Assessing the preparedness of the veterinary profession to communicate with limited English proficient Spanish-speaking pet owners

Ruth Ellen Landau, Purdue University


The purpose of the present study was to assess the preparedness of the veterinary profession to communicate with limited English proficient Spanish-speaking pet owners (LEP SSPOs). Results of surveys with 393 Latino pet owners, 383 small animal veterinarians and staff, and over 2000 veterinary students indicate that interaction between veterinary professionals and LEP SSPOs is not a rare occurrence: Veterinarians in states with large established or fast-growing Latino communities are seeing LEP SSPOs and their pets on a regular basis: 89% of veterinarians have LEP Spanish-speaking clients, over half of these practitioners are seeing LEP SSPOs weekly, and over half of veterinary students surveyed worked at a practice or shelter that saw LEP SSPOs. Pet owners in general were more likely not to take their dog to the veterinarian if they had limited income, employment, or education, and more likely not to take their cat to the veterinarian if they had young children living at home. However, individuals with LEP were significantly more likely to earn less than $15,000 per year, have less than full-time employment, have less than a high school education, and have young children at home. Thus decreased use of veterinary services is confounded by one's LEP status, rather than being directly attributable to accompanying language challenges. Veterinarians who utilized a pet owner's family or friends as interpreters were significantly less satisfied with their communication with LEP SSPOs than veterinarian who used bilingual staff to interpret for them. Only 8% of small animal practice staff could communicate in Spanish with LEP SSPOs. Recommendations to improve communication with LEP SSPOs include: using a Spanish-English dictionary, phrase book, brochures and handouts; using software to translate English text to written and voiced Spanish; using toll-free telephone services to interpret live conversations; and hiring bilingual staff. Veterinarians who employed Spanish-speaking staff and offered Spanish-language written materials and translations reported greater satisfaction communicating with LEP SSPOs. Veterinarians (75%) and veterinary students (67%) agreed that Spanish for Veterinary Professionals should become an elective course in the DVM curriculum. Most (89%) practices did no marketing of services in Spanish to their LEP SSPOs. Marketing suggestions included: Add Spanish-language messages to signage, phone messages, Facebook accounts, websites and blogs; distribute Spanish-language flyers to churches and Latino Community centers; provide practice listing in Latino Yellow Pages; partner with Spanish-speaking organizations in the community; and capitalize on word-of-mouth advertising. This study demonstrated that the number of LEP SSPOs is greater than the number of Spanish-speaking veterinary professionals and students available to work with them. Implementing some of the strategies suggested by respondents can help to bridge this growing communication gap.




Moore, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Communication|Ethnic studies|Veterinary services

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