On April 21, the Washington Post ran a commentary from Peter Fenton that made allegations that veterinarians are intentionally bilking clients on pet medical care. We wrote the following response and submitted it to the Post the same day the article was run, but they chose not to publish our response. Therefore, we’re posting it here. Please feel free to share. You can also view the commentary here and add your own opinions in the comments section.
Peter Fenton’s article, “Vets are too expensive, and it’s putting pets at risk,” described every pet owner’s greatest fear, a life-threatening injury and the inability to pay for its care. We know that this situation is a reality for many pet owners. However, we object to any suggestion that veterinarians are primarily motivated by anything other than providing the best care possible to their patients. As with Mr. Fenton’s cat Orangey, sometimes veterinarians are forced to perform only the essential procedures needed to save an animal’s life. We’re glad that Orangey appears to have made a full recovery as a consequence of the care he received from his veterinarian.
As the national professional association for veterinarians, we know them to be compassionate and caring professionals. One of the biggest causes of stress for veterinarians is the desire to provide the best care possible for every animal that comes through their doors, but being forced to limit that care based on the financial resources of their clients. Understand that to keep the hospital doors open, the veterinarian has to generate enough income to keep the lights on, the equipment running, and supplies in stock while also providing a viable wage to the hospital staff. Veterinarians have always had to struggle with balancing what their medical skills allow them to do and what the pet owners are able to afford.
Most people never see the true costs of their own health care. For example, pets often get the same cancers as people and in many cases undergo similar treatment. Surgery, medications, and a 10-day hospital stay for a person might exceed a half a million dollars; for a pet it’s somewhere around $5,000. And as human medical technology advances, pet owners expect the same level of care for their pets that they themselves can receive, and upgraded equipment and facilities increase the cost of care. Even ten years ago, CAT scans or MRIs on pets were uncommon; now, many pet owners expect these services to be offered.
In an era of the $5.00 copay at a physician’s office, a veterinary bill for $968.29 may indeed seem shocking. Many clinics and veterinary foundations have initiated programs to help pet owners when they cannot afford treatment. Letting your veterinarian know up front what your financial limitations are will help them provide your pet with the best care possible within your budget. We urge all pet owners to have these discussions with their veterinarians and nearby veterinary emergency clinics, even before an accident happens. Have an honest conversation with your veterinarian. Talk to your veterinarian about a wellness program for your pet. Before an illness or injury occurs, consider a pet insurance plan. The AVMA has numerous resources for pet owners to help with these decisions.
Veterinarians take on enormous debt and work long hours as they strive to protect the health and welfare of every pet they see; they do so because of the love and compassion they feel for animals. You will be hard pressed to hear a veterinarian say they chose the profession because they envisioned a life of luxury. Usually the profession chooses them.
Pets bring so much pleasure to our lives that it’s hard for most of us to imagine life without pets, but pet ownership also comes with responsibility – and one of those responsibilities is providing for your pet’s health. Working with your veterinarian, asking questions, and having honest discussions about costs will improve your vet’s ability to provide the best care possible for your pet within your budget limitations.