AVMA responds to Washington Post op-ed critical of veterinarians

SarahBeans-Exam-SmOn 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.

71 thoughts on “AVMA responds to Washington Post op-ed critical of veterinarians

    • The author is off the mark with his comments about the veterinary industry bilking the public.
      After paying off student loans and 30+ years of practice, my take home hourly rate(with 50 hours in a work week) is about $15 to 21 per hour.
      I wonder what Mr. Fenton makes and what he considers a living wage?

  1. I agree with the Washington Post Op-Ed. Another example of how veterinarians are putting pets at risk is via their prescription control of heartworm medication. My vet won’t prescribe the medication until she has performed a $40 “check-up” on the dog (i.e., not much more than taking the dog’s temperature and checking his teeth!).

    I don’t treat my dog like a human being. My dog is a pet. He’s a DOG. We got him from the Humane Society where, presumably, he might have been euthanized had we not adopted him. We provide him a good home with good food and lot’s of tender affection. He’s a pleasant companion and a lot of fun to have around our home. But I’m not going to adopt a dog if he’s going to cost an exorbitant amount of money to maintain. Vets, catering to those who want to treat their dogs like they are children, who will spend thousands or ten’s of thousands of dollars on their dog’s veterinary care, are turning pet ownership into an elite, upper-class endeavor.

    We want to take moderate precautions against our DOG contracting heartworm. To do that we want to give our DOG heartworm medication (athough I’m beginning to doubt that it’s even a good idea at all). Our vet says we can forego the heartworm testing as long as we sign a waiver, but she will refuse to prescribe the medication unless she can first “examine” the dog. So our vet is putting our dog at risk of contracting heartworm, unless we first submit to her $40 examination. How many people will just skip the heartworm medication entirely, rather than pay unnecessary examination and testing fees in order to get the prescription? I wonder how many dogs contract heartworm every year due to this prescription racket involving vets and the heartworm medication manufacturers? If this medication is so important, then my vet, who claims to care about my dog’s health, shouldn’t be holding the dog hostage.

    • Andy,

      I don’t think a 40 dollar exam once a year is an exorbitant amount of money. I am pretty sure that heartworm medication is a prescription and prescriptions require an active veterinary client patient relationship in order to fill said prescription.

      You are entitled to treat (or not) your pet however you see fit, but it is you that is putting your pet at risk if you allow a 40 dollar exam to stand between your pet and heartworm disease.

      • Greg,

        Yes, it does require a prescription. That was my point. In my opinion a prescription should not be required to get it. But since it is, vets certainly should not be charging a $40 examination/extortion fee in order to prescribe it. The vet is saying that I have to pay her $40 to check my dog’s temperature and teeth, and then she will enable me to protect my dog against the threat of the deadly heartworm parasite by giving me a prescription for heartworm medication. Veternarians and the heartworm medication manufacturers lead me to believe that this medication is absolutely essential for my dog’s protection against a deadly parasite. So if I’ll just pay my vet $40 for services I do not want or need, my vet will see to it that my dog will get that life saving medication, by giving me a prescription and enabling me to purchase some of it!

        If heartworm medication is as essential and effective as all the hype indicates, then I suspect that dogs are dying every year because vets are adding unnecessary costs to it, and making it more expensive than people are willing to pay.

        • The $40 for the exam fee is a standard rate for an annual exam. It is also more than just taking a temperature. They are making sure your pet is healthy and looking for signs of possible illness that could effect any possible medications they may be on.

        • Andy,

          Say you have heart disease, heaven forbid. And you need medication to stay alive. What do you think your doctor’s office would say to you if you called in for refills and they had not seen hide nor hair of you for over a year?

          If all you are getting as a physical exam is checking temp and teeth, then yes, you are probably overpaying for an exam.

          It sounds like you have some extremely difficult choices to make. For most people, 40 dollars is a small price to pay. For others, they wouldn’t pay if it were 2 dollars. That is your personal choice.

          So, play by the rules and pay the whopping 40 bucks and protect your pet or take a chance on heartworms. You are lucky that your doctor even lets you sign a waiver against a heartworm test.

        • Andy,

          I do appreciate your perspective. If I have read and understood correctly, you find no value in your dog’s physical examination, you feel that heartworm prevention should not require a prescription, and he is a DOG to you, not a pet, not a family member, A DOG.

          Assuming that I have understood correctly, there is nothing we can do about the prescription part of the issue. It is currently a prescription item and subject to regulations. For a veterinarian to write a prescription, by law/veterinary practice act requirements, he or she must have knowledge of your dog’s current health status; i.e. A current examination must be on file. Current usually meaning within the last 12 months.

          So, now that we know what is required and why, can you help me understand your perspective a bit more? What do you feel a fair price would be to perform a physical examination for the medical record in order for you to obtain your prescription? Not what you want to pay, but what is fair? Secondly, if your veterinarian performs a thorough examination , one that you feel is worthy of 40 dollars, from looking into the eyes, ears, mouth, checking lymph nodes, checking for tumors, checking for broken teeth, abnormal heart rate and rhythms, abnormally sized/shaped internal organs on palpation…. If a doctor were to be very thorough and give you your money’s worth and then finds abnormalities/concerns …..Then what? My suspicion is that you would just think that they were out to get more of your money.

          The other thing I am curious about is if you feel that there should be different charges for the examination based on how much you love your dog. What should an exam cost for someone whose dog is considered a family member? 75 dollars? What about if they consider their dog a pet only? 50? What about someone like yourself who has a DOG only? Free? 10 bucks?
          These are all things I am curious about. I sincerely want your input.

          In thinking more about how you feel it is extortion to make you pay for something that you want, what about us and our basic needs?

          I need food, shelter, clothing, water. There are millions of people starving in the world and everyone knows that we need food, yet when I want some food I have to pay at the register. My family needs shelter. It is a basic need. Yet, I have to pay either rent or a mortgage in order to have shelter. Water. The foundation of life. I have to pay the city to pipe water into my house so that me and my family do not die from dehydration. Or, I can go to the store and buy bottles of water. Or I can apply for a license to pull water out of the local river. Either way, if I want these things which I need to live, I have to pay for them.

          How is this different?

          • But if the pet owner is the one who decides the course of treatment for a pet, based on no required conditions, they have the right to request medications as needed based on pet ownership. No one has a Hippocratic oath regarding pets apparently, so what do u care if animal is givin medication based on pet ownership treatment action. U would let other animals suffer and people suffer to make the point ur a doctor. Who pays for the equine program vet services in a prison, or the service dog vet costs for animals used in prisoner programs. There once used to be drs that helped the community and their animals

          • Kendra,

            I am not sure that I completely understand your post. I think that the “why” was answered in a previous post, but if that did not make sense please let me know and I will try to explain it better.

            As far as doctors helping the community and their animals, that goes on almost every day in every practice across America. The problem is that we also have to pay our staff a semi-livable wage, plus pay back student loans, etc. That is why we cannot give away services.

    • Andy,

      It sounds like to me that you need to have a serious talk with your vet about why this exams are so important. These check ups aren’t just cash grabs for the veterinarians. Giving heartworm preventative to a dog that is positive for heartworms is very dangerous, and this is what your vet is checking for during these exams. If you give heartworm preventatives to a dog with an active heartworm infection it can cause a mass die off of the worm larva, which you would think is a good thing. Actually this is how heartworm preventative work, by killing all the larva that has infected your dog sense the last treatment before the reach their adult forms. However, this is very dangerous in a positive dog. This is because the number of larva circulating in a positive dog is much higher than that of a negative dog. Once these larva are killed it causes the animals immune system to go into over drive to try and get rid of the dead larva worm bodies. If enough of these larva die at once, like in a positive dog, the animal can go into anaphylactic shock and die, and even with the animal does not die, the hospitalization bill for that animal will be far more than the $40 you are complaining about. If you were to ever actually read the wavier they ask you to sign if you refuse to get your dog checked I am sure if basically says something along the lines that you if you refuse to get your animal checked before giving heartworm preventatives then you can’t take them to court if your animal dies, and this is why. So, it is actually more irresponsible, and your vet would be putting your dog more at risk, if they were to just give you the medication without checking your dog first. And hopefully now, if you actually care about your dog at all, you will understand why these checks are so important

      Now I know you are probably thinking, well if my dog is on preventative he/she shouldn’t have heartworms so this Is not a risk and the check up is still pointless. Well, you have to realize that not every medication is 100% effective, and it is always possible for a dog to still become infected with the adult stage of the heart worms even while on preventative. It has as been documented that one of the most frequent causes of treatment failure is poor owner compliance. So, its not that veterinarians don’t completely trust their clients, its just that they are go to lean on the side of caution because their number priority is to the health of that animal, and they don’t want that animal to die because of a silly oversight.

      Now in regards to you thinking that a $40 check up is to expensive, you have to realize that only a small fraction of that fee actual goes to the vet. This remaining cost goes into the supplies need to make sure your animal is health, the workers that help book you appointments and take care of your dog while they are there, to keep the power on so that your vet can actually see your animal to make sure he is healthy, to keep the water running so that you or the worker in the clinic can go to the bathroom and so that the vet can wash their hands in between patients to make sure they are not giving your dog any illness from other animals, to keep the internet and phone lines running so they can call you to make sure you dog is doing ok and to send out diagnostic tests that they can’t run in house, and to pay for the building itself so that you actually have a place that you can take your animal to when is gets sick instead of just having to sit there and watch it die wishing there was some place you could take it to to help it get better. These are just a very few of the things this $40 gets divided into. Now, tell me again that veterinarians are over charging for their services.

      Just to reemphasize, the average starting salary of a GP veterinarian coming out of school is around $65,000 a year. The average debt for a graduating veterinarian is $200,000, and that doesn’t include the interest that will accumulate over the next 25 year while they are trying to pay it off. By the time it is completely paid off it is not unheard of someone paying close to HALF A MILLION for their education. Yes, some veterinarians make more money than the average person that walking into their clinic everyday, but their also went through 20+ years of schooling, not to mention possible internships (1 year) and/or residencies(2-4years) where they get shitty pay for the amount of work they put in (around $25,000/year for internships and $35,000/year for residencies) and a still having to try and pay off their debt, and the continuing education that is required for them throughout their veterinary carrier. So like the article said, veterinarians don’t get into it for the money. They do it because they care about the animals.

      And finally, veterinarians don’t really care that you think of your dog as just a dog, and Mrs. Johnson thinks of her dog as her third child. To veterinarians all dogs are equal regardless of the value that their owners put on them, and they should all be offered the same standard of care. So, every owner gets charged the same amount because that standard of care for every dog is the same, and you are paying for the services and equipment to provide that standard of care. It would be completely unethical for a veterinarian to charge Mrs. Johnson $80 for the same treatment you are paying $40 for just because she thinks of her dog differently than you for. That would be exploitation, charging someone more money than someone else for the same services just because we know that they will pay more for their animal.

      With all this being said, veterinarians understand that everybody’s financial situation is different. One person might only be able to afford blood work while someone else can afford the whole nine yards of diagnostic treatments. Veterinarian don’t judge owners if they financially can’t offer that same standard of care for their animal as someone else. However, owning a pet is a huge responsibility, and you should realize that there is a cost that comes with that responsibility. It is not fair to the veterinarian to blame them on the cost of the workups when all they are trying to do is make sure you dog is health even to give heartworm preventatives to. In most cases the veterinarian you are talking to didn’t even come up with the pricing and are just following the prices set out by the practice owner, and they could get fired if they were to ever deviate from this.

      Please respect your veterinarians and realize that an overwhelming majority of them are just their to help your animal, and are not there to drain your pocket.

  2. So, I am a multi-dog household. I can’t afford pet insurance on all of them, even at starting rates, & the premiums go up as the dogs age. So my husband & I put aside ~$100/mo for emergencies… And our dogs usually wipe it out every two years or so! :)
    Years ago, we went to a “country vet” – no X-Ray, spay/neuter via gas anesthesia, very cheap, but eventually I felt I knew more than she did, so we went to a modern vet – lots of tech, competent vets, but we are nickel/dimed for so much. Visit fee, exam fee, vax fee, needle fee, sharps disposal fee, good grief!
    Thinking of looking around – I don’t mind paying for good care, but I need to manage costs to make sure that I can continue to do so. We utilize the “health clinics” now for heart worm checks, basic blood panels, vaccines…
    Is there a way to negotiate with vets for a discount on multi-pets, so I don’t get hit with visit & exam fees x5 in full? Or to find a vet willing to do a payment plan for a long-term, regular customer? I mean, throw me a bone here!
    And I do not consider myself “unable to care for” my pets, but on the few occasions that things come up more often, or more acutely, than expected, just like with human health care, I don’t always have the funds avail 100% immediately…

    • No, I think you should think before you have multiple pets.
      I think one should be responsible and limit the number of pets if they cannot financially support them.

  3. Wow, I wish I had seen Mr. Fenton’s article when it was published in the paper.
    I had a very similar experience. When I received my copy of the hospital bill after I had a heart attack, I almost had another one!
    Just one example I can remember is the $800/day charge for IV fluid therapy. Same fluids, same pump at my hospital during that time was $40/day.
    Luckily, my AVMA GHLIT insurance paid 100% after my deductible. But I was completely disgusted by the huge markup charged by the hospital and of course that didn’t include the fees for the cardiologist, radiologist etc, etc etc.
    I have been hearing many more complaints lately about fees than I have ever before. And clients are placing the blame on the greed of veterinarians. Yet I never hear similar complaints about the cost of human medicine.
    Veterinarians need to be proactive in getting their side of this issue before the public. Maybe the AVMA should start taking out ads contrasting the costs and showing how veterinary medicine is really a bargain.

  4. Very well written response! I have been in the veterinary private practice industry for over 20 years, and recently accepted a position with a pet insurance company. I have seen the struggles my veterinarians experienced when they had to choose between diagnostics or treatment, hoping they chose the right path because the client could not afford both. I have seen clients demand a lower standard of care than my veterinarian recommended, and when it did not turn out favorably, as my veterinarian warned them, they attempt to sue my veterinarian. I have seen pets that were able to get the care they needed because the owner had the foresight to purchase insurance for their pet. Did it cover everything? No. But it only cost them $60 per month vs the $1000 per month they paid for their own insurance, and carried a $250 deductible instead of a $5000 deductible. My veterinarian once had the owner of a local car dealership ream him for the cost of his pet’s care, saying the prices were too inflated compared to what my vet used to charge 10 years ago. My veterinarian offered to perform the same level of care at the price of 10 years prior, if the dealership would sell him a vehicle at the same price as 10 years ago. The owner quickly realized the ludicrosity of his statement. Yes, pet care costs are higher, but so are all costs. Pet care costs have increased not only to keep up with inflation, but also to incorporate the higher standard of care that is demanded. My advice? Get pet insurance, keep your credit score high, get Care Credit so you can pay with a deferred interest plan, find a veterinarian who practices the level of care you wish to provide for your pet, and quit slamming the veterinary industry for charging fees substantially lower than any other medical industry for the same quality of care.

  5. Look at your hospital bills. Human medicine charges 200-500/bag. It costs about a dollar/bag. Vets may charge 10-20. You are probably right we are gouging our prices (sarcasm). I am 250,000 in debt. I realistically will never have a house and if I do I won’t be able to pay it off. I drive a Honda. No vet owns a cashmere sweater that they would wear to work. I work 50-60 hours a week. I have been practicing for five years. I’m burnt out. EVERY SINGLE day I hear about how things are too expensive but they want me to help their dog/cat that is suffering from the ear infection that was diagnosed 6 months ago that they declined all the recommendations for and now I’m heartless. I do not get lunch bc your “emergency” that happened two weeks ago has to be seen today. If you are not a vet or you aren’t in our field you have NO idea what our lives are like. The clients don’t want to be judged then stop judging us.

    • Hi Rebecca,
      I am sorry to hear that you are getting burned out from your job. As veterinarians, we have a tough job and the general public does not understand what we do on a daily basis, or the concessions we make to accommodate our clients’ and their pets’ needs. I think most veterinarians have struggled with the feelings you are having at some point during their career – you are not alone in how you feel. Just know that it does get better.

      There are resources available that you may find helpful. For support, the AVMA has a group on Facebook for recent graduates to discuss issues like this, called the Early Career Online Community. If you are not already a member, join the group and bring up these issues. If you are a member, post this topic and start a dialogue to see how others have handled your situation. For financial help, the AVMA offers a tool to budget your expenses which can be found here: https://www.avma.org/PracticeManagement/BusinessIssues/Pages/personal-financial-planning-tool.aspx. Finally, if you are thinking about a career change, you can begin examining other opportunities by visiting AVMA’s Career Transition page here: https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/Personal/CareerTransitions/Pages/default.aspx.

      I hope you find these resources useful. Please reach out to friends, family, and colleagues for support too – they can be the most helpful when trying to get through the tough times.
      Take care,

  6. Thank you for your post, Emily. In my opinion, if a person is not going to take full responsibility for the health of a pet (annual health care & when pet becomes ill), they have no business adopting or buying. We both know that when clients come into our clinics with new pets, we always recommend pet health insurances. There are many to chose from. These to help the client recover costs for money needed to treat pets when they are ill. Many clients do insure their pets just as they insure themselves and their families for medical emergencies. Pets do come down with so many of the same illnesses that human’s do & more (that are species specific). Not to plan ahead is foolish. When we become ill, our doctors and hospitals are not going to treat us for free. We cannot expect a veterinarian to give free service! Veterinary expenses rise every month. The veterinarians have to pay their bills. Otherwise, they go out of business. Who will be there to care for the pets when the veterinarian is not there? We absolutely do have great compassion for every person who brings a pet into our clinic. So many of our clients have become great friends who return to us regularly because they know they can trust us to give 100%. These are clients who bring us their lovely baskets of goodies every holiday to thank our staff for our work. There are many clients who join us in our home town parades and bring their pets with them. July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas. We love them, each and every one. Our staff is not rich in money but we are rich in love!

  7. Not for one second would I think my vet was “bilking” me for anything. I know how hard her and her staff work to keep their furry patients healthy. If you choose to be a pet owner, then you are solely responsible for their health and well-being. Health care companies that sell vet supplies and equipment are in business to make money, not to give your vet a discount so they can charge you less. If you are lucky enough to have health insurance for yourself, you may not pay attention to costs, because the insurance company “pays” for most of it, but take a look at a doctor bill once – $400 for a 10 minute consultation from a specialist and don’t forget the insurance premium that is taken out of your check each month. Vet care is a bargain compared to that. As a pet owner with dogs, cats and exotics, I rely on my vet to provide me with all of the latest/best treatment options available to me so I can make a decision on whether or not to pursue. If it’s a lot of money and I don’t have it, then I will figure it out or look to the next best option. I also do my own research. With all the information available to the lay person on pet care from reputable sources, there is no reason why pet owners can’t become informed and have treatment discussions with their vet.

  8. I am 60 years old and sold a big practice to a corporation then started another one. Things have changed SO much and mostly not for the better. My debt for 8 years of school was 10,000 dollars at 3% (prevailing interest rates of 21%!). Caribbean schools did not exist and there were only 18 schools in the US. Being from CT there were only three schools I could apply to.
    I started a practice in 1987 and vet practices virtually NEVER failed. We charged $10 for an office visit and about $20 for anesthesia! No ultrasound, no CT, no MRI, minimal drugs, much lower standard of care. A lot of preventable deaths from anesthesia–no in house blood work, no iv catheters, injectable anesthesia only, etc….
    I was ALWAYS busy and I made what I think was an obscene amount of money. Built a building, built up to 4 doctors then sold to a corporation for an obscene amount of money. My entire career I have been accused of giving stuff away and not charging enough by all the practice consultants and office managers.
    Once I went “corporate” I saw a HUGE increase in the income of the practice. All run from the bottom line. ALWAYS get a fecal, ALWAYS push as much and as expensive a bloodwork package as possible. A client of mine had a thousand dollar bill at the ER for a mild subconjunctival hemorrhage. A young intern doing their best to not make a mistake and not knowing how benign the lesion really is. Corporations encourage this type of practice. CHARGE<CHARGE<CHARGE!
    What has changed? Too many schools and too many vets being graduated with too much debt. Huge increases in the expected level of care. The internet taking all the profit out of the pharmacy. Corporations buying up and/or starting practices as fast as they can then taking out as much money as possible with a short-term outlook on the profession.
    People like me did make a lot of money and did well. I know a lot of veterinarians my age who retired rich–and they are not the ones perceived as overcharging. Costs of drugs–way up, cost of education, ridiculous, fragmentation of the profession into many specialties so that general practitioners do less and less real medicine.
    Saying that vets are rich and greedy and running around in "cashmere sweaters" shows a high level of ignorance about the state of the profession. I cry for the young vets struggling to make it in todays world–my generation has not done them any favors.


    • Dr Cheryl,

      So glad you had a rewarding career as a veterinarian. Your cynical comments about the current state of the profession being greedy rings hollow.
      You state that you sold your practice to a corporation for an obscene amount of money that you happily pocketed then you complain about how they operate from the bottom line and over-charge.
      As a small business owner, I am no fan of corporations but I am not a lefty liberal who equates this word with satan. Understand that corporation is a tax filing status for a business or entity, it is not inherently an evil thing.
      Hmm, to review your story– the corporation gave you a ton of money for your practice, then they charge fees to recoup their investment to you, now you have the temerity to paint them as greedy.
      You sold out to a corporation for a fat payoff then you complain about how they run your practice. Wow, what stugots.

      • K H, I edited your comment to remove the last statement. It was a personal attack, and is against our community guidelines. You’re free to express your opinion, but please refrain from attacking others.

        • Wow. KH just sounds bitter that they haven’t done better for themselves. As a younger veterinarian, I appreciate cheryls commentary. I work for one of said corporate practices and what she says is true. However, they also do pay better and we actually get health benefits. So, it’s a personal choice and I’m no martyr. Today’s veterinarians are dealing with obstacles that very few understand.

  9. I am extremely glad that his cat has made a full recovery with the help of the emergency team.

    A little armchair calculation. 968 dollars for emergency examination, diagnostic tests, supplies, doctor time, registered technician time, assistant time, etc. for 48 hours of care. That comes out to less that 21 dollars per hour of care for multiple professionals to be available to you when everyone else is sleeping or off. You find that excessive?

    My plumber charges a trip fee of 75 dollars and 125/hr.
    My electrician- 88 dollar trip fee, 115/hour
    My hvac guy- 88 trip fee and 88/hour
    My lawn guy- averages out to 50/hour.

    In this example, an entire veterinary team, facility, supplies, etc for under 21/hr. That is a bargain my friends.

    • Greg is right on! Since I cannot find a job or buy a practice without getting screwed by state licensing crap of ridiculous requirements and twice yearly licensing meetings that make it hard to find and take advantage of good opportunities. I may be joining the trades myself .

  10. I think the key is the frustrations of owners unable to pay for UNEXPECTED procedures i.e…. accidents or illness. Most people are prepared for the ‘normal’ costs of having a furry family member. And… at the end of the day..that is truly how most of my clients if not all – view their pets. In an emotionally stressful and charged situation we all blame others for being unable to do the ‘best’. Insurance is ABSOLUTELY the key. I am a small animal veterinarian with my own practice and proud of what I do. The goal is always to be an advocate for your pet. I also require pre-anesthetic blood work and IV catheters and fluids and surgical monitoring for all my surgeries. This ABSOLUTELY drives up costs. Just because one cannot do an MRI and brain surgery it does NOT make one a bad owner/parent. I always tell my client what the best thing to do is. If that is too much financially – there is always an empirical treatment option (unless it is a surgical case). It may not be the best but it would at least provide comfort and pain relief for the pet. Yet at the same time – I am a business owner – need to pay my staff, bills etc. So I cannot give away services ‘cheaply’. All veterinarians do pro-bono work … just because it was not your pet – does not make them greedy! Insurance steps in for those unexpected expenses in a BIG way. Just get insurance for illness and accidents. You will be glad you did because there is no guilt in NOT being able to do the best including referrals to specialists. It is sad to see all the guilt everybody carries around for all kinds of things. We ALL want the same – the best for our loved ones – two-legged, four-legged or no-legged (though I cannot help sick snakes – I am morbidly afraid of them!!).

    • Malathy…thank you for a very logical posting recommending pet health insurance. The veterinary profession has suffered for years because of the reluctance of organized veterinary medicine, (AVMA and AAHA) to proactively educate veterinarians about why it is important to recommend to pet owners. If, as veterinarians, we truly value the human animal bond, taking the time to educate clients about pet health insurance should be a priority. The veterinary profession cannot take pride in the fact that only 2-3% of our pets are insured in the United States. Economic euthanasia is the true “elephant-in-the-room” for the veterinary profession!

  11. Working for a pet insurance company, I’ve seen invoices from clinics all across the US and Canada. Yes, some clinics charge more than others, but that’s par for the course. I would — and I have — spent $3,000 plus on a cat’s illness and subsequent treatment, but if I’d had the same illness and been treated by the human medical system, my cost without insurance would have been at least $100,000, mostly because I wouldn’t be able to elect euthanasia for myself when faced with a very grim prognosis. But as you say, when you pay that $20 copay (if you have health insurance), you can remain in blissful denial about how much that exam, blood work, urinalysis and other “routine”/diagnostic/screening tests cost.

    Want a reality check? If you have health insurance, actually read the explanation of benefits they send you the next time you go to the doctor. If that doesn’t get you to quit griping about the cost of vet care, I don’t know what will.

    One of my colleagues who used to work at a vet clinic told me, ” I see all kinds of people who come in and say ‘my pets are my family!’ but when they get that estimate for a dental or a diagnostic test, they’re like, ‘OK, maybe not THAT much of family.'”

    I’ve been really fortunate to have incredible veterinarians at my side to meet my cats’ medical needs and help to keep them healthy throughout their lives (I recently had to let an 18-year-old cat go, and I’d had her since she was a tiny, barely weaned kitten). They’ve been great clinicians, great listeners and compassionate caretakers, and I can think of no other medical professional I’ve ever encountered who has been that awesome.

    I know there are bad apples and money grubbers out there, but they’re MUCH rarer than some people would have you believe. There are also people like that in every field, including human medicine.

    I strongly recommend pet insurance — I swear, I’ll never be without it again — but I also strongly recommend that people do their research before buying a policy. I don’t care which company you go with as long as you KNOW WHAT YOU’RE BUYING. There’s a website called Pet Insurance University, which is written by an independent veterinarian who has thoroughly researched all the pet insurance companies in the US and Canada and has broken down the coverage offered by each policy in a way that lay people can understand. And I’m almost certain the vet who runs the site did it when he wasn’t busy seeing clients, so it was probably many hours of work on top of an already packed schedule to put such a comprehensive and well-researched site together.

  12. The vet I go to is a “small practice”. They have 5 vets working every day with a packed parking lot non stop. 5 vets @ $70 per visit times how many patients a day? That’s before procedures, prescriptions, prescription food, grooming. No wonder the owner wears cashmere sweaters & owns 2 homes. As they expand to open another place customers are
    starting to complain about slacking care. It will be interesting to see what happens long term.

    • The “small” practice I work for has one Dr, 2 techs, and a receptionist. Top pay is 13.50$ an hour, for tech, a college educated person with 15 years experience. (Who does twice as much as any “real nurse” as we are dental hygienists, anesthesiologist’s, x-Ray tech’s, greif consolers, as well as providing nursing care, such as blood draws, running our own blood work, not sending it out to a 3d party, and much much more) None of us own 2 homes, we can barly provide for our family’s. You have no idea what happens behind closed doors in a vet office, and I hope you never find out.

      • Josi, thanks for your interest in the AVMA@Work blog. We welcome and encourage conversation. However, I edited your comment in accordance with our community guidelines that ask commenters to refrain from personal attacks and abusive language.

    • how do you know how your vet(s) buy things? Perhaps they’ve made smart investments, have spouses with good salaries, or maybe they’ve worked their butts off and have paid their dues. The average profit margin is not very high in vet med. The owner of a practice may also own the building, so they are a landlord and entitled to rent. Lots of ways to earn a living. It doesn’t mean you’re being ripped off

    • Susan, you are forgetting to factor in what it costs to maintain a full-service hospital (exam rooms, treatment area, pharmacy, surgery, radiology, ultrasound, etc. – just like a human hospital except that there are no fund drives nor government subsidies) Also, for safety and to maintain high standards, it is recommended that there be four staff per veterinarian. These are costs that must be paid to continue to provide a high standard of care. The fee per visit varies greatly depending on the cost of living for that area and for the type of medicine practiced (specialty, emergency, general) Most veterinarians, no matter where they are, charge a very reasonable fee for their expertise and for all that they do. As has been already stated, pet insurance is highly recommended.

    • Susan do you have any idea what it costs to run a “small practice” ??? I find it amusing you consider a practice “small” with 5 Dr.s…I work for a truly “small practice”…1 Dr. and 1 Dr only…pharmaceuticals and supplies are not free. My small hospital orders in excess of 30K a month (approx) in drugs, surgical supplies, food, etc…the staff, all 4 of us not including the Dr., ( 2 receptionists, 1 asst, 1 LVT, make from 10.50-18.50 an hr….nobody is getting rich doing this work. And we are not in some God forsaken part of the country…we are on Long Island, part of the NYC tri-state area, one of the most expensive areas in the nation to live…someone in the middle of no where couldn’t live on 10.50 an hr…give it a rest…you must be a client at a specialty/emergency hospital, where it is always more costly…your average, appointment only practice isn’t running with 5 Drs. Next time I will have to check my boss’s sweater tag when she leaves it on her desk chair and see if it’s cashmere, lol…highly unlikely.

  13. yes people buy pet insurance, but we should have more people having insurance on their pets. Yes most of the time we never used it, and I am happy that I don’t use it actually. You only need to use it once to pay off few years of paying insurance monthly.

    • I work at a pet insurance company, and one of the gripes people have about their policies is that they haven’t gotten a return on their investment, to which I respond (when I’m not actually talking to a customer), “Do you want to get a return on investment for your car insurance or your homeowner’s insurance? If you do get a return on that investment, it’s because you got in a car accident or your house burned down or a tree fell through your roof, and all of those things suck.”

      • JM Kelley…you are correct. It is important for veterinarians to point out that paying pet health insurance premiums is NOT an investment…it is an expense. What is being purchased is “peace-of-mind” that when unexpected pet medical expenses occur, money will be provided to assist in the payment of the bills. Nobody ever cancels a automobile collision insurance policy because they aren’t getting a return on their policy “investment”! It is time for the AVMA and the AAHA to stop their “cautious” neglect of the recommendation of pet health insurance for all pet owners! Economic euthanasia should never be the only option!

  14. I think that if we are to compare the cost of human health care versus pet health care then you must consider ALL of the costs of human health, including the monthly insurance costs. I am a practicing veterinarian, and a pet owner, and I have paid bills for both myself and my pets. If you really look at the costs, for my family of 5, I pay right at $1000 a month for health insurance, so a total of $12,000 per year. Then add in if I maxed out the deductible for the year on the family that is a max of just over an additional $12,000 in a year. Thus I could pay up to $24,000 in a single year for my family’s health care. When considering the overall cost of human health care, the cost of pet health care is much less. The biggest difficulty that I have seen for many clients is that they only think about what they pay at the doctor’s office which is typically a small co-pay, but they forget about their monthly premiums that they are also paying.
    I think another difficulty on the veterinary side of the overall cost issue is that medical supply companies don’t actually differentiate between veterinarians and human doctors. Thus capital expenses can be the same between the two professions. An ultrasound is an ultrasound, its just that veterinarians tend to buy the cheaper $25,000 unit versus the $200,000 unit that would be used in a human hospital.
    In summary is the cost of pet health care more than some can handle, absolutely. Do our clients understand the reasons that it costs what it does, not typically (in my experience). Is the cost solely the veterinarian’s “fault”, no. The veterinarian, as others have pointed out, has to cover their business’s overhead to stay in business, and therefore that gets passed on in the form of health care costs to the client. What is the solution to the issue, I have no idea. The simplest answer would seem to be pet health insurance, but as I pointed out in regards to human health insurance, this is still a cost that the client is paying, it is just to someone other than the vet.

    • And if you have employer-provided health insurance, check out your W-2; you’ll find that it’s counted as pre-tax income so you’ll have a good idea how much you’re paying that way.

  15. I am a veterinarian and as routinely stated, I went through considerable financial hardship becoming a veterinarian. My pets and now my patients are horses. And during my extremely financially limited life phase, I did not have horses. Voluntarily. Because they are expensive to maintain. I didn’t stomp my feet and demand lower fees from my farrier who punishes his body every day to keep horses shod so they can work. I didn’t look for free vet care at my own vet school since I was paying an obscene amount of tuition and so they “owed me.” I simply decided that because I did not have expendable income I would not have a possession that required it no matter how much joy it may have brought to my life during a stressful time.

    I provide relentlessly honest advice and services to my clients as do all of my known colleagues and in the event that I encounter a client who seems to regard me in the same way that the article author regards veterinarians, I invite them to seek another service provider. Life’s too short to justify yourself to people won’t observe life’s realities.

  16. I understand the cost of human health care is quite a bit higher than veterinary care for pets. But I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two without noting one major difference.

    Human health care is just that – it treats humans. Veterinary care, by law, treats property. There is a HUGE legal difference between treating humans vs. treating property.

    My pets are family to me. My 14 year old dog, who I’ve had since he was 8 weeks old, is probably in his final days/weeks of life. I went out last night and spent about $50.00 purchasing some of his favorite foods in effort to keep him eating. It’s money I will deduct from my own grocery bill.

    I get up 30 minutes early every morning so I can mix up his food, wait for him to take his time to eat so he can get his meds, and then walk him down the road because it gives him great joy to go for walks. He’s my first dog as an adult and will take a piece of my heart with him when he crosses the bridge.

    He’s fortunate that he now has a great veterinary team who will be there for us when his time comes. His canine brother was not so lucky. His life was cut short due to negligence. It didn’t matter that I considered him family and that my life was turned upside down when he died. The law defined him as property and thanks to that definition his ‘health care’ provider got away with the negligence.

    • If you want to compare animals to property then I give you this analogy. If your roof of your house starts to leak or has a hole in it do you not expect to pay to have a roofer fix it if not have to replace the whole thing.
      It sounds like you take very good care of your dog. But you have to understand that in the veterinary field we come across many people that get animals and expect not to have to pay for care of them. Which it makes this field of medicine sad and stressful to the point of having one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

      • Your analogy is humorous to me as this winter was brutal. We dealt with ice damns that we’ve never had before that resulted in back up water coming into the house. I sent the husband up on the roof to clear the ice damns as I didn’t not have the money to pay a roofer to keep up with that madness. LOL!

        In all seriousness though, I understand the frustration of people expecting services for free. There is no excuse for that behavior. Owners are responsible for their pets and if they can’t afford the care they should be prepared to make a long hard decision and not put that burden on their veterinary team. That includes expecting their vet practice to accommodate payment plans. One should be prepared to pay in full or make a difficult decision. If they are lucky enough to be offered a payment plan option they should be grateful and look at it as a learning opportunity rather than an “I am entitled” opportunity.

        On the other hand, I think there are way of cutting costs that don’t always get communicated to pet owners. Prescriptions can be purchased through a pharmacy, often for less costs. There are risks, yes, but written instructions or a frank conversation could help head off those risks. Maybe a vet could explain that the dose your dog is getting is different than what a human would be prescribed. So if the pharmacist were to try to question it, the pet owner would be educated enough to understand the difference. Maybe the vet recommends that the pet owner double check the prescription to make sure the medical name and dose are correct. Simple things that don’t require a lot of time or effort, yet they could help cut costs and lower the risk factor. Prescription foods might be the best option but there may be other food options, less costly ones, that could achieve similar results.

        One statement I passionately disagree with is the, “if you can’t afford a pet then don’t get one” statement. In my humble opinion, anyone who thinks the world is that black and white has no business treating pets.

        Just as pet owners don’t fully know the history of their vet’s financials, no vet fully knows the history of pet owners financials either. I own an iPhone – and I paid absolutely nothing for it. My husband owns one too – his was also free. We didn’t upgrade our phones until we were able to find deals as I refuse to pay for cell phones because I use my personal cell phone more for work related business than personal things most times.

        There are times I’ve had to borrow someone else’s vehicle while mine has been in the shop. If someone were to see me driving the borrowed vehicle, they may make assumptions about my spending choices when in reality they have no idea the reason my vehicle is in the shop is because I can’t afford to purchase a new one. These arguments I read where people judge pet owners who can’t afford to pay – those are just as wrong as pet owners who blame vets for not giving away free services.

        I lost a student to suicide a few years back. It was heartbreaking. He was young and had so much promise to offer this world. He left behind a young daughter. I watched as his student co-workers struggled to understand his choice. I watched those co-workers, many of which had seen him a few short hours before the news broke, shake their heads in disbelief. In this world of social media news travels fast, and I listened as they recounted, in detail, how he chose to end his life. My heart goes out to those in the veterinary field.

    • It sounds like your dog is very lucky to have such a loving care giver. But your comment still indicates a lack of understanding. Why are you upset that veterinarians need to charge for services but you’re not angry that the store needs to charge you for food? Why do you think costs should be different because pets are legally seen as property when medical suppliers don’t adjust their fees based on that? They charge my clinic the exact same for supplies as they charge your own doctors (actually, they likely charge veterinary hospitals MORE since we don’t buy the same quantity of materials). My clinic’s ultrasound is the same quality you will find in human hospitals – because the cheap versions do not provide images of adequate quality. GE did not cut us any breaks on its purchase. The electric and water companies charge me the same rates as everyone else. My technicians and staff have rents and mortgages to pay and mouths to feed. What do you consider to be negligence? Was it truly negligent care or that the care required was more than you could afford? That’s a heartbreaking situation for all involved and vets hate that. But we cannot pay for the care of everyone else’s pets any more than you can. Veterinary care isn’t free for vets or staff either. It may be discounted a bit but it’s not free and we often have to face the same decisions. All of this happens in human medicine too. Open the paper on any given day and you’ll read a heartbreaking story of someone not receiving the care they need because insurance won’t cover it and the family can’t afford it. The insurance company may be blamed but no one expects the doctors or hospital staff to pay for the care of every indigent patient who walks through their doors because we can recognize that that’s unreasonable and unfeasible. Why is this so different?
      I would wager that Mr. Fenton earns more than many veterinarians and certainly more than veterinary staff. It’s unlikely that he had more student loan debt than the veterinarians he encountered and the veterinarians and staff who helped Orangey have all the same regular bills he has.

      • I’m not angry about the cost of veterinary care as I find it to be quite reasonable in my area. I would never expect my vet to give me free service because I could not afford to pay.

        I did exhaust my finances for my dog who suffered due to veterinary negligence. His specialist refused to treat him because I could not afford to run all the tests to diagnose the cause of his spinal compression. I paid to locate the area causing him problems but could not afford to run all the tests to determine the cause. I did have a problem with their approach, as there were treatment options that they were unwilling to offer because I would not pay for the testing to determine the cause. I felt they put financial gain over quality of life. His GP vet was wonderful when I turned to her for help. I offered to save up money and run the tests through their office one at a time. She didn’t require any tests. She went as far as to say that he had enough blood work on file that she would not require that but did recommend it. I trusted her judgement and we ran the blood work. She started by prescribing NSAIDs and when they were not enough we tried steroids. Two doses of steroids and he was able to get up and walk on his own. Without them I would have had to euthanize him because it was a quality of life issue as he was a large dog and the compression was cervical and impacted all four legs. The steroids gave me two more months with him. I will be forever grateful for the kindness his GP vet showed.

        My initial response was really geared towards this, “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.”

        Though I agree that the cost of human health care is much higher than veterinary care (I know, I get my statements showing me what my insurance covers and am amazed when I review them), I felt the statement above failed to disclose the difference in classification between the two fields.

        This is from another AVMA article, “If non-economic damages are allowed to compensate owners for pain and suffering associated with the loss of a pet companion, we can expect that there will be more lawsuits filed in pursuit of these damages But as more cases are filed, insurance companies will increase their rates for veterinary malpractice insurance – to adjust for the increased risk of providing the coverage. Higher insurance rates will translate to higher costs for running a veterinary practice, and ultimately those costs will be passed along to consumers. In other words, the cost of veterinary visits and care will rise. ”

        As human doctors do deal with non-economic damages, they do pay high insurance rates for medical malpractice. It may not explain the full difference in costs, but the insurance rates absolutely do factor into that difference. If members of the veterinary field are going to compare costs with human medicine, it should be with full disclosure.

        Unfortunately, most of what I read simply compares the two fields as if they are one in the same. But from my experience, they are not the same. Had a human doctor treated a human the way my dog’s original vet treated him, it would have yielded a rather large lawsuit. Instead I had to send a complaint to my state board who chose to look the other way. Because my dog was a mutt, who holds no property value in the eyes of the law, there were no options for legal recourse either. Yes, I will happily pay my vet bills and don’t complain as they are often worth every penny. But no, as long as pets are considered property, those costs, to me, will never be the same as human medicine.

        • In defense of my dog, yes, it was truly negligent care that was provided.

          His original vet likely missed one diagnosis and significantly overdosed him when treating him for another medical condition. The combination of missing the fist medical condition and not appropriately treating the second very likely contributed to my dog ending up with spinal compression. I have a copy of his medical records which clearly show the overdosing. There is enough evidence in there which also suggests that he missed the other diagnosis.

          Where I live veterinary cost is quite affordable. Likely because preventive care is not always offered. My younger dog was 8 years old and never had a CBC – even when his original vet diagnosed his medical condition. I had no idea what a CBC was until he was transferred to a new vet and they recommended it. He died at 9 years old. He’d been under the original vet’s care for 8 of those 9 years.

          My senior dog, who is a large breed dog, was 12 when he was transferred to a new vet. He was 12 when he had his first CBC, ever. He’d been under the original vet’s care for 11 of those 12 years.

          Had it ever been explained to me what a CBC was and why it was important, I would have asked what the cost was and would have paid it. But it was never even offered.

          Vet appts. with the original vet were about vaccinations and flea/tick/heart worm treatment. I was sadly very unaware of what was not happening that should have been happening and my dog paid the ultimate price because of it. No record of temperature. No record of blood pressure. No record of heart rate, chest/lung evaluation. No record of abdominal evaluation. No dental evaluation. No eye evaluation. No blood work. No notes on the skin/coat. No evaluation of the paws/nails. Nothing. Yet the state board dismissed my complaint. I’m fortunate that my senior dog made it to 14.

          The upfront cost I would have paid for that CBC would have saved me a small fortune in what I paid in testing, medications and supplies in effort to second guess things due to the lack of a medical history.

          • Informed customer,

            Thank you for your insight. I truly appreciate it and am sorry that you were not given more options to care for your pets. You sound like a kind person and a great pet owner.

          • Your dog never had a CBC. So what? Unless there is a reason to run one, that isn’t negligent.

            I haven’t seen your record, so I can’t speak to the supposed overdose, nor misdiagnosis. Did you determine those occurred by consultation with another veterinarian?

            While your vet certainly should have charted temperatures, vitals, and exams, just because they weren’t charted doesn’t mean those things weren’t assessed.

            Your state board sets the standard for veterinary care. If they chose to dismiss your claim, I have to believe it was because they didn’t find that the care your pet received was negligent – or at least there wasn’t evidence to say that it was.

            I’m very sorry that you lost him at a time you felt was premature. But the fault doesn’t lie with the specialty clinic that refused to treat him without diagnostics – they were practicing the standard of care they were comfortable with. Just because your GP was comfortable offering a lower standard of care doesn’t mean the specialist was negligent in refusing.

          • Vet Tech

            I’d be happy to send you a link to review the records yourself. I am that confident in what they show. Given the diagnosis, yes, a CBC would have been appropriate. I can also send you a link to the first CBC he had, 6 weeks after the diagnosis. There was a lot going on with that blood work. Again, if a human doctor had done what my dog’s records show, I would have filed a lawsuit.

            As for the specialist, I don’t think they were negligent. The neuro evaluation was solid. I do think they were a bit unethical but not negligent. That is my opinion only.

    • Sure, there is a difference of human vs pet however, the diagnostics do NOT differ. The overhead costs to own this equipment, run these tests and pay the staff does NOT differ. Where it DOES differ is in the fact that a vet office performs the labs and x-rays instead of sending you to another department on another day and waits for another doctor to look at your x-rays and/or labs. The vet office is ALSO your pharmacist – that’s ANOTHER difference. You don’t need to go wait at the ‘drug store’ to get your pets prescription. Do we call an MD an uncaring money monger because he won’t treat for free? It’s no wonder the depression and suicide rate is so high in the veterinary field. The public just doesn’t understand and they never will. We can talk until we’re blue in the face. I just can’t say it enough – insurance, insurance, insurance!

  17. I wish Mr. Peter Fenton had compared the cost of a human medical emergency with his cat’s emergency cost. He would have quickly seen what a bargain veterinary care is!

    I dare anyone to compare the care — we do a great job in veterinary medicine controlling costs and providing quality patient care. For accidents and other unhappy medical surprises there is pet insurance. And to make preventive healthcare affordable, there are pet wellness plans. I wish more pet owners knew about them because animals, like children, have accidents, get sick and need preventive care.

  18. I am diappointed in your response to the Washington Post article. I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician, with experience in two states, as well as in Canada. I personally have witnessed veterinary medical staff of large corporate practices being encouraged, even pressured, to add to clients’ bills on a regular basis. I have had a veterinarian say to me and other clinic staff, “Don’t worry about the cost, This client can afford it”, Most egregious, I hear veterinarians and their staff say many times, “If people cannot afford medical care for their pets, they should not have them.” Not only is this last unrealistic. It also fails to acknowledge that for many people, their relationship with their pet is among their primary ones, if not the most important relationship they have. This is especially true for seniors, the homeless, and those on reduced incomes, There are veterinarians, such as Dr. Michelle Lem in Ottawa, ON who address the careof those pet owners those most in need (www.vetoutreach.org) But there are many who do not qualify for such programs, and yet are living from paycheck to paycheck, or pension deposit, who cannot even accumulate funds to cover an emergency in their own health, let alone that of a pet. You also fail to address the obvious problem in the way that veterinary practice now mandate outrageously expensive equipment in every practice. Also, many veterinarians perform specialized surgeryies without being board certified but charge the same fees as if they were. If veterinary medicine was to truly base itself on human medical practice, we would have radiology centres for imaging, surgeries and specialized procedures done only by board certified practitioners, and we would see the cost of general health care for pets reflect a more reasonable set of fees. I am not buying into the high cost of education argument, either, because many people are struggling to pay off the debts of their own education which might be as high or higher than that of a veterinarian. It would have been more helpful fo you to acknowledge the concerns expressed in the Washington Post piecem, in such as way as to explore possibilities to make companion animal care more affordable, instead of defending the status quo. Where are the visionaries in this profession that I have devoted my life to?

    • Mary since you have a life time of experience and seem to have considered the subject thoroughly – what are your ideas to make companion animal care more affordable while still providing the proper standard of care to the pet, keeping practice bills paid, paying the staff and having something to take home at the end of the day to feed the veterinarian? Your statement that if veterinary medicine was to base itself on human medicine would reflect more normal fees is confusing to me. Human medicine is outrageously expensive compared to veterinary medicine and the only reason people are able to afford that at all is insurance. Are you suggesting every pet owner purchase pet insurance? How would that work with the people who cannot even accumulate funds to cover an emergency in their own health? Should veterinarians provide free care to these pets?

      • Perhaps by “normal” fees she means that prices could be more uniform from practice to practice for identical procedures. My cat was under the care of a vet about 10 minutes from my home when he became very ill due to a chronic condition. I paid over 3 thousand dollars over the next two weeks to bring him back to a healthy state. A year and a half later he fell ill again. I had switched to a vet about 10 minutes further away. He had to have almost identical testing and care and this time his bill barely reached $500. There should be more uniformity in pricing. A full blood panel costing nearly $250 at one practice and less than $100 at another (when they are located in the same general vicinity and have similar medical abilities at both) begs for an explanation other than those given in this article.

        • Yes that is confusing. I still beg you to consider the difficulties a veterinarian faces every day though. Maybe the more expensive clinic has a higher mortgage payment because their practice is in a better part of town, on a busier street, etc. Perhaps they employ more technicians. Maybe they employ actual certified vet techs instead of people who are not certified and thus pay them more. Maybe they offer their employees better insurance plans. Maybe they send their samples out to a different lab which is more expensive but offers more tests. Why does a store in a mall in the country have cheaper prices than the exact same store in a mall in the city? Veterinary offices are small businesses and yes, in many ways, that stinks. Veterinarians commonly suffer from something called compassion fatigue. They need to pay their employees and their bills and sometimes that means turning away deserving animals whose owners cannot pay the bill. Please believe me that this makes veterinarians heartsick.

        • Wendy, the downside to “uniform prices” from clinic to clinic is first, whom would set these prices? Since if the clinics make an agreement with each other to do so, then this would be “price fixing” which is actually illegal according to federal law. Thus those clinics could all be punished under federal law. Therefore, should the “uniform pricing” be left to the government to set? I can’t explain to you why 2 close vicinity practices would have such different prices, but saying that uniform costs could be an answer is in reality unrealistic.

        • There are several explanations for the price differences.

          One is that many vets will structure their fees differently but still make roughly the same amount of money. For example, one vet doing bloodwork and a spay might make 25% of their profit from the bloodwork and 75% from the surgery. Another vet might split it 15/85 or 30/70. In the end, they’re aiming for the same number.

          Then there’s different standards of care. I work for a corporate practice that requires IV catheters and bloodwork for every anesthetic procedure. Because of that, our procedures cost more than most local practices that let clients decline these services. Do most animals survive without bloodwork and an IV? Yeah. Do I regret requiring the IV and bloodwork? Never. I’m very frank with clients about the fact that cheaper alternatives exist, but I also explain why our procedures cost more.

          Finally, we don’t all have the same operating costs. If I inherit my dad’s (non-existent) practice and pay my assistants minimum wage with no benefits, my operating costs will be different than if I’m paying a mortgage on a new building and hiring licensed vet techs at a living wage.

          Those are only a few of the variables.

        • What your referring to as uniformity is “price fixing” and it’s illegal.

      • I am apalled at this ignorant response. Basing your argument on a handful on unethical veterinarians is illogical. Facts are facts. And the facts are that people do not respect veterinary medicine as they so human medicine and instead expect handouts and villainize those who have devoted their lives to helping animals. I’m ashamed that you and I share the same field.

        • Kate, I’m not convinced that the writer actually does work in this field. Just about anyone, whether a vet, a tech or a kennel hand can recognize that the argument is, as you say, illogical. It’s wonderful that there are services that can provide basic care inexpensively but we all know that for more significant issues, there comes a point where “you get what you pay for”.

      • I am 330000 dollars in debt from veterinary school. I went to school in the Caribbean because the state I lived in did not have a vet school so I was out of state where ever I went to. I will never own a home or a car or a cell phone and I pay over 1200 a month as my ibr plan. I have to work for a business and I have to make money for that business otherwise I am out of a job. So complain about costs to my boss, but don’t make a blanket assumption about vets because I don’t deserve it and it’s not my fault you don’t have money to pay for YOUR pet.

        • Mary, I edited your comment to remove the profanity. I understand your passion and your frustration, but profanity is a violation of our community guidelines. You’re welcome to express your opinion and you’re welcome to disagree with us or anyone on here, but we don’t tolerate abusive language or personal attacks.

      • Why is it unrealistic to expect owners to consider whether they can afford a pet? I would love to have children but, quite frankly, I can’t afford to right now so I don’t. Last year I lost 2 pets, leaving me with one cat. I would love to add a dog to the mix but I am still paying off the care provided to the two I lost, so I am forcing myself to wait. Even if I adopted a young animal, anything could happen and result in massive costs (my last dog cost me about $50 to adopt as a puppy – and then several thousand dollars in her first 2 months when she developed a life threatening illness that she fortunately survived but which never got a name attached to it. We still don’t know what the actual disease was) and I would feel terrible if I couldn’t provide appropriate care. I believe that Jim Wilson, DVM, JD has published studies on the average costs of caring for that brand new pet in its first year. A good friend of mine (a veterinary technician) always dreamed of having a large family but she and her husband realized that they couldn’t afford to so they have only 1. It’s called being responsible.
        If you are able to work for someone who can afford to pay you and the rest of the staff without charging owners for the care of your pets, you are extremely lucky. Do not ever leave that practice because most vets simply cannot afford to run a business like that, as much as we’d all like to.

    • Veterinarian debt:income ratio. Look it up. Yes, medical schools leave their students with an atrociously high debt, yes dental school does as well. But when MDs or dentists start practicing they have a reasonable expectation of being able to pay off those debts. Nowadays, without government programs like IBR, new vet grads would be hard pressed to pay their loans on average starting salary, much less rent and food on top of that.

    • Mary V. Shaw, well said. I tried to say something similar in a blog piece that I wrote in response to Mr. Fenton’s article. You actually did a much better job, and are way more concise than me! I completely agree with you that we must explore possibilities to make companion animal care more affordable, rather than staunchly defending the status quo. Well said! We can all do something to contribute to mitigating this problem. My partner and I started a new division of our payment processing company, specifically so we could help pet owners and vets overcome the tension around cost. We allow vets to offer in-house payment plans that are completely managed by us, and based on automatic drafts from a pet owner’s checking, savings, or credit card. The automatic drafts help with payment compliance. We then deposit the pet owners’ payments in the vet practice’s bank account.

      While it isn’t a perfect solution, I believe it’s SOMETHING. And I believe we can make a difference. There’s a wonderful saying that comes from a book of Jewish ethical teachings that says, “while it is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, neither are you free to walk away from it.”

      Indeed there is much more to be done, and I truly hope other veterinary professionals and pet owners will join me in opening up a dialogue about how to address this very real problem, that causes heartache for too many people.

    • 1) Having centralized service provision (like radiology centers) is certainly a possible model, but it’s unlikely to drastically reduce client cost. We’ll still need critical services at disparate facilities – I can’t transport a critical patient 10 miles to a radiology center to get rads, so I need to have radiology gear in my clinic, so I still need to pay for it.

      2) “We would see the cost of general health care for pets reflect a more reasonable set of fees” if we adopt human models? That’s just ludicrous – do you have any idea what the cost of human health care is? It’s vastly more expensive than pets. We don’t want to move that direction.

      3) You talk about people with higher debt. Rather than just SAYING that, how about you back it up with some facts. I would challenge you to find more than 1 or 2 other fields in which the average ratio of debt:income is higher than what veterinarians face today.

      4) Yes, I charge the same for me to do a procedure as a board-certified surgeon. Know why? Because I’m slower, so the surgery time is longer. That adds cost for me (because it’s by-the-minute) and anesthesia. So it ends up being about the same as having a board-certified surgeon do it because they’ll charge more for their services but the procedure will be shorter, dropping the anesthesia cost (and overall risk to the patient). I always counsel clients with this information: that I can do the procedure or we can have a board-certified surgeon come in, and the cost will likely be very similar. Most choose the board-certified surgeon. Some prefer to have me do it because the know me. But they always have the information to make a choice.

      5) “Mandate expensive equipment”? Like what?? An emergency clinic here is required to have in-house blood work lab equipment, radiology gear, and a few other pieces of equipment that they already would have anyway. Nothing outrageous at all. A GP practice? There’s very, very little in the way of “mandated” equipment. You’re just plain making this one up. Or it’s very specific to the province or state that you’re in. If that’s the case, you should not be stating it as if it’s an industry-wide problem. If it’s mandated, it’s a state/provincial problem, not a veterinary industry problem.

      Our cost of care is reasonable. We are charged exorbitant amounts for our equipment. We pay ridiculous amounts for our training. We have staff to pay, facilities to lease and upkeep, benefit packages to fund, ongoing training to pay for ….. No, veterinary medical care is not cheap. But it is MOST DEFINITELY not because veterinarians are bilking anyone. Not even remotely.

    • Mary,
      I’m many of your points are uninformed and simply incorrect. You said, “You also fail to address the obvious problem in the way that veterinary practice now mandate outrageously expensive equipment in every practice.” This statement is simply not true. There are no “mandates” detailing that every practice needs to have “outrageously expensive equipment.” I have worked in some clinics with state of the art capabilities like CT, MRI, and endoscopy. I have also worked in other practices that didn’t even have an ultrasound machine and still used film radiographs. Some practices have more advanced diagnostic/therapeutic capabilities than other hospitals. This is a fact. There is no uniform “mandate” as you have suggested. When one hospital does not have the equipment needed, they often refer to a hospital that does. The same thing happens in human medicine. For example, when I needed an MRI, I had to be referred to another facility that had one, as my primary hospital did not.
      You also stated, “If veterinary medicine was to truly base itself on human medical practice, we would have radiology centres for imaging, surgeries and specialized procedures done only by board certified practitioners, and we would see the cost of general health care for pets reflect a more reasonable set of fees.” These things DO in fact exist. That is what residencies and board certified specialists are for. I’m not sure why you think that having specialty centers would reduce the cost for pet owners. Specialty centers DO exist, and I assure you that procedures can be very pricey due to a) the cost of the advanced equipment, b) the cost of training staff how to operate the equipment, c) overhead costs like electricity, support staff salaries, etc, and d) the advanced training that the board certified specialist underwent in order to become proficient in such procedures.
      Lastly, you said, ” I am not buying into the high cost of education argument, either, because many people are struggling to pay off the debts of their own education which might be as high or higher than that of a veterinarian.” I’m sorry, but this statement is ridiculously uninformed. Veterinarians have the single highest debt-to-income ratio. That means that given their amount of debt, their salaries are proportionally very small. Are you even aware of the debt burden new grads face? At my university, average graduating debt is $180,000 with high interest rates. Many of my colleagues who did not qualify for the debt forgiveness program are having their $65,000/year salaries attacked by $1500/month (for the next 20 years) wage garnishments to pay off their federal loans. For my school, those students who did not have financial support from family or spouses are graduating with $200,000 – $250,000….and that’s for IN STATE tuition. You say that “many” people are struggling to pay off their own debts which are as high or higher than that of a veterinarian. I’m sorry, but that actual number is very few. Veterinarians have some of the highest loan burden of any profession. Those with comparable student debt (human doctors, lawyers) make significantly more money on average than veterinarians.
      I find it insulting that, as someone who works in this field, you lack an appreciation of the value of veterinary services. You claim that more effort should be taken to make pet care more affordable. This is out of the hands of the veterinary profession. We often purchase human equipment and medication to dispense to our pets. Do you think the manufacturers give us a discount because we intend to use them on animals? I assure you, they do not. While I think that every veterinarian should work with owners to find a treatment plan that fits with the owner’s budget, I do NOT think that they should discount their services. We have gone to school for a very long time, continue to invest in our education every year with continuing education, and work long and hard hours. If you cannot see that VALUE in the work that veterinarians do, I suggest that you ask for help from some of your coworkers in order to better understand the state of the industry.

  19. I recently had lunch with a veterinarian who graduated from vet school about a decade ago. She began her professional life with about **$250,000** in school loans and has worked as a vet for others ever since. Due to deferments, while making too little $$ to pay down her student loans, the balance climbed to roughly $400,000. Now THAT is insanity. She has no hope of paying that off or ever owning a home. And yet we bitch and moan? She could have gotten into medical school and could be making six figures now with the same timing and the same debt. Get good pet insurance if you expect low veterinary bills.

    • I will first of try to ignore your bias point of view (bordering on hypocritical)… Though, if your business works well, I’m sure many vets would be happy to join you. It should go with out saying that you’ll hold your business to the same standards as you expect for all of vet med.

      I am a vet and I’d love to provide free care for all. I wish my health care was free too. I wish a lot of things… Maybe the solution is to have the goverment (or some agency) pay for everything and regulate everything?… Maybe the goverment should mandate pet health insurance. This is silly, and will not happen. Try to think through what you and others are suggesting. Do you think that local business owners, let alone thousands of national business owners will come to some consensus of how they charge for different treatment/diagnostics. Would this discussion be helpful or even possible?… PLEASE look at veterinary medicine as a WHOLE, look into the facts and TRY weigh your personal experience and other anecdotal evidence appropriately (I.e. give it much less weight than national statistics and scientific studies). If you want to believe vets are over paid for there level of education/training, that’s your opinion. Please keep in mind that human MDs (with a similar 4 year education and school debt) make 2-10 times as much as vets. There are many other professionals with less training that also make more money on average than vets. So…
      1) Yes, veterinary care is expensive, but it’s cheaper than MANY other professionals. We keep your pets (family to many) as happy and healthy as we can. Is this not value enough?… We all complain when things cost a lot. Whether it’s our car, medical bills, or our pets. But honestly, it’s just a fact of life and vet med is not particularly unfair.
      2) Why is it that when many to most human MDs, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, etc try to make as much money as they can in an ETHICAL manner it’s just “business” or human nature? But it seems as though when vets work hard to make as much many as they can ETHICALLY, and will not provide FREE services, they considered unethical, immoral, greedy or just not compassionate.
      3) Buy pet insurance! If you can’t afford insurance you can do any of the following: a) don’t get a pet, b) take the risk and then not complain about paying your vet bills and expect them to be potentially expensive, c) find a vet you like and trust.
      4) Take up your complaints about pricing from individual vets with them.
      5) If you find yourself complaining about vet bills, while not complaining about other expensive things in your life, then you have an unfair double standard. If you complain about all expensive bills (me including) then the problem is universal and you should either get over it or start attacking the system and not any particular group.

    • do you have pet insurance and do you work for one of the insurers? I bought it for a dog I recently had, and it turned out to not cover nearly as much as it suggested it would. I felt like it was a bait and switch. I swore I would never buy it again. I don’t know how to pick 1 company from the next, & I don’t feel like there is anyone out there that is able to help me figure out which is the better company. :(