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Pets in low-income households at risk of not receiving veterinary care

According to a report, nearly 28 percent of households experienced barriers to animal health care in the last two years

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Dogs and cats living in households with financial constraints and/or with young pet owners are most at risk for not receiving recommended care, according to a national population survey report.

A study commissioned through Maddie’s Fund and conducted by Access to Veterinary Care Coalition (AVCC) and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s (UTK’s) College of Social Work, found in the past two years, nearly 28 percent of households experienced barriers to veterinary care.

AVCC’s report, Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy, identifies the need for better solutions to allow more people to obtain health care for their animals.

“Lack of access to veterinary care is a complex societal problem with many causes,” said Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH, chair of the coalition and former dean of UTK’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“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.”

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

The study also confirmed veterinary service providers recognize the severity of the problem and feel a commitment to explore ways to address it. Ninety-five percent of all respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “All pets deserve some level of veterinary care.” Nearly nine out of 10 respondents indicated they agreed or strongly agreed owned pets are a member of the family. Similarly, 87 percent agreed not being able to obtain needed veterinary care impacts the owner’s mental and emotional health.

Additionally, the report includes:

  • results of research focusing on pet owners who experience housing insecurity;
  • technical reports from experts on pets as family, evolving animal welfare laws, public health, and for-profit and nonprofit veterinary practices; and
  • a discussion of issues and attitudes relevant to access to care in veterinary practice.
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“The first step in solving a societal problem is to better understand it,” Dr. Blackwell said.

“AVCC’s report provides important insights into barriers to veterinary care and can guide stakeholders in developing solutions.”

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