General Question

syz's avatar

How many of you think that veterinary care is too expenisve?

Asked by syz (33023 points ) January 8th, 2013

This is sort of an extrapolation of my earlier question. And a bit of a soap box, but really, do you find veterinary care overpriced?

If you answered yes, were you aware that veterinarians complet 8–11 years of education (4 years of undergraduate, 4 years of vet school, and 2–3 years for each specialty)? Did you know that these schools are more competitve than medical school and have comparable costs (the average vet school graduate leaves school with >$120,000 in loan debt)?

If you answered yes, do you know that the diagnositc tests, testing equipment, monitoring equipment, ICU equipment, surgical equipment,and drugs are exactly the same things used in human medicine? (Everything from IV lines to fluid pumps to ultrasound machines to x-ray machines to endoscopy equipment to heart rate monitors to…well, you get the idea.)

If you answered yes, do you realize that a veterinary technician acts as a triage nurse, phlebotomist, anesthesiolgist, radiology tech, scrub nurse, a lab tech, ICU nurse, inventory manager, educator, grief counselor, poop-cleaner-upper and target for land sharks (patients who try thier best to bite)? And yet they get paid a median income of $29,710.00 ?

I guess my point is that in a comparison to human medicine, the veterinary field gets short shrift. We’re held to a pretty high standard of care and incur remarkable costs, and yet get paid a fraction for comparable work. Why is that? Is human medicine overpriced so much, or are pets valued so poorly? And if so, then why the high standards for care?

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31 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Jeez, if my vet’s practice would accept me as a patient, I would sign up in a heartbeat.
I happily pay my bills, with gratitude.

Someone calls me back within an hour or so, sooner if I tell the receptionist I am frantic, and they squeeze me in if neceassary.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Although I fully understand that many people can’t afford veterinary bills, I don’t think that veterinary care is overpriced.

Veterinary school is expensive. A veterinary practice has enormous overhead and is very costly to operate. A veterinarian may charge some hefty fees, but very little of that money ends up in his/her pocket; most of it goes to pay the staff and maintain the facility.

If you think about it, vets know so much more than MD’s. A physician needs to work with human anatomy, but a vet has to help an entire array of critters. Plus, they deal with terrified patients who can’t understand what’s happening to them and are unable to communicate with words.

Coloma's avatar

I think it is what it is, and certainly given their degrees, overhead, diagnostic equipment and staff overhead the prices of vet care are understandable. However….for those that cannot afford thousands to diagnose and cure their animals I think more low cost clinics are the answer. There is a local vet in my community that has a 30 year practice at UC Davis that has a clinic that is open Weds.-Fri. up here with no office fees and he is awesome in diagnosing many problems from experience without the high overhead of his regular practice.
My cat survived a rattlesnake bite last July and actually, I was rather surprised that a Sat. nite visit to the ER vet and his treatment cost me “only” $550.

Of course they didn’t push the anti=venom which runs $800 a vile.
I was happily surprised to learn that most cats handle rattlesnake bites very well.
I always assumed it was a fatal thing.
I have spent thousands on my animals in the last handful of years, easily 5k if not more, but I am having to really tighten my belt right now and do fear that if I was faced with an astronomical bill it would have to be ” goodbye kitty” at this time.

I think there are plenty of really great pet owners that have given animals great homes, but the high cost of vet care is, sadly, not realistic for many people, even if they otherwise provide spaying, neutering, vaccinations, good food and care.
I don’t believe that one should be made to feel guilty is they cannot afford expensive treatments but otherwise provide good homes for pets that would have been strays or shelter stats a long time ago.

Pachy's avatar

I do not. In fact, I consider my vet’s rates very reasonable.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

After Martin, my cat, had been neutered, he developed a life-threatening problem with urinary blockage. His care and surgery cost over $5,000. I never blinked an eye. He’s healthy, happy, and still with me 8 years later, and his procedures were worth every single penny.

wundayatta's avatar

Supply and demand works with veterinary care as it does everywhere else. I have no pets now. We did have a guinea pig. I don’t know what the bill was for putting him to sleep, but I told my kids when we got the animal, that we were not going to pay a thousand dollars a year for his medical care. I don’t remember if I said a figure that would be acceptable. But I wanted them to know that there are boundaries, no matter how much you love something.

Coloma's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin I have never blinked an eye either but…when times are lean, one must make tough decisions at times. My pets have had more health care than I have in the last few years, but one must adjust accordingly.

josie's avatar

You can go to school for a hundred years, and if the market won’t buy your services, they won’t be worth a nickel. Treatment for a sick dog is worth as much as the owner will pay for it. In my case that would be a lot. But there would also be a rational cut off.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@Coloma Your message suggests that you’re in excellent health, Laurie. Healthy is a nice combination of good decisions, good DNA, and good luck. If you’re doing well, I’m glad to hear it.

@josie My husband also believes that there should be a rational cut off. I believe that when it comes to beloved family members, including animal companions, no cut off can be rational. Of course, I’m not talking about keeping Grandma alive, through extreme artificial measures, when her time has passed. And, I’ve also had cats and dogs euthanized when they’re so old and/or sick that their lives have become untenable. But, if one of my animals can be cured, have a happy and quality life, and continue receiving my love, I’ll do whatever it takes.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

^^^ When my husband’s grandmother was at the end of her life, her daughter (husband’s Mom) did something horrific—she authorized a full-body blood transplant to keep Grandma alive. Grandma was in her mid-90’s, living in constant pain, and no longer able to understand or respond to her surroundings. All those units of blood could have been used to help other people. Instead, Grandma was forced to suffer longer, and the blood was wasted for no purpose.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’m thinking vets make more money here in L.A. Somewhere in the 70–80K.

My personal vet is very reasonable, but any time I have needed emergency care for my pets at the emergency hospital, the bills are ridiculous. That’s why I have a $12,000 cat. I spent 4K trying to save another cat, to no avail. They wanted to try a surgery which was upwards of 7K, on top of the original 4K. The $ was too much at the time. If we had had the money, I would have paid it.

Cheaper than kids, right?

rooeytoo's avatar

Vets are like everyone else, there are some goodies and some baddies. The baddies suggest unnecessary tests and charge exorbitant prices, the goodies don’t. You just have to be selective and find one of the goodies. The same is true of doctors, dentists, car mechanics and on and on and on.

gailcalled's avatar

My vet and his staff are wonderfullies.

Coloma's avatar

@rooeytoo Yes, agreed. I was very impressed with the emergency vet that treated my cat for the snakebite last July. She was very forthcoming in not pressuring for extra expensive treatment and advocated, after a few basic tests to check for blood clotting and organ function and injecting fluids and prescribing kitty heroin for pain, to just take him home and watch him.
She could have snookered me for the expensive anti-venom but was committed to not advising me for treatments she felt were risky and advocated a wait and see approach.

I have had other vets try to guilt trip me into spending more and been disdainful of my questioning.
As soon as that sort of manipulation shows up I move on to a new doctor.
I refuse to be guilt tripped and ones personal choices in how and what is done for their animal and evaluating whether or not they can or want to pay for expensive intervention is nobodies biz. and there is no right/wrong to it.
If it comes down to making my house payment and providing for my other pets so they will not be deprived, do NOT guilt trip me if I choose to opt out or go for euthanasia over spending money I do not have to spend.

The audacity of some vet staff is mind boggling!

wildpotato's avatar

I don’t think it’s too expensive at all. I just wish that vet offices around here would be ok with sending me a bill, like human doctors do, rather than requiring the entire payment at the time of service. I understand why they do, but it’s absolutely financially crippling to me that they do this, and is the only reason I dread my pets needing veterinary care. I’d spend a lot more money at the vet, ultimately, if they allowed me to pay them back in $100—$200 monthly chunks like my old vet in Colorado did.

Seek's avatar

I can’t afford healthcare for myself, much less the stray cats I tend to feed. While my dear loves can count on me in case of emergency, I’m not exactly taking them in for yearly checkups.

wundayatta's avatar

@wildpotato I’m sure they’ve had a lot of customers promise to pay later, but then the cat dies and the people don’t feel like they can afford to pay for a dead cat, so they don’t. Also, vets have bills to pay, and most of what you pay for the service is out the door before you pay it—like for administrative costs and rent and whatnot. If they let you extend payments, they go bankrupt. Better that they don’t provide the service at all then go bankrupt trying to be nice. If they go bankrupt, nobody gets care for their pets. But if they deny you service, only your pet is hurt because you can’t afford to pay for it.

Human doctors usually work for large organizations with multiple sources of payment. Insurance allows them to let self pay patients make payments over time (although they don’t like it, either). Vets are usually small business people. It is much harder for them to make ends meet.

bossob's avatar

I had a boss that used to say: “If I’m going to go broke, it will be from charging too much and not too little”. Finding the best place inbetween is always challenging.

syz said: “I guess my point is that in a comparison to human medicine, the veterinary field gets short shrift.” It’s been that way since forever; I imagine that you knew that going into it, yet you chose your profession regardless. We had a personal vet who was forever lamenting that his two brothers became dentists and were living the easy life, while he, as a vet, was still working 6 days a week. When asked if he regretted not becoming a dentist his response was always: :Oh hell no! How boring that would be!”

As long time boarding kennel owners in the loop, we’ve watched the transition of vet practices from sole proprietorships or small partnerships to corporate owned cash cows, over the last 30+ years. The corporate owned vets have been able to afford to bring the latest and greatest technology into their clinics, and they’ve been able to pull off running their practices using human medicine as a model. But progress has come with steeper fees. We are also seeing more and more specialists (like doggie eye doctors). In our area, the specialists are making inroads by traveling to various vet offices on an established schedule. They are establishing a reputable solution for an as yet unknown need (they’re creating a demand). I imagine we’ll be seeing permanent specialty clinics in the not too distant future, accompanied by very high prices.

I don’t criticize vets for wanting to get a good return on their investment. But pets aren’t people, and we each must determine what our financial and emotional limits are when it comes to providing humane care. Our kennel specializes in geriatric care. We see on a daily basis the lengths (money and time) that pet owners are willing to go to keep their pets alive and well and getting the best care possible. On the other extreme, we see customers for whom $100 means either feeding their kid or paying a vet bill. Maybe those people shouldn’t own pets at this time in their lives, but that’s for another thread.

But since you asked (!) we do resent paying some of the high fees that we know darn well are based on unnecessary policies and procedures. I understand that you’re just trying to emulate human medicine, but I don’t have anything good to say about the current health care system either!

Hang in there, though. It will probably take a generation or so for the vet world to get pet owners indoctrinated to the new reality of veterinary $ medicine.

marinelife's avatar

I do. It cost nearly $700 to have my dog’s teeth pulled.

wildpotato's avatar

@wundayatta Yeah, I’m sure you’re right that many vet offices have had bad experiences with billing. It really, really sucks to pursue people you helped for the money they agreed to pay you. But I disagree that it is a difference in kind between their situation and that of self-pay (aka out of network) private practice doc offices. I have worked in three such offices, in the billing department, my dad had one till I was 13, and my aunt has run one for 20 years. It would be to the enormous advantage of these practices to demand all payment at the time of service. Hell, they wouldn’t have had to employ me or my co-workers, just for a start. And some medical practices are beginning to require this, actually, especially in specialty services that are hard to get covered such as podiatry and dentistry. Trust me, I get it, I just hate that society’s gotten to the point where it seems like the most reasonable course of action to not be flexible whatsoever with the payment schedule of emergency bills that can run into the thousands.

bossob's avatar

Oh yeah, another problem with corporate $ vets, is that they are just as obtuse about holistic care as most human docs. They want to solve everything with pills, shots, and surgery. A change in diet, including the right people food, will fix a lot of skin issues. But all the vets can recommend is high cost foods recommended by sales reps; most of them don’t have a clue about canine diet. As for chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy, we might as well be talking Martian. To be fair, most vets aren’t terribly knowledgeable about holistic medicine. But the older ones, who built a practice with the understanding that a good relationship with the pet owner is critical for long term success, would at least acknowledge their own limitations and that holistic medicine could indeed be beneficial.

What I see happening in the world of veterinary medicine is a move to parallel human medicine: $ has become the Holy Grail, at the expense of relationships, compassion, seeing and treating the patient as a complete unit, and knowing that some people are perfectly capable of self-treating in some instances. We’ve lost too many G.P.s because they don’t make enough money; we don’t have enough nurses because they cost too much money; we’re getting gouged on prescription costs. Country/farm vets are rare. Granted, there’s not much need for them anymore, but the type of relationships they had with farmers was carried over into the next generation of vets who owned their own clinics. Now, we’re moving into the next generation of vet medicine that is strongly influenced by corporate greed; just as human medicine has been for quite some time now.

rooeytoo's avatar

I just paid 650 twice to have dental work done on my little old (14) year dog. Now this is my complaint, when the first surgery was done, I told them to check all of her teeth because it appeared to me she was having problems on both sides. And I didn’t want to have her knocked out again. After the first surgery they said all was well, only problems on one side. 2 months later I take her back because her breath is atrocious and she is having problems chewing. This time they pull a couple on the other side (different vet same practice) and the vet told me she must have been in pain for some time judging from the condition. I told him the dog had been in this office just 2 months previous and they said all was well. There was a lot of hemming and hawing at that point. I don’t mind paying a premium price but I want throroughness. There we had 2 vets contradicting each other.
I was lucky the last 2 places I lived I found good honest smart vets. In this new location I have yet to find one. I am planning on joining the local obedience club, usually word of mouth from other dog people is the best way to find a goodie.

@bossob – lurve to you and I am completely agreed.

Coloma's avatar

@bossob I agree with what you are sharing. I live rural and there are still quite a few large animal vets out here that make house calls, as well as my Avian vet that treats my pet geese. I also have a wonderful hospice care vet that makes house calls and provides home euthanasia services. I try to avoid corporate vets myself and also utilize holistic alternatives when applicable.

Yes, most traditional vets poo poo holistic treatment but I know many animals as well as myself that have greatly benefit from accupuncture and other holistic treatments. There is an equine massage specialist in my area that has a booming practice.

Response moderated
nikipedia's avatar

I think it depends on what you mean by “too expensive.” If too expensive = vets are overcharging people, I think it’s pretty clear that’s not the case. If too expensive = people can’t afford it, I think that is very often the case.

glacial's avatar

Frankly, yes, I think it is too expensive. I don’t think that having pets should be a luxury available only to the wealthy. It should be possible for lower income families or students to have pets without having to choose between keeping them healthy and putting them down if there is an accident or other emergency. Too many animals need good homes; the cost of keeping them in good health should not prohibit that.

wundayatta's avatar

@glacial You don’t have to provide medical care for pets in order to give them a good home. In the days when there weren’t vets, people did put their pets down when they had to. They’d mourn and eventually move on. They were still good pet owners. Being good does not require veterinary care.

josie's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin
What are you trying to say? Are you agreeing or disagreeing. Or what?

hearkat's avatar

Our Vet bills have been pretty reasonable, in my opinion.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

I simply don’t as having a pet is an option.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@josie Just chatting. This really isn’t much of an agree-or-disagree message thread, just one with personal observations and a few emotions tossed in. Animals certainly do press everyone’s emotional buttons.

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