Why Some Vet Clients Deserve to Get Fired

Vet client signing a paper

People can behave badly — very, very badly. It’s not just pet owners, of course, but when those who do lay claim to pet parenthood intersect adversely with veterinarians and their teams, sometimes the upshot is a fired client.

While I’m sure that you could never be grouped with such owners, dear reader, I figure it’s a good idea for even the best client to understand what most veterinarians consider grounds for divorce. And, if nothing else, it’s entertaining to read in a voyeuristic kind of way.

First, let me explain: “Firing” a client is a relatively common practice in service industries — and it happens for all kinds of reasons. It occurs when clients either act poorly, fail to comply with policies, put the business at unnecessary risk or simply refuse to pay.

In most cases, it’s handled informally, if obliquely: “Mr. Jones, I absolutely adore Suzy, but I believe another veterinarian would better meet her needs.” Most clients will meekly accept the suggestion, surprised as they are, and quietly take their business elsewhere.

Some, however, will fail to grasp what's being asked of them, and continue to patronize the aggrieved service provider. Others will act out in a belligerent fashion. In both cases, a formal letter must be drafted to ensure that everyone understands the situation and complies.

Although I can cite many instances of egregiously untoward pet owner behavior, I’ve only ever formally “fired” three clients in over 15 years of practicing veterinary medicine. Here’s a rough profile of those three clients, with identifying information changed to protect the indefensible:

The Naysayer

This client was my first. I was really young, but well educated. She’d always failed to comply with my recommendations, and refuted my fundamentally irrefutable observations. Case in point: “My dog has no fleas,” she claimed. Meanwhile, I’d just grabbed one to show her.

After I explained that her dog had ginormous bladder stones, and gave her a 20-minute download on the subject, she asked to make a phone call. When I came back to complete the visit, she claimed that her radiologist boyfriend had said that bladder stones weren’t visible on X-rays. Note: She’d already seen the stones on the X-rays with her own eyes.

I decided right then and there that it was the end. I don’t mind confessing that my skin tone probably reddened by a few angry degrees as I delivered that first firing spiel, but it was understandable — and justified.


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