Explaining the Costs of Veterinary Care

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If you are a pet parent, you have probably been shocked at a vet bill. What seemed like a routine checkup turned into a hundred dollar or more lesson about veterinary costs. Routine visits can’t hold a candle to any serious illness that may occur. Cancer treatments can range into the thousands. And if you think you are the only one who noticed that veterinary care costs are rising, think again.

According to surveys conducted by the AVMA, veterinary expenses paid by pet owners rose 14% from 2006 to 2011, to $28 billion. In the same study, 20%-30% of pet owners reported that the reason they did not take their pets into the vet office for check-ups and care was that they simply couldn’t afford it. With 68% of US households owning a pet, and veterinary costs continuing to rise, there are many pets who will never see a veterinarian. 

The costs of veterinary care are subject to inflation, just like other consumer industries, but there are particular reasons why it has seen such an increase in costs. 

Rising Costs of Education

Veterinary school is getting more expensive. Just like any other college grad, a veterinarian is expected to earn enough income to pay off that sizable debt, which can amount to over $300,000. Tack on interest over the years, and that number keeps growing. This explains why veterinary salaries have increased from $60,000 on average in 1995 to upwards of $90,000 in 2007. This may seem like a lot, but is still only a fraction of what doctors in the human medical industry can take home. 

Advances in Medicine

Veterinary medicine came out of livestock care, and pets went from animals who lived outside and received little to no medical treatments, to valued members of our indoor families. And just like the human members of our family, our pets need and deserve the same kind of care. The demand for high quality pet care has led to many medical advances that have helped to increase the lifespan of our companion animals. Tools that were uncommon to see in vet offices even ten years ago, are now offered by most vets, including CAT scans and MRIs. All this new and upgraded technology has increased the level of care available to diagnose and treat your pets, but it has also increased the price tag. 

These wonderful advances that have allowed our pets to live longer, have also increased the chances of other diseases to arise, such as arthritis, dementia, and other age-related problems, demanding more and more care. 

There has also been a shift of perspectives in the area of veterinary medicine to include holistic and integrative techniques along with traditional ones. There are a growing number of clinics that offer rehabilitation services, acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, and other non-traditional treatments to aid in your pet’s road to good health. While not every pet owner is willing to spring for these extras, a clinic who has them generally has to fund extra space, materials, and education for them. These extras are added to clinics because of demand, and can often bring in new clients who want every kind of care available for their pets.

Costs of a Veterinary Practice

A veterinarian who runs a clinic has a lot of costs, just like any other business. They need to pay building and land costs, pay for monthly utilities, and update insurance premiums and licensing fees. They need to provide health insurance and a viable wage to all their veterinary employees, including the veterinary technicians and kennel staff. And they have to ensure that each member of their team is a committed professional, so that you, the consumer, feel safe handing your pet over to their care, by keeping their wages competitive and providing continuing education.

Medical equipment and machines, such as CO2 monitors and X-rays, are purchased or leased from the same companies that human hospitals buy from, and carry the same costs. Supplies need to be available and on hand at a moment’s notice, including syringes, endotracheal tubes, catheters, and surgical tools.

But the biggest expense for your veterinarian comes from their in-house pharmacy, a convenience and a necessity. Since you cannot run down to your own local human pharmacy for medications for your pet, your veterinarian needs to have every medicine that may be needed for each pet on hand and ready. This can be quite costly for vets, in upwards of $20,000 per month, and just like human medications, those costs are increasing too.

With 98% of pet owners treating their pets as family, it can be disheartening to have to deny medical treatment because it is simply too costly. Some pet owners choose to shop around for the best prices, or get routine vaccines or spay/neutering procedures at discount or lower income service providers. While these can offer an easy solution to financial constraints, these short term interactions are not going to provide long term care that your pet may need. 

While veterinary costs can be expensive, you should consider the veterinarian’s approach to your pet’s care. Having a vet who provides excellent care, can recommend preventative treatments that can prevent serious future illness, and shares your concerns on the health of your best friend can make all the difference.