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Why Is Medical Care for Pets So Expensive?

vet6As if health care for ourselves wasn’t enough of a financial burden, it sometimes seems that the medical care we seek for our beloved furry, scaly, and feathery companions is a tad bit expensive. Obviously when you decide to take on the duty of being a pet owner, you know that you will have to probably pay for some vet bills here and there in the future. Responsible pet owners will do anything and everything for their pets, even if that means footing a vet bill that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. There is usually little to no hesitation to follow through with the necessary veterinary care, especially if it is a dire or emergency situation. But, we do end up asking ourselves quite often why it seems that veterinary bills, prescription medications, and basic medical procedures for pets are so pricey! Well, here’s a few reasons thanks to Dr. Patty Khuly, VMD at VetStreet.com:

  1. Maintaining Veterinary Staff is Quite Costly: As with any business, most of the expenditures invested into the veterinary practice are going towards the fine folks that are hired to contribute their valuable skills and time in order to help the business thrive. This is one area where it is pretty difficult to cut costs and still uphold the standards of excellence that a business requires in order to stay afloat and successful. The fact that this team of people are working together to literally save animals’ lives, so that makes it especially vital to have top-notch employees. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that keeping a qualified, experienced, and dependable staff of veterinarians, vet techs, receptionists, etc. is quite an expensive effort. This team of people must be paid an adequate wage that reflects their expertise and education level, but they also need to be provided benefits such as insurance and continued education if needed. If the veterinary practice does not provide the level of compensation that they are expected to, then obviously the business as a whole is going to suffer, due to sub-par staff and the resulting unsatisfied customers (and possible lawsuits) from unsatisfactory services. Instead of being upset by a costly vet bill, think about all of the people who are hundreds of thousands of dollars in school debt because they chose to be in animal medicine!vet4
  2. Specialty Services Need to Be Outsourced: As if the actual veterinary office’s staff wasn’t enough of a financial burden on running a successful practice, there is a slew of specialty services that need to be outsourced to various radiologists, pathologists, and nutritionists, to name a few. These specialists are usually contracted by vet offices to perform these tasks that they are not equipped to handle, so they definitely cost a pretty penny. It would be pretty much near impossible to have full-time specialists in these fields at the vet’s office not only because of the inconsistent level of demand for their services, but because that would just be a lot more money spent (and wasted, due to the lack of constant necessity) on top of everything else. Obviously when these services are needed, whether it’s the analysis of a tissue/blood sample, or a meal plan for a special needs dog, it’s going to be costly due to the specificity of the skills and knowledge required. These people also are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt due to the schooling required for their skill set.vet
  3. Prescription Drug Prices Are Absurdly High: As is the case with human prescription drugs, medication for animals is ridiculously expensive for seemingly no reason at all. This is why many people turn to online discounted pet pharmacies such as VetDepot (shameless self-promotion) to fulfill their prescriptions as cheaply as possible. But why is pet medication so expensive at the veterinarian’s office? Well, Dr. Khuly says that just to be a drug manufacturer and distributor at her practice, it costs over $20,000 a MONTH, which is enough to make anyone gasp! Even if you are opting to buy your medication online with us, you are still indirectly paying for the medication at the vet. This is because they must have a certain amount of prescription medications on hand for the patients that choose to get it right away from the office, which is many times necessary for the animal to begin its treatment and recovery as soon as possible. Why are the drugs themselves so expensive, you may wonder? Well, because of all the money invested by the pharmaceutical companies’ testing, approval, advertising, and distribution of the drug. Tens of millions of dollars are poured into developing a drug before it can even be approved and prescribed by veterinarians, so by the time it actually is available, the companies need to ensure that they will make their investment back as well as subsequent profit.Merrick Veterinarian | East Bay Veterinary Hospital
  4. Equipment and Supplies Is Human-Grade: Obviously the machinery, equipment, and other assorted medical supplies is another huge cost for vet clinics, because they MUST have dependable, state-of-the-art technology in order to properly serve their animal patients’ owners. Because of this necessity, most (if not all) of the machinery and supplies involved in veterinary medicine are human grade, which equates to them being expensive. Even though many costly procedures are outsourced for analysis or even redirected to specialty clinics, many of these tests such as x-rays, blood samples, and toxicology labs are taken on-site at the clinic – requiring at least the basic level of equipment necessary to facilitate such tests. When you group together the amount of heart rate monitors, ventilators, IV drips, blood pressure monitors, etc. with the small but necessary supplies such as syringes, catheters, sponges, tubes, gauze, etc. it all adds up very quickly. So obviously this factors into the overall price that you pay at the vet, especially if your pet requires the use of the supplies just mentioned.vet7
  5. Renting and/or Building the Office is a Nice Chunk of Change:  Unless you literally live under a rock, it isn’t a secret that renting, building, or owning any kind of office or facility is extremely expensive. Depending on the location, the rent alone for an office space can be several thousands a month – on top of every other investment previously named on this list. If you wish to build, renovate, or own your own building for your veterinary practice, you are looking at an even higher price tag. A medical office has its own unique challenges as well, with its specific spacial needs, safety measures, zoning laws, and other regulations – that all have to be up to code in order to be a legal and functioning veterinary office. You’d be surprised how seemingly “small” things like fire extinguishers, sprinklers, doors/walls, quickly add up in addition to all of the legal fees, rent, and utilities! You can’t just open up a vet office, there is a lot of MONEY, TIME, and PLANNING that has to go into doing so, otherwise you will be swiftly shut down and lose all of your investment!vet10

So basically when you go to the vet’s office, you are agreeing to a specialty service that is human-grade in terms of safety standards, but  tailored for pets’ needs. Sure, it may seem exorbitant (and sometimes it is), but if you account everything on this list into your price, you’ll begin to understand exactly what you are paying for. You are paying for doctors of all different special skill sets to collaborate with each other to serve your pet in the best way they possibly can. You are paying for a safe place to bring your pet in times of crises, that is held to high standards thanks to laws, regulations, and customer satisfaction. Most of all, you are paying for your loving companion to be treated with the same dignity, respect, and love that human doctors are supposed to uphold with their patients. Just be sure to always go to a vet you TRUST, and ask as many questions as you can so you don’t agree to anything that you don’t understand.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Marly Wexler August 3, 2016, 8:38 am

    although it is clear from the article what the cost of operating a vet clinic, is, I still feel that they charge much more than is necessary. some vets even charge almost a hundred dollars if they have to “fit you in” if you have an emergency. there are vets out there who do not charge outrageous prices, but they are few and far between. every business has operating costs, and in my mind, being a business owner for many years, this does not justify the often outrageous costs we now face for veterinary care

    • VetDepot August 3, 2016, 4:06 pm

      I have to agree with you, Marly. There are definitely a LOT of vets who seemingly overcharge their patients just because they know that the owners will gladly (or begrudgingly) pay their exorbitant fees. A lot of times I see that vets pile on a bunch of unnecessary procedures, tests, and treatments that cost a LOT of money, but yield little to no results…many times if the owner had just gone to a different vet, the illness or injury would have been found immediately and with several less procedures, and saving the owner hundreds of dollars. It all comes down to “shopping around” and finding the vet that you trust the most, that works with you to find affordable treatment options, and is actually focused on helping your pet(s) rather than helping their bank account. 😛 This article was just a reminder that it is extremely costly to run a veterinary practice, and even if a veterinarian is the most honest person ever, the pricetag on their care will still not be cheap. It is unfortunate though that due to the expensiveness of veterinary care, many pet owners simply do NOT take their pets to the vet, and others seek subpar treatment because it’s more affordable. :/ This results in chronically ill/injured pets that are sometimes in great amounts of pain and suffering, which is a harsh reality and result of expensive animal care. What do YOU think is the main cause for the exorbitant vet fees?

  • Toni August 3, 2016, 4:41 pm

    Vet care as well as human care is crazy expensive! I don’t have vet insurance for my 3 pets, because it is also too expensive. However, to ward off those costs, all (2 cats and 1 dog) get yearly check ups, my cats stay inside (so the risk of being hit by a car, picking up something nasty, or being killed by a predator is lessened), my dog and cats eat healthy diets, and all get plenty of exercise. But most importantly, I only have as many pets as I can afford. So when/if an emergency does present itself, whatever the cost, I’m good. As far as meds go, thankfully, none of mine 3 take any. However, when my lab passed 3 years ago, he was on medication that I would get online and at Costco. I saved a lot of money going that route!

    • VetDepot August 4, 2016, 1:53 pm

      Hey Toni, yes I agree that medical care for HUMANS is also ABSURD, even WITH insurance! Also, you’re right, vet insurance isn’t really that cheap either. Fortunately more options are becoming available though, such as the whole Banfield program (I’ve heard positive things about them) which enables a low monthly payment and covers a wide array of treatment options! I think for the most part, individual vet offices have their own insurance programs but even those aren’t the most affordable. When you agree to be a pet owner, you do also agree to pay whatever costs will be necessary to care for the animal, but high vet prices unfortunately result in fewer vet visits for animals and ultimately the animals suffer. 🙁 Hopefully vet insurance will become more affordable in the future or SOME kind of costs will be cut somehow!

  • Sally Welch August 17, 2016, 2:29 am

    Unfortunately, my experience in Rescue has shown the Banfield model has shown to be nothing more than a ploy to sign people up for unnecessary, high priced services ” packages”. With rare exception these ” kentucky fried chicken type clinics have produced substandard care and even care bordering on malpractice Our vet has had to diagnose and correct many of the Banfield patients ..in some cases save their lives !

    • VetDepot August 17, 2016, 11:20 am

      Yikes! Thanks for the information, I do think it’s a little sketchy that it’s a vet inside of a pet store…lol So I guess it would make sense that it wasn’t the BEST care. But maybe it’s better than nothing…? Or maybe not…Bleh!

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