The Lowdown On The High Cost Of Veterinary Medicine — And Affordable Ways To Care For Your Pet

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There's some expensive veterinarian care out there.

I don’t often post about it here, but I am, in fact, a veterinary professional.

I have read a lot lately from upset pet owners about the cost of veterinary services and what that says about veterinarians and veterinary staff.

Over the past couple of years, it seems, we've morphed from being one of the most trusted professions to being a bunch of money-grubbing, heartless, hateful people.

And that breaks our hearts — because we went into this profession to help animals and people.

And economic euthanasia and the cost of services are something our profession wrings its hands over constantly.

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Here's the lowdown on expensive veterinarian care and what you need to know about it.

1. Veterinary clinics are a business.

We don't refuse services because we are mean but because the clinics are a business, and like every other business, we need to keep the doors open, the lights on, and the shelves stocked — and that costs money.

Our suppliers, the power company, and the town waterworks will not ask how compassionate we are when the clinic’s bills come due. They will simply ask whether we have the cash to pay.

If we don't, we cannot afford the sterile supplies, prescription diets, or medications we dispense, not to mention water, lights, or the salaries of the people who work here.

You don’t ask your car repair shop to comp you a free repair because you understand this, and you know that, of course, they will say "no."

The economics of running a business isn’t any different for us, even though veterinarians are operating on animals and not cars.

I was employed as a relief veterinarian for many years. That means that most of the clinics in a very large area of my state, I have worked at, one time or another.

2. Some bills aren't being paid.

The fact is that, where I live and work, most of these clinics either used to have a billing system or they let clients owe for certain bills if an animal needed emergency services.

I only know one now who offers this at all and only on a case-by-case basis for certain very old clients. The reason: Too many people charged services and did not pay.

It gets costly having to employ one person just to keep track of these bills, send payment letters, hire collection agencies, and take people to small claims court.

3. The standard of care has gone up.

The standard of care has gone way up since I graduated in 1993. The equipment and staff that once was only found in veterinary emergency clinics have become standard in your average practice… Unless they're still stuck in 1970.

Emergency and critical care practices now are the equivalent of a human hospital. That’s why clinics that are not stuck in 1970 cost so much.

Not to mention, the cost of everything else has gone up for you, hasn’t it? Prices for everything have not stayed stuck in 1970 for us, either.

The extra training for doctors and staff and the cost of advanced equipment aren’t cheap.

If we don’t have these services and at least offer them to the client when they are indicated, we risk being charged with malpractice or having a complaint against us brought to the state licensing board.

That’s what "standard of care" means.

Veterinarians and their staff are not rich.

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I will be paying off my student loans until I'm 62, plus the hospital bills I owe from 17 years ago when I could not afford health insurance despite working full time. (I needed two major surgeries.)

Because of this, I myself have no retirement and no savings.

We have a shortage of veterinarians right now because it’s a high-stress job that will put you six figures in debt but earn you a salary you cannot service that debt on.

Veterinary technicians and nursing assistants make paltry, paltry salaries.

A lot of good people who otherwise love the profession leave because they have trouble making ends meet (unless they happen to be married to someone making much better pay).

The corporate trend in veterinary medicine has not helped. Corporate chain veterinary practices tend to pay their doctors better, but not the support staff. All are rushed, stressed, and understaffed.

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If expensive veterinarian care is turning you off, here's what can you do to afford your pet's care.

1. Purchase pet insurance.

The best thing you can do if you are of limited means is to purchase pet insurance.

Buy it when the pet is young and the premiums are the lowest. Read the fine print and choose something that pays well for emergency care.

2. Try to do all the preventative care your vet recommends.

A distemper/parvo shot now is a lot cheaper than a week in the hospital after your puppy gets parvo.

A spay now on a six-month-old puppy is a lot cheaper than an emergency pyometra surgery on a 13-year-old dog.

You can buy seven years’ worth of heartworm prevention for what it would cost to treat your dog for heartworms once.

3. If you can, put together a small medical savings account for your pet.

That way, if some emergency happens, you will have something to fall back on.

4. Try to be polite to veterinary doctors and nursing staff.

When a client is rude, sad to say, it can affect the practice owner's decision on whether to let you pay on credit.

5. Apply for payment methods.

Try Care Credit and ScratchPay.

6. Look at local animal shelter clinics around you.

Some areas have large, well-funded animal shelter clinics that offer services to the public.

In our area, the largest local SPCA is starting to offer some really advanced services at a reduced cost.

7. Educate yourself on pet safety.

Be aware of things like choke-and-swallow hazards and common pet poisons like rat bait, ant bait, antifreeze, chocolate, and human foods like drink flavorings, peanut butter, and candy that contain xylitol.

An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

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P.D. Reader practices veterinary medicine by day and studies astrology by night.