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The Cost of Compassion

What is a veterinarian?

Today's veterinarian is dedicated to protecting the health and welfare of both animals and people. Veterinarians are highly educated and skilled in preventing, diagnosing and treating animal health problems. Because their knowledge and training extends to a number of closely-related areas, veterinarians are often involved in more than animal medicine.

Today, more than 14,000 veterinarians are professionally active in Canada. They provide a wide variety of services in private practice, teaching and research, regulatory veterinary medicine, public health, private industry and other specialized services.

Why is veterinary care for my pet(s) so expensive?

Sometimes I believe I'm spending more on my pet's health care than on my own!

Relatively speaking, veterinary care is a great value! Veterinary fees are a reflection of the costs of maintaining suitable facilities, equipment and support personnel to provide the level of care that is expected in animal medicine today. Remember, too, the original cost of the animal has no bearing on the cost of services delivered. Annual veterinary care is a cost that should be factored in to the decision to own a pet.

One reason you sometimes feel you are paying more for your pet's health care than for your own is because you pay for your own health care through your federal and provincial taxes. If you consider that more than 35 cents of every tax dollar you pay goes towards health care, it may help to show the value you're receiving for veterinary care.

If my veterinarian doesn't clear up my pet's problem, can I get a refund?

Fees cover what is done for the animal including an examination, administration of tests, diagnosis, treatment and medications. Some problems can be long term or involve multiple and/or changing causes. Treatment may be ongoing.

To effect a cure is not always possible. You are paying for an honest attempt to diagnose and treat a problem. There is no implied guarantee.

What about terms...a payment plan that's fair to both parties?

My veterinarian says my pet's office visit/vaccinations/surgery/medication, etc. add up to a couple of hundred dollars or more!

I just don't have that kind of money all at once. What about terms...a payment plan that's fair to both parties?

Like most other professional offices you visit (your dentist, chiropractor, lawyer, etc.) fees are payable at the time service is rendered.

Your best course of action is to call your veterinary hospital ahead of time and inquire about alternative payment methods. The hospital manager will be happy to clarify the payment policy of the individual hospital.

We recommend you try to budget for veterinary care in your household budget.

Many veterinary preventative health care services can be staggered over a period of time, rather than doing "everything" in one visit. Your veterinarian can best advise you which procedures can be deferred, if necessary.

Most veterinary facilities accept payment by major credit cards. This is especially helpful at the time of a medical emergency.

Isn't the cost of veterinary medicine out of sight and unreasonable?

The extent of care given to any animal is ultimately determined by its owner. Every pet owner has different ideas as to what is acceptable pet care. Veterinarians can only make their clients aware of the medical options that are available. Then, they guide owners in their choices regarding the most important health care options for their pets. The final decision and choices rest with the owner. Veterinarians are willing and do go the extra mile for pet owners, but owners should be prepared for the associated expenses and understand that the veterinarian should be compensated for his/her professional services and related expenses.

Why can't veterinarians advise, diagnose and/or prescribe over the phone?

Not only is it unethical and illegal to prescribe for an animal that hasn't been physically examined by a veterinarian, it is also impossible to come up with an accurate diagnosis and rational plan of treatment.

A veterinarian can't make a diagnosis based on symptoms only as observed by an owner. The outward signs may be an indication of any number of internal causes with a wide variety of clinical treatments. A complete physical examination and other diagnostic tests are required to determine the cause of the symptoms and best course of treatment.

Why should I spay or neuter my pet? Why does it cost what it does?

There are long term health benefits to your pet when it is spayed or neutered. Ask your veterinarian to explain these. Obviously, the primary benefit is controlling the pet population and reducing the numbers of unplanned, unwanted pets.

Spay and neuter procedures are major surgery for your pet. The average spay or neuter costs less than an automobile tune-up. The procedure requires the time of a veterinarian and a surgical technician, newly-sterilized surgical instruments, general anesthesia, drapes, suture material, and hospitalization. When measured against the cost of feeding and nurturing unwanted kittens or puppies, spaying/neutering is much more cost-effective.

Should I be wary of "bargain basement" veterinary care? If so, why?

The Province of Alberta has minimum standards for veterinary care, which are overseen by the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. Generally, the level of fees does not relate to "quality of care" provided. However, when you notice significant differences in fees, it is logical to ask detailed questions about the course of treatment proposed. If fees seem too low compared to other estimates you have received, your expectations for care may not be met.

Why is there such a wide range of prices for the same procedure among veterinarians?

Fees are set by each individual veterinary practice and each has different expenses that are covered by the fees charged (i.e. salaries, rent, utilities). Often, the different fees do not reflect the same set of services, although there may be certain basic procedures in common.

Each veterinarian sets the fees for services based on varying criteria, such as different drugs, anesthetics, antibiotics, medical techniques and products, which may have a bearing on the cost of the services.

I've heard that there may be pet health insurance available. Is my pet eligible and what is covered?

Presently in Alberta, third party health insurance is available for pets. As with human health insurance, different companies offer various levels of coverage which have a range of deductibles and premiums. There are also certain restrictions on which conditions, injuries and procedures are covered.

Please contact your veterinary facility which may have more information on this type of insurance.

I recently took in a stray.  I am unable to afford further treatment. Is this my reward for trying to do the right thing?

If you "adopt" or "take in" the animal, you should be prepared to assume responsibility for the animal's care. Hopefully, a healthy animal is your reward for trying to do the right thing.

Veterinarians are routinely faced with these cases. Most will work out a satisfactory arrangement with the person who wants to pursue treatment for the animal. Defining the financial commitment for the animal at the initial visit can help avoid financial problems later on.

Making the decision to take in a stray should only be done with the same careful consideration that is involved in purchasing or adopting a new pet. Veterinary expenses are not assessed based on the method by which a pet is acquired. If you cannot accept financial responsibility for a stray animal, it should be taken to your local Humane Society or animal control office.

My injured (sick) pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian for prompt attention, but...

a) I just lost my job...
b) I don't get my next paycheque for another two weeks...
c) I barely have enough money to put food on the table...
d) etc.

Most pet owners have a regular veterinarian who will work out a payment plan with his/her regular clients. The problem arises with people who have pets that do not get regular veterinary care, but demand and seek services in an emergency situation without guaranteeing payment. If you choose not to establish yourself with a veterinary practice, you should give consideration to how you will manage the financial aspect of an emergency situation involving your pet.

Additional Information:

A UK perspective Why do Vets Charge So Much?