November 16, 2018

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: University of Tennessee
Investigator(s): Linda M. Daugherty, MPA
Grant Amount: $391,420
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

The Access to Veterinary Care Coalition at the University of Tennessee (UT) conducted a national study of pet owners, focusing on populations with inadequate access to veterinary care. The report entitled, Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy, was released December 17, 2018. The report found that an overwhelming barrier for all income groups of pet owners is financial for all types of care (80.0% for preventative care, 73.8% for sick care, and 55.7% for emergency care).


To understand: pet owners' barriers to veterinary care across socioeconomic strata; and veterinarians' knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding access to care.


This report is a compilation of results from national research by University of Tennessee's Center for Applied Research and Evaluation (CARE) in the form of surveys and focus groups; associated research targeting pet owners with housing insecurity; technical papers discussing pets as family, evolving animal welfare laws, public health, an economic comparison of for-profit and nonprofit veterinary practices and a discussion about changes in veterinary medicine over the past decades.


  • 80% of pet owners strongly agreed, "My pet is considered a member of my family."
  • Low-income households were more likely to own more than one pet.
  • In the past two years, approximately 1 out of 4 (28%) households experienced barriers to veterinary care. The overwhelming barrier for all groups of pet owners was financial for all types of care (80% for preventative, 74% for sick, and 56% for emergency).
  • Dogs and cats with younger owners and those living in lower-income households were shown to be most at risk for not receiving recommended care.
  • Younger pet owners were reportedly more likely to have pet insurance and more likely to take advantage of free/reduced cost services, but were less likely to have their pet spayed or neutered.
  • Overall, care is most frequently sought from private veterinary clinics.
  • The highest level of agreement among veterinarians (95%) was in response to the statement "All pets deserve some level of veterinary care." In addition, most (87%) agreed that there is a relationship between the owner's emotional health and being able to obtain veterinary care for their pet. However, the majority of veterinary respondents do not think everyone is entitled to own a pet.
  • Besides financial barriers, less frequently reported barriers to veterinary care, which varied in frequency by type of care, included: not knowing where to get care, lack of transportation, not having the proper equipment (like crates and leashes).


Lack of access to veterinary care is a complex societal problem with many causes. Key stakeholders include veterinary service providers, social service and public health professionals, animal welfare advocates, policymakers and society in general. Barriers to veterinary care can be mitigated, especially through determined effort and better alignment of existing resources to achieve this outcome.