How to lodge a veterinary complaint

Dog owners can fight back against incompetent vets.


The anguish accompanying a dog’s death or injury is often intensified when the owner suspects incompetent treatment by the family’s veterinarian. However, simple steps exist that enable owners to fight back against faulty medical care.

According to the American Association of Veterinary State Boards in Kansas City, Mo., the first thing owners should do is contact their local AAVSB office, which can be found by logging on to the website,, and searching under the Directory of Licensure Requirements.

The AAVSB, an organization regulating veterinarians to ensure that they are adequately trained and skilled, acts as a national verifying agency for disciplinary action; the state level is where the investigation takes place. License revocation and other disciplinary actions are also handled at the state level, said AAVSB officials.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends anyone with a complaint against a veterinarian or a specialist (such as dermatologist or oncologist) contact the state licensing boards, as found through the AAVSB.

"On our website, we give the clearest contact there is," said Jennifer Roberts, credentials administrator with the AAVSB. Many states offer online complaint forms that can either be filled out directly or downloaded and mailed in.

Each state differs slightly in its complaint process procedure. For example, in Colorado, dog owners must use the complaint form found on the website, and in Kansas, complainants fill out a downloaded form and, if applicable, include a written report from any secondary veterinary opinions to substantiate the claim.

"It’s best to have as much information as you can," said Tony Sanders, public information officer for the Illinois Veterinary Licensing and Disciplinary Board in Springfield, Ill.

Information includes a factually written complaint detailing what happened, when, where, who was involved. Having the veterinarian’s license number is an added bonus; it can be found by calling the vet’s office. Additionally, owners can ask their veterinarians for copies of all medical records, including x-rays and test results.

In general, complaints revolve around quality of care issues, such as doctor competency, impairment or chemical abuse, failure to meet minimum standards and cleanliness of facilities. Last year in Illinois, veterinarians were disciplined for failing to take post-surgical precautions, performing surgeries without owner approval and operating on the wrong leg of a dog.

Most state medical boards cannot help recover fees or settle financial disputes.

Another option for grieving dog owners is to turn to local veterinary associations, such as the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association in Pico Rivera, Calif. According to Richard Holden, executive director, the SCVMA and many others like it operate a grievance committee to hear non-financial complaints about members.

"We’re just a private organization with private membership," he said, noting that they often investigate smaller-scale complaints. "But that’s not to say we wouldn’t take serious cases, too."

If the SCVMA investigators deem necessary, they can oust the member in question. Then the state’s medical licensing board is notified, and it would "certainly want to take a hard look at this person," said Holden.

A list of other state’s associations can be found by visiting

Dog owners can help prevent problems in some cases by taking an active role in their dogs’ health care. Officials at the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine advocate question-asking and plenty of interaction between owner and veterinarian. Talking with the clinic managers about concerns is another avenue to explore.

"Communication is key," agreed Dr. James J. Watson, a veterinarian in Villa Park, Calif.