Understanding The Stress Of Financial Conversations

Kate Boatright, VMD
Dr. Kate Boatright
Associate Veterinarian, Speaker, Author - Penn-Ohio Veterinary Services and KMB Veterinary Media LLC
vet petting dachshund on woman's lap

Discussing the cost of veterinary care is among the top stressors for many veterinary professionals. In a business that operates on a cash basis, these conversations are a necessity. But when decisions about life-saving care are made for purely financial reasons, the emotional toll on all involved in the conversation can be high.

Understanding the factors that create stress when discussing veterinary finances with clients — and developing strategies to mitigate them — is essential to supporting the mental health of veterinary team members, improving patient outcomes, and increasing client satisfaction.

Pets as Family Members

Pets are considered a part of the bonded family unit by most pet owners. The inability to provide medical care for a pet creates distress for human family members. This can lead to emotional outbursts in the moment, frustration at the veterinary clinic's payment policies, verbal abuse of veterinary team members, and negative online reviews. In extreme cases, cyberbullying and harassment of the veterinary clinic may occur.

While abusive behaviors should never be tolerated, remembering the emotional toll that financial stresses can have on clients and expressing empathy throughout the conversation can often help keep conversations civil. The mindset that is not helpful in these situations — and that will create more tension between pet families and veterinary professionals — is the idea that “you shouldn’t own a pet if you can’t afford to care for it.”

There are several problems with this idea:

  1. First, how is “affordability” defined? A pet family may be able to cover routine preventive care costs but not be able to spend several thousand dollars in an emergency. A 2020 Pawlicy Advisor survey of over 20,000 pet owners found that while 19.4% of pet owners could pay a $5,000 unexpected veterinary bill out of pocket, 49.7% could not afford an unexpected pet health expense of this magnitude. The remaining 30.8% of pet owners would seek financing.
  2. Additionally, family finances can change over the lifetime of a pet. Consider an owner who adopted a puppy ten years ago. They are now retired and living on a fixed income, creating different financial limitations.

Thankfully, the mindset of pets being a luxury is not held by the majority of the veterinary profession. Instead of judging clients for bringing a sick or injured pet to our clinics with limited finances, we must work to find ways to connect with the client to openly discuss the best way to use their available funds in the moment.

We must work to find ways to connect with the client to openly discuss the best way to use their available funds...
Kate Boatright, VMD

Moral Distress for Veterinary Professionals

Vet professionals understand the essential role pets play in their families' lives and that being unable to provide veterinary care for a beloved pet is distressing to the owner. We feel this stress, too. Many veterinarians will provide alternative options through a spectrum of care approach, seeking to find a diagnostic and therapeutic plan that fits the needs and limitations of the pet family. Unfortunately, in some cases — especially emergency situations, such as a gastrointestinal obstruction — there simply aren’t alternatives to a costly emergency surgery. Often, these cases result in either euthanasia or the surrender of the pet.

Situations such as this create moral distress, which is defined as “the experience of knowing the right thing to do while being in a situation in which it is nearly impossible to do it.”1 Moral distress has been associated with burnout and decreased professional fulfillment for veterinarians.2 While data is more limited on the effect these cases have on the rest of the veterinary team, anyone who has worked in a clinic has seen the emotional toll these cases take.

Supporting Your Team

It is essential that veterinary team members have an opportunity to debrief together after a particularly stressful case or distressing conversation with a client. This will help to support the mental health of the team and provide an opportunity to evaluate the situation for things that went well and opportunities for improvement in the future.

Additionally, investing in team communication training can be an asset to your practice. Veterinary team members who are equipped to handle financial conversations with empathy, strong communication skills, and training in de-escalating emotional clients will have more successful outcomes for patients and more satisfied clients.

A Team Approach to Financial Conversations in Clinical Practice

Over the next several months, Dr. Boatright will explore ways to help reduce the stress of financial conversations and help to prepare pet owners for the costs of pet ownership — both expected and unexpected.


  1. Moses L, MAlowney M, and Boyd JW. Ethical conflict and moral distress in veterinary practice: A survey of North American veterinarians. J Vet Intern Med 2018;32:2115-2122.
  2. Kogan LR and Rishniw M. Veterinarians and moral distress. J Am Vet Med (published online ahead of print 2023). https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.22.12.0598.

Do you want to find the best pet insurance?

Let's analyze your pet's breed, age, and location to find the right coverage and the best savings. Ready?

Analyze My Pet

About Pawlicy Advisor

The pet insurance marketplace endorsed by veterinarians, at Pawlicy Advisor we make buying the best pet insurance easier. By comparing personalized coverage and pricing differences we can save you a ton of money, up to 83% in some instances!

Pawlicy Advisor helping a pet parent and their dog find a great deal on insurance

Instantly Compare Pet Insurance Plans

Get Quotes


How Pet Insurance Works

How To Compare Plans

Determine If Pet Insurance Is Worth It

Determine If Wellness Plans Are Worth It

Vet Visit Costs

New Puppy Checklist

Comparison Charts

ASPCA vs. Pets Best

Pets Best vs. Embrace

Embrace vs. MetLife

MetLife vs. Figo

More Comparison Charts

Find Your State

New Jersey





New York



More States

Dog Insurance

German Shepherd




English Bulldog

French Bulldog

Great Dane





More Breeds

Kate Boatright, VMD

Dr. Kate Boatright
Associate Veterinarian, Speaker, Author - Penn-Ohio Veterinary Services and KMB Veterinary Media LLC

Dr. Kate Boatright, VMD, works as a small animal general practitioner, freelance speaker, and author in western Pennsylvania. Since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with her veterinary degree in 2013, she has worked throughout Pennsylvania as both a general practice and emergency veterinarian. Both in the clinic and outside of it, Dr. Boatright enjoys building relationships with her clients and educating pet owners on how they can keep their pets as healthy as possible. She loves being a veterinarian and educating students and colleagues on wellness, communication, and the unique challenges facing recent graduates. Outside of the clinic, she is active in many veterinary organizations, enjoys running, watching movies, and playing games with her husband, son, and cats.

More you might like

person filing pet insurance claim form
7 minute read

How To File A Pet Insurance Claim

Pawlicy Advisor logo on US map
6 minute read

US Pet Owners Can't Keep Up With Rising Costs

4 minute read

6 Things Doctors Say To Do At Your Next Vet Appointment

Cats and puppies on a ledge with the Embrace Pet Insurance and Pawlicy Advisor logos above.
3 minute read

Embrace Pet Insurance Joins Pawlicy Advisor’s Marketplace

cat with allergies
8 minute read

Allergies In Cats: Causes & Treatments

obese cat on stairs
8 minute read

Obesity In Cats

sick dog with bloat at the vet
12 minute read

How To Prevent Bloat (Gastric Dilation-Volvulus) In Dogs

siamese cat on bed
5 minute read

Siamese Cat Care Guide & Breed Overview

brushing main coon cat teeth
6 minute read

How To Brush Your Cat's Teeth: 7-Step Guide

sphynx cat
8 minute read

Sphynx Cat Care Guide & Breed Overview

dog with barkuterie board
6 minute read

How To Make A Barkuterie Board For Dogs

vet examines dog tooth abscess
8 minute read

How To Spot & Treat A Dog's Tooth Abscess

cat blood sugar levels
5 minute read

Diabetes In Pets: Biggest Risk Factors To Know

vet treating dog in home
6 minute read

Can Vets Treat Their Own Pets & File Pet Insurance Claims?

woman giving flea treatment to dog
9 minute read

How To Get Rid of Fleas On Dogs ASAP

cat with stomatitis looking at camera
7 minute read

Stomatitis In Cats: Treatment & Costs

vet brushing cats teeth
13 minute read

Cat Dental Care Tips For Pet Owners

cat with feline panleukopenia virus
7 minute read

Feline Panleukopenia Virus (Distemper): Symptoms & Risk Factors

vet inspecting dog with gum disease
10 minute read

Periodontal Disease In Dogs: Stages, Symptoms & Treatment Costs

vet performing dental cleaning on cat
7 minute read

How Much Does A Cat Dental Cleaning Cost?

cat smiling displaying teeth
5 minute read

5 Interesting Facts About Cat Teeth You Should Know

A header image for a blog about fictional dog popularity
3 minute read

The Top Trending Fictional Dog in Every U.S. State

cat throwing up food
11 minute read

Why Is My Cat Throwing Up And What Can I Do To Help?

hero image of a Boxer dog squnting his eyes without pet insurance
12 minute read

Allergies In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Costs

Payment Peace of Mind badge overlaying a vet clinic waiting room
2 minute read

Payment Peace of Mind with Pawlicy Advisor

a blog hero image about pet insurance for older cats
6 minute read

Can You Get Pet Insurance For Older Cats?

a hero image of a blog about why puppies throw up
8 minute read

Here's Why Your Puppy Is Throwing Up & What To Do Next

A header image for a blog about the best cities to date with your dog
8 minute read

The Best U.S. Cities to Date With Your Dog

person giving a dog probiotics
5 minute read

Probiotics for Dogs: Best Probiotics to Improve Digestion

urinary blockage in cats
6 minute read

Urinary Blockage In Cats: Signs, Treatment Costs & Prevention

pet insurance popularity
11 minute read

Pet Insurance Hits New Peak In Popularity, According To Data

cat behaviors
9 minute read

13 Bizarre Cat Behaviors You Never Understood Until Now

fading kitten syndrome
5 minute read

Fading Kitten Syndrome: What It Is, Why It Happens & What To Do

kitten training mistakes
6 minute read

7 Common Mistakes You Can Make When Training A Kitten

young kitten
4 minute read

How To Tell How Old A Kitten Is (And Why It Matters)

woman and dog high five
22 minute read

Best Pet Insurance Companies In August 2023: Reviews

waffle pet insurance review
4 minute read

Is Waffle Pet Insurance Good? Here’s How It Stacks Up

adopting a cat
5 minute read

7 Things You Need To Know Before Getting A New Kitten

sneezing kitten
7 minute read

Why Is My Kitten Sneezing & What Can I Do? Ask A Vet

can cats get colds
4 minute read

Can Cats Get Colds? Here's Everything You Need To Know

gingivitis in cats
8 minute read

Gingivitis In Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Cost

how to treat kitten fleas
6 minute read

How To Get Rid Of Fleas On Kittens

kitten parasites
8 minute read

Common Parasites In Kittens & Cats

how to deworm cats
6 minute read

Kitten Deworming Schedule: When, Why & How To Deworm Cats

why is my cat meowing so much
10 minute read

Why Your Cat Is Meowing So Much & What You Can Do About It

how to take care of a kitten
16 minute read

How To Take Care Of A Kitten

new kitten checklist
7 minute read

New Kitten Checklist: What To Buy For Kittens In 2022

cost to spay a cat
4 minute read

How Much Does It Cost To Spay A Cat? Everything You Need To Know

Pawlicy Advisor Expands Series B
2 minute read

Pawlicy Advisor Expands Into Veterinary Corporate Groups Modernizing Pet Insurance Education Across the U.S. and Secures $12 Million in Series B Funding

how to socialize a kitten
7 minute read

How To Socialize A Kitten

Back to Blog
A family with pets that are insured by Pawlicy Advisor
Pawlicy Advisor is the leading independent marketplace for finding the best coverage for your pet at the lowest rate.
Join 2,438,795+ insured dogs and cats across the US.
Get a Quote
Our pet insurance partners
ASPCA Pet Health Insurance Logo
Pets Best Pet Insurance Logo
Embrace Pet Insurance Logo
MetLife Pet Insurance Logo
Figo Pet Insurance Logo
Prudent Pet Insurance Logo