Top 10 Reasons Vets Divorce Their Clients

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: May 04, 2015
Published: September 11, 2008
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#1: Stress!

When clients add stress to our lives in quantities disproportionate to that of the average pet owner, we sometimes initiate divorce proceedings. It usually arrives in the guise of a nice letter explaining that it must be our fault:

“It’s clear to the doctors and staff of X Animal Hospital that we cannot render services at the level you deem acceptable. Enclosed are your medical records. You will doubtless be better served elsewhere.”

Translation: Buh-bye.

Stress is huge. Why else would any self-respecting vet with bills to pay choose to cut themselves off from a client, the lifeblood of any veterinary practice?

Here are some other reasons (incidentally, all arguably a subset of #1):

#2: Financial complaints

Because clients are not always willing to pay, or even if they are, because they’re unwilling to part with it ways we recommend. Sometimes it’s because they exhaust us with complaints on every single invoiced item every time they come in.

Recent example: The financially nitpicky client who outright refused to surrender his pet to the $40 X-ray which would easily have diagnosed the stones his cocker spaniel carried in her bladder. Instead, he berated me for trying to take advantage of him by forcing him to pay for “extras” when “antibiotics would have done the trick.”

Right. By the time I attended his pet in the correct manner she’d suffered months of recurrent urinary tract infections and the client ended up paying more for his chronic delays—not to mention what his pet suffered. Shame on him…and his  $100K Porsche. We don’t need clients like this.

#3: Obsessiveness

We all know people like this. They mean well. But after six phone calls every day for a week the staff is ready to pull out their hair.

#4: Ridiculous demands

“The doctor MUST speak with me right now. No, it’s NOT an emergency and I don’t care if she’s in surgery. Just get her on the phone!”

If this is a client's M.O., it's a no-go.

#5: Freaky humanizing behavior

Clients who refuse to leave their pets without ensuring that the staff will change her diapers every hour and puree her food just so. “Oh, and here’s the silver spoon she must be fed with.”


#6: Lack of trust

Sure, we vets have to earn that trust but some clients never even give you the opportunity. I once fired a client for accusing me of taking her for a ride when I diagnosed (yet again) bladder stones:

“My boyfriend is a [human] radiologist. I just called him and he says you can’t see bladder stones on an X-ray. I know you’re cheating me so I’m not paying for that X-ray.” (Incredibly, this nastily delivered sermon came after I’d shown her the stones.)

Uncharacteristically, I fired this one on the spot. No letter. Just a simple statement explaining that if she wanted a vet who practiced canine medicine based on knowledge of human pathology she had better go elsewhere.

#7: Cheating

How to get your vet services for free: Just put them on an American Express and dispute the charges. AmEx always decides in favor of the client as long as the client says they didn’t authorize the services (despite being present while they were being rendered). Next time a merchant won’t accept your AmEx card you’ll know why.

#8: Unfair expectations

Sometimes owners expect their pet to be cured of all diseases instantly. They expect you to know exactly what’s wrong instantly. Then they get nasty about it, accusing us of committing all kinds of idiocy. This is when I explain (if they’re of a certain generation) that, “I’m sorry but I left my tricorder on the Enterprise.”

#9: Unethical behavior

Trying to get us to sign paperwork attesting to a pet’s age, weight, genetic abnormalities, pre-existing conditions—even a pet’s identity—to gain access to a flight, a boarding facility, a condo, an “excellent” grading on OFA hips, for puppy sales, etc. One client even forged my signature on a document once.

It’s fraud. It’s wrong. It puts MY license in jeopardy. These clients are summarily dismissed.

#10: Garden variety nastiness

This kind of behavior isn’t necessarily aimed at the veterinarians manning any given practice. In fact, it’s more likely confined to rude and inappropriate remarks leveled against staff members.

More than once I’ve had to fire a client after hearing them yell at a receptionist via telephone in tones loud enough to be heard by anyone in the same room. If a client isn’t contrite after being called out for verbally abusive behavior, or should it continue, they get fired.


It may sound from the tone of this that I enjoy firing clients and/or that I do so often. Truth be told I’m not often given cause. But when they do manage to raise our hospital’s collective stress levels to the breaking point, little gives me more satisfaction than knowing we don’t have to take it.