Why Veterinary Practices Need a Cultural Crash Cart

Niccole Bruno, DVM, Katy, Texas

ArticleLast Updated April 20244 min read
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Veterinary staff should actively seek to bridge the gap between diverse pet owner backgrounds and common communication barriers in examination rooms.

Emergency protocols are necessary in every veterinary practice. For example, veterinary staff are trained to know their roles when performing CPR and tasked with maintaining a crash cart of medications and supplies. Without these protocols and supplies, patient outcomes could be unfavorable and even fatal. It is also vital to ensure veterinary staff are equipped with protocols for conversations with pet owners who have diverse cultural backgrounds, abilities, gender identities, languages, and socioeconomic status.

Veterinary medicine generally does not meet or reflect the diversity of its client base, with 90% of veterinarians identifying as white1; this homogenous culture often extends to veterinary staff. Poor compliance, distrust, and other unfavorable outcomes can occur when veterinary hospitals are ill equipped to handle pet owner diversity.

An online survey of pet owners of color found that 53% wanted to see themselves represented in veterinary staff.2 In addition, they wanted to feel understood and treated with respect and empathy. Two key findings from the survey concluded that lack of diversity in veterinary medicine directly impacted access to care—and increased diversity, delivery of culturally competent care, and a more welcoming environment may help overcome challenges for pet owners of color.2

Providing a cultural crash cart can help veterinary staff navigate cultural barriers that impact daily practice.

Developing a Cultural Crash Cart

Embracing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) requires:

  • Taking inventory of various identities represented within the practice’s client base

  • Finding gaps and opportunities to build knowledge

  • Developing protocols that accommodate all abilities, backgrounds, and cultures

Taking Inventory

Generating an inventory of the practice’s client base is the first step in developing a cultural crash cart. The following questions should be addressed:

  • What languages are spoken?

  • What racial and other identities are represented?

  • Are any accommodations (eg, wheelchair assistance, sign language interpreters, quiet areas) needed?

Obtaining an adequate patient history, withholding judgment, and being prepared to meet pet owners where they are can help provide care that aligns with the pet owner’s values.

Patient intake forms may offer an opportunity to obtain information about the pet owner’s background and needs. For example, inquiring about languages spoken in the household gives insight into potential language barriers. Similarly, asking for preferred pronouns and names can help make pet owners feel welcome and build trust.

Finding Gaps & Opportunities

The next step is to assess a practice’s ability to meet pet owner needs.

  • Where are the potential gaps in meeting these needs?

  • Is the staff representative of pet owner diversity?

  • Is the staff open and accepting toward different cultures, religions, and beliefs?

Answering the above questions allows identification and development of a customized approach to the clinic's DEIB needs, ensures veterinary staff are trained in reducing specific barriers, and helps with discernment of whether additional time or support is needed during an appointment or follow-up.

Cultural & Religious Differences

Some pet owners have religious reasons for not seeking additional care, declining or not considering euthanasia, or not spaying/neutering their pets. In some cultures, housing pets outdoors is considered normal, and conversations about parasite prevention and appropriate vaccinations may be more helpful than attempts to persuade pet owners to house pets indoors.

Language Barriers

Differences in languages, dialects/slang, and hearing ability can make it challenging to ensure pet owners understand their pet’s health. For pet owners who are deaf or hard of hearing, team preparedness is essential. Pet owners should be asked prior to the appointment if they would prefer to speak, write, or use a qualified sign language interpreter. Eye contact should be maintained and transparent masks worn. Finding or creating videos for at-home care (eg, how to clean ears) with closed captioning can also be helpful.

Developing Protocols

The next task is to create a culture in which all staff members ensure accountability and sustainability of standard operating protocols that address communication concerns and provide the best patient care.

Examples may include:

  • Promoting diversity of veterinary staff during the hiring process. Veterinary teams with multilingual personnel can help break down language barriers and increase trust with pet owners.

  • Offering educational handouts with translation options in various forms (eg, videos, brochures, emails, text messages; see Suggested Reading)

  • Addressing the needs of neurodivergent pet owners by keeping noise levels and interruptions to a minimum, providing clear aftercare instructions, sending summaries of in-clinic discussions (eg, diagnosis, care instructions) in a follow-up email, and offering appointment reminders sent via the pet owner’s preferred method of communication

  • Using inclusive language on patient intake forms regarding race, ethnicity, gender identity, necessary accommodations, and languages spoken


Regardless of the barrier, empathy helps pet owners feel seen and heard and have a favorable experience. Empathy is a skill that can be cultivated when practiced daily, and embracing empathy can be a defining factor in removing communication barriers and improving patient outcomes.