Cost Of Veterinary Health Care

Excerpts from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association article “The Cost of Compassion…Frequently Asked Questions About The Cost Of Veterinary Health Care.”


Q: Why is veterinary care for my pet(s) so expensive nowadays? Sometimes I believe I’m spending more on my pet’s health-care than on my own!

A: Relatively speaking, veterinary care is a great deal! Actually, the cost of veterinary care has risen very little over the last 20 to 30 years, especially when compared to the cost of human health care or almost any other service.

Your veterinary bill is a reflection of the costs of maintaining suitable facilities, equipment, and support personnel to provide the level of care that is expected in animal medicine today. Remember, too, the original cost of the animal has no bearing on the cost of services delivered. The question is “Can all people afford a pet?” If they can’t, who should subsidize them? The veterinarians?

On reason you sometimes feel you are paying more for your pet’s health care than for your own is that you probably have adequate health insurance for your own health care needs; thus, you’re never hit with a true bottom-line figure. If you sat down and added up your insurance costs, deductibles, and pharmaceutical costs (as veterinary drugs are usually included in your veterinary bill), you would find that the figures are actually nowhere close.

Q: Isn’t the cost of veterinary medicine out of sight and unreasonable? I mean, we’re just talking animal care. I thought my doctor really cared and would go the extra mile for me.

A: The extent of care given to any animal is determined ultimately by its owner. If you place a low value on the worth of a pet yourself, then you should probably not accept the responsibility for keeping a pet. Every pet owner has different ideas as to what is acceptable pet care. Veterinarians can only make their clients aware of products and services that are available to owners. Then, we guide them in their choices regarding the most important health options for their pet. It is up to the clients to make the choice. Veterinarians are willing and do go the extra mile for pet owners, but expenses need to be covered. This includes salaries for assistants and technicians, costly equipment such as x-ray machines, and of course, the expense of years of professional training.

Q: Should I be wary of “bargain basement” veterinary care? If so, why?

A: Yes. Generally, you get what you pay for. If the price is too low, your expectations may not be met. You are entitled to a full explanation of any service that you are paying for. Horseshoe Lake Animal Hospital strives to provide the best possible care for each and every pet to the extent that the owners can afford.

Q: If my veterinarian doesn’t clear up my pet’s problem, can I get a refund?

A: Fees cover what is done for the pet, including an examination, administration of tests, treatment, and medications. Some problems can be long-term or involve multiple and/or changing causes. Treatment may be ongoing.

To effect a cure is not always possible. You are paying for an honest attempt to diagnose and treat a problem. There is no implied guarantee.

Q: Why is there such a wide range of prices for the same procedure(s) among veterinarians?

A: Prices are set by each individual veterinary practice and each has different expenses that are covered by the fees charged (i.e. salaries, rent, utilities, etc.). Often, the different prices do not reflect the same set of services, although there may be certain basic procedures in common.

Each veterinarian sets the fees for services based on varying criteria, such as different drugs, anesthetics, and antibiotics, which may have a bearing on the cost of the services; also, different techniques are used, as well as different products, overhead, and philosophy.

Q: I recently took in a stray that appeared injured, possibly hit by a car. I took him to a veterinarian and paid the initial bill. I am unable to afford further treatment. Is this my reward for trying to do the right thing?

A: If you “adopt” the animal, you become the owner and therefore are responsible for the animal’s care. Hopefully, a healthy pet is your reward for trying to do the right thing. We understand the emotions that we can get caught up in when we see an animal that is homeless and needs help. However, making the decision to take in a stray should only be done with the same careful consideration that is involved in purchasing or adopting a new pet. The veterinary expenses are not assessed based on the method by which a pet is acquired. If you are not willing to accept the financial responsibility for a stray animal, it should be taken to Animal Control or the Humane Society.

Defining the financial commitment for the animal the initial visit can help avoid financial problems later on.

Veterinarians are routinely faced with these cases. Most practitioners will work out a satisfactory arrangement with the person who wants to pursue treatment for the animal.

JAVMA, Vol 206, No. 2, January 15, 1995