Barriers to Veterinary Care

March 26, 2019

Recent study identifies the need for better solutions that allow more people to obtain veterinary care.


In the past two years, nearly 28 percent of households experienced barriers to veterinary care, according to a national population survey conducted by the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition, a partnership of for-profit and nonprofit veterinary service providers, animal welfare and social service professionals, and educators, working in collaboration with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Social Work.

The study was commissioned through a grant from Maddie’s Fund, a national family foundation created by Dave and Cheryl Duffield to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals, to better understand the barriers faced by pet owners across the socioeconomic spectrum. 

The coalition’s report, Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy, identifies the need for better solutions that allow more people to obtain veterinary care. The study also sought to understand the knowledge, attitudes, and practices veterinarians have regarding access to care. 

Among the report’s findings:

• Dogs and cats living in lower-income households and with younger pet owners are most at risk for not receiving recommended care. 

• The overwhelming barrier for all groups of pet owners and all types of care is financial, with 80 percent unable to obtain preventative care due to financial constraints, 74 percent for sick care, and 56 percent for emergency care.

• Veterinary service providers recognize the severity of the problem and feel a commitment to explore ways to address it. The highest level of agreement expressed by veterinarians in the survey was in response to the statement: “All pets deserve some level of veterinary care.” Almost all respondents – 95 percent – either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. 

• Nearly nine out of 10 respondents indicated they agreed or strongly agreed that owned pets are a member of the family. Similarly, 87 percent agreed that not being able to obtain needed veterinary care impacts the owner’s mental and emotional health.

“Lack of access to veterinary care is a complex societal problem with many causes,” said Michael Blackwell, chairman of the coalition, veterinarian, former dean of UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and director of the Program for Pet Health Equity. “This report furthers our understanding of these complex and interrelated issues and can guide stakeholders in the development of solutions to reach underserved families with pets. Barriers to veterinary care can be mitigated through determined effort and better alignment of existing resources to achieve this outcome.”

For more information or to download the study, visit