Veterinarians say they are menaced by pet owners angry about costs

November 6, 2017

Nearly 90% of veterinarians in the United Kingdom frequently face intimidation and threats of violence from their clients—even after they have saved a family’s treasured pet, according to results of a survey by the British Veterinary Association published in The Telegraph

Indeed, pet owners are increasingly likely to pressure their vets to waive their fees, becoming angry and aggressive over the continually rising cost of care, the report has found.

Shockingly enough, fully 85% of vets said that they or a member of their team had felt threatened by a client’s language or behavior—which has included, the professionals say, swearing, shouting, and threats to damage property or defame the practice on social media. Some even go as far as to make death threats.

While around half of vets have felt personally intimidated, support staff such as receptionists often bear the brunt of pet owners’ verbal and physical outrage.

Robin Hargreaves, 55 years old and a vet with 30 years’ experience in northwestern England, told researchers, “I’m afraid it’s almost a daily occurrence. It’s usually over money. People will tell you that if we really loved animals we should treat theirs for free. What they forget is that they aren’t the only ones asking that.”

Hargreaves added, “We’ve had people threatening to smash all our windows, and that can be very frightening to the young people who work for me. It’s often at night, with the out-of-hours service. My staff have been left very upset by the abuse, but they don’t feel they can just abandon the patient, who is the animal, not the owner. I’m afraid it’s pushing people out of the profession.”

The survey of more than 1,600 practicing veterinarians found that vets who specialize in household pets, such as cats and dogs, rather than farm animals, are more likely to experience threatening behavior.

In addition, about 89% of vets working with companion animals reported some form of intimidating behavior. Women and younger vets were significantly more likely to have felt threatened, the survey showed.

The veterinarians are the first to admit that their fees have risen significantly over recent years, going up about 12% each year. They attribute the rising costs to the growing sophistication and choice of treatments available for animals, in line with new developments in health care for humans.

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