They might have just saved a beloved pooch or guinea pig, but instead of gratitude hundreds of vets around the country frequently face intimidation and threats of violence from their clients.
Pet owners are increasingly likely to pressure their vet to waive their fees, becoming angry and aggressive over the cost of care, a report has found.
The survey by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) found that nearly nine out of 10 vets in the UK have experienced some form of intimidation.
It found that 85 per cent of vets said they or a member of their team had felt threatened by a client’s language or behaviour.
This has included swearing, shouting, threats to damage property or defame the practice on social media, and even death threats.
Some clients become aggressive when asked to bring in their pet for follow up checks or were angry at the cost of the treatment suggested, accusing the practice of being “money grabbing”.
While around half of vets have felt personally intimidated, support staff such as receptionists often bear the brunt of pet owners' threatening behaviour.
Robin Hargreaves, a vet of 30 years’ experience in north west England, said: “I’m afraid it’s almost a daily occurrence. It’s usually over money. People will tell you that if we really loved animals we should treat theirs for free - what they forget is that they aren’t the only ones asking that.
“It can turn physical. I’m a big bloke, but I’ve had many threats of violence, mainly from angry young men.”
Mr Hargreaves, 55, added: “We’ve had people threatening to smash all our windows, and that can be very frightening to the young people who work for me. It’s often at night, with the out of hours service. My staff have been left very upset by the abuse, but they don’t feel they can just abandon the patient, who is the animal, not the owner. I’m afraid it’s pushing people out of the profession.”
The survey of more than 1,600 practising members of the BVA, found that vets who specialise in household pets, such as cats and dogs, rather than farm animals, are more likely to experience threatening behavior.
Around 89 per vent of vets working with companion animals reported some form of intimidating behaviour from their clients.
Women and younger vets were also significantly more likely to have felt threatened, the survey showed.
The frequency of the problem has shocked senior figure in the profession.
Around six in ten vets said that they or a member of their practice team experienced intimidating language or behaviour at least every couple of months, while almost a third at least monthly.
One in eight vets (13%) said they suffered intimidating language or behaviour on a weekly basis.
Sam Morgan, President of the BVA condemned the behaviour of pet owners who felt justified in threatening their vet.
He said: "We understand there can be a lot of distress when pets are ill and deciding the best course of action for a loved pet or sick animal can be very difficult. However, this is no excuse to be aggressive or intimidating to a member of the veterinary team.
"Animal welfare is at the heart of our work and we are always working towards getting the very best possible result for the animal's health."
The cost of treatment was one of the most common reasons for threatening behaviour, with 98% of vets admitting feeling under pressure from clients to waive fees or accept late payment.
Fees have risen significantly over recent years, going up around 12 per cent every year.
Vets say the rising costs reflect the growing sophistication and choice of treatments available for animals, in line with new developments in health care for humans.
Where vets would once treat a dog with a tooth problem with a simple extraction they are now also likely to recommend an X-ray to establish if there are problems, driving up the cost.
Treating a bite abscess on a cat can cost £245, while care for a lame dog will typically set its owner’s back £400. A torn knee ligament in a dog could cost as much as £1,200 to treat.
A course of drugs can also be punishing for owners, particularly for chronic long-term conditions such as arthritis, although Mr Hargreaves pointed out that clients are often angered about the cost of a treatment that has not changed much over the decades, such mending a broken leg.
John Fishwick, president of the BVA said: “Anyone who has owned an animal will agree that it is an important responsibility and, with no NHS for animals, owning a pet will cost tens of thousands of pounds over its lifetime.
“Just as medical costs for humans have increased as we develop more sophisticated and varied treatments, so have veterinary costs for animal care and treatments. Vets offer value for money with fees covering not only the advice, healthcare and treatment they deliver for animals, but the vet team’s time and expertise, the technology and equipment used, and the overheads of running the practice itself.”