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The Five Types of Difficult Clients & How to Deal With Them

Although most veterinary professionals join this line of work for the pets, they often stay (or leave) for the people.

Client relationships underpin much of the work you do. But what happens when those clients drive you up the wall?

In this article, we talk about five types of tricky clients, and how to deal with them like a true professional.

The Five Types of Difficult Veterinary Clients

1. The Googley

The internet is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s a great resource for pet owners and vets alike. But on the other, it’s rife with misinformation. This has given rise to a new type of client: The Googley.

You know the types. The clients who look glassy-eyed at your Doctorate certificate on the wall, and instead of taking your advice, opt for a second opinion. Which might be fine, if that second opinion wasn’t Wikipedia. According to research, around 54% of vets feel like the Internet has negatively impacted their client relationships¹.

How to deal with these pet owners:

  • Create a positive rapport: Google isn’t all bad news. A well-educated client is a client who is more likely to follow your advice. Engage and affirm facts that are correct and gently course-correct when misinformation is being spread.

  • Don’t argue: A healthy debate is fine, but arguments are unproductive. So try to avoid them!

  • Redirect them towards good sources of information: If your client is engaging with some sketchy pet forums, redirect them towards credible sources. In an ideal world, pet owners would get all their information from their vet. But, unfortunately, this is not the world we live in now.

2. The Anxious Client

It’s normal for animals to be a bit anxious when going to the vet. But they’re not the only ones! Pet owners can be too, and this anxiety can spill into your client-clinician conversations.

Petrified pet owners typically go one of two ways. They either avoid going to the vet altogether or be in and out every week.

How to deal with these pet owners:

  • Be attentive: These pet parents need reassurance. Listen to everything they have to say, first acknowledging, then addressing their concerns one by one. If possible, ensure you’re 100% focussed on them, so they don’t feel that you have missed anything they’ve said.

  • Make notes: If you’re working with a client that is particularly tricky, make sure that you’re making thorough notes on everything that happened during the visit. You want to make sure that you’re being careful and covering your back.

  • Be ready to de-escalate: Anxious clients are the most likely to kick off if they are dissatisfied with your service. If a client becomes upset at the clinic, remain calm. Perhaps give them some time to cool down in private and circle back later.

3. The Helicopter Pet Parent

These pet owners have the very best of intentions, but not always the best execution.

Because they’re hyper-vigilant around their pet, they often pamper and coddle them to the point where they make them unwell.

Whether it’s not walking them enough (we’re talking dogs in handbags), or overfeeding them energy-dense, uber-premium fad diets, these pet parents can cause havoc if left unchecked.

Clients such as this can be hard to handle because they’re often completely unaware of how their behavior is bad.

How to deal with these pet owners:

  • Educate, don’t lecture: These pet parents want what’s best for their pets and have the potential to be great clients. The key is to educate, not lecture. If you’re too direct or harsh, the client will become defensive.

  • Focus on implications: Helicopter pet parents aren’t always fully aware of the implications of their behavior. Asking them what matters to their pet, then linking that motive to good or bad behavior, can be very effective at either reinforcing or discouraging actions.

4. The ‘It’s Just a Pet’ Owner

This type of owner can be especially frustrating. They are not invested in their pet’s health and may be hesitant to follow through with any treatment beyond the bare minimum (which means pretty much all preventive actions).

These sorts of clients tend to say things like ‘why would I pay X? It’s only a cat!’. This can be upsetting as a clinician, especially when it means that the animal has a diminished quality of life.

How to deal with these pet owners:

  • Address the elephant in the room: With these clients, the elephant in the room is their lack of appreciation for their pet and hence your service. You want to convey the implications of inaction and outline the purpose of each recommendation.

  • Manage your expectations: The reality is that you may struggle to get this owner to engage with anything beyond the rudimentary basic level of care. Be patient and play the long game here, trust is key and the best bet is to work on a slow-burn education.

  • Don’t internalize: Do not take rejection from this client as personal- it’s not about you, trust us!

  • Don’t give up: Patience and education will move the needle a surprising amount given time and the right circumstances.

5. The Impulse Buyer

You know how they say ‘a pet isn’t for Christmas, it’s for life?’ Well, this client didn’t get that memo.

Often, these people are first-time pet owners, who are not 100% prepared for pet parenthood. They can struggle with keeping up with the various day-to-day responsibilities of animal care. This can be a challenge as a vet, as often there is a lack of understanding of what is required on their end.

How to deal with these pet owners:

  • Step by step: It’ll be a steep learning curve, but covering the basics with these clients will go a long way. You don’t want to overwhelm them, but you do want to drill down what their moral obligations are.

  • Nurse clinics: Use your nurses to support the education. If you get this right you’ll have a bonded and grateful client who trusts you for life.

Support materials: What resources can you offer to help their learning journey? Articles written on the clinic website, or ebooks you or colleagues have authored podcasts, classes…there are a lot of options that you can use for this.

The Bottom Line

Clients can make or break your day.

Approaching them with curiosity rather than judgment can make a real difference. Adopting the mindset of playing the long game when things are not an emergency is a great idea. To this end, you probably noticed that education is appropriate in all cases.

Work on building empathy, being curious, and sharing (or even creating) well-put-together educational resources to support your conversations. This goes a long way to building the trust that supports all good long-term relationships.

Frequent, consistent communications are a crucial part of winning clients over.

If you've recently qualified and find yourself needing advice, check out our 'So You're a Vet, Now What?' course, to help guide your career.


1- ‘United Kingdom Veterinarians’ Perceptions of Clients’ Internet Use ….’ 19 Oct. 2017, Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.


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