Why Is My Vet So Expensive?

Understanding the Costs of Veterinary Care

two dogs play tug of war over money
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You bring your dog to the vet for a routine visit or mild illness. You are there for 30-60 minutes and leave with medication. When you go to check out, you are shocked at the total of your bill. How can it possibly cost so much?!

Do you think your veterinarian charges too much? Sorry to break it to you, but you might be wrong. Dogs can be expensive. We all know that veterinary services can add up, especially when our pets are sick. However, when it really comes down to it, you're probably paying less than those services are truly worth. Unfortunately, many vets still undercharge for their services because the public tends to undervalue quality veterinary care. 

First of all, you need to know that veterinarians are not in it for the money. If all they cared about was money, they would have gone into another field, like human medicine or dentistry. It is extremely difficult to get into vet school. There are not that many vet schools in the US, so it's a highly competitive education to obtain. Trust that your vet became a vet because she really wanted to work with animals. It's certainly not for the paycheck. Consider this: The cost of veterinary school is similar to medical school. Vet students complete the same amount of school as med students. However, the average salary for veterinarians is less than half of what medical doctors make according to US News and World Report. These new vets have low starting salaries and high debt payments, making their living modest at best.

Here's a reality that pet owners sometimes forget: veterinary medicine is a business. In order to thrive, a business needs to make a profit. Unfortunately, many vet practices don't make enough profit to adequately reinvest in their businesses. Even if your vet works in a non-profit facility, a certain amount of income is needed to cover expenses and keep the facility running well.

Veterinary prices are set to stay competitive within the market, to help cover costs, and to turn a modest profit. The sad truth is that many vet practices still do not charge enough for their services because they worry about the way clients will respond. The next time you think your vet is "ripping you off" consider the following:

  • Highly skilled and well-trained staff costs money, but they are worth it. Sadly, most veterinarians and their staff are still very underpaid compared to their counterparts in human medicine.
  • Supplies, equipment, and facility costs are similar to those in human medicine, but veterinary charges to clients are set much lower than their human medicine equivalents. If you don't believe this, ask your doctor's office or local hospital about their charges for uninsured patients!
  • Veterinary medicine is a business. A certain amount of profit is needed in order to keep the business thriving.

It's one thing to have trouble affording veterinary care because you are on a fixed income or otherwise have trouble making ends meet. If this is your financial situation, look for ways to save money on dog care. Your best bet is to look for a low-cost or non-profit veterinary center. It's also a good idea to purchase pet insurance if possible. Communicate with your vet in advance about your financial limitations. Most vets will do anything possible to work within your budget. 

However, if you are balking at vet charges when you can afford it, that might mean you are missing something. Consider this: if you can afford to go on a decent vacation and are willing to budget for that vacation, that means you see the value in that vacation. It's time to start seeing the value of quality veterinary care. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Plan ahead by including veterinary expenses in your budget. Pay attention to what you are actually getting from your vet. These are things like experience, knowledge, quality staff, nice facility, etc. 

It's also important that you make informed, practical decisions about your pet's veterinary care. You must be your dog's advocate. That means you should become familiar with the veterinary care available and the treatment options presented to you. Ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research. Consider reading the book Speaking for Spot, written by veterinary internal medicine specialists Dr. Nancy Kay. Buy on Amazon

After all of this, if your vet's office ​still doesn't seem worth the price, then it might be time to look for a different veterinary hospital. Again, it's important that you see the value in the services offered. Do your research and find another vet. This should be someone you can trust and with whom you can see value). At the end of the day, you must simply do what is best for your dog.