to improve their surgical skills or to learn more about epidemiologic factors impacting a local population).
  • Consider keeping a list of nearby resources (eg, food pantries) that can supply pet food.
  • Donate soon-to-expire food and supplies to local pantries and shelters.

Appreciate and empathize with pet owners’ difficult situations.

  • Do not judge a client who cannot afford services for his or her pet; bringing the pet to the practice indicates he or she cares. If the highest standard of care is not an option, consider alternatives based on what the client can afford or reach out to the resources identified in step 1.
  • Educate team members on difficulties facing the community. Fear of judgment may prevent some pet owners from seeking care or requesting payment options. Understanding the community’s economic issues can provide context. (See Resources.)
  • Emotional intelligence is vital for strong practice team–pet owner relationships. Provide professional training by bringing in a community social worker or a licensed therapist for a lunch-and-learn.

Understand the impact of the human–animal bond.

  • Most pet owners want the best care possible for their pet, but that care (ie, basic or specialty) will vary based on available resources. The level of care chosen does not indicate the love for the pet or if the pet is deserving of some level of care and comfort.
  • Identify the practice’s minimum standards. Consider an oath or pledge that satisfies all team members.

Example of an Ethical Guarantee

We acknowledge the strength of the human–animal bond and believe every pet deserves the veterinary care and pain relief he or she needs. We guarantee to provide up to 3 days of relief from pain, food, and water to any pet that enters the practice, regardless of circumstances. We also guarantee to treat each client with compassion and respect. We will provide all treatment plans and recommendations free of judgment. If a client declines services, we will provide contact information for a nonprofit facility in the community that can help the pet.


When veterinary team members develop a judgment-free view of all pet owners and show respect for the human–animal bond regardless of a client's status, they become leaders in the community and trusted caregivers for beloved pets. When clients know how much the team cares, they exhibit more respect for the work performed and have a greater understanding of the complexities faced in everyday practice. Kindness, compassion, and altruism feel good, increasing pride within the veterinary team.

Like the complicated cases in your practice, some challenges may need a different approach or original solutions. For more ideas and direction, consider looking for an individual consultant or someone with a specific area of expertise at


For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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