Common Myths About Why Veterinary Care Is So Expensive
Updated: Nov 4
Ask any employee at any veterinary facility, the most common thing we hear are complaints that we're “too expensive,” we “don't care about the animals,” we “only care about money,” we “should be more giving and charitable,” we're “just greedy.” It's a harsh reality, and, unfortunately, so utterly common that students looking to make a career in the veterinary world are warned about it; “Is this really what you want?” WE know this is what you want because you desire to make a difference, to help animals be healthy and happy, to ease any suffering they may endure, it's what we all wanted. But your clients won't know that, they won't see it, and, what's more, they won't believe it.
We WANT to be able to do everything we can for the dying dog on our table, or the cat with the busted pelvis, or the puppy that has parvo. Our greatest desire and instinct is to do whatever it takes to make the animal better, to ease the suffering, to tell the client that everything is going to be okay. But we can't. Because the God's honest truth is: Money is an issue. The client doesn't have the funds. So our hands are tied. All the client sees is our unwillingness to help, our greedy demand for money first. And they'll get angry. And yell. And curse. And try to ruin us. Because, after all, we should have helped their pet out of the kindness of our hearts! We should have cared enough to see past the lack of money and do it for their animal.
What the client won't see is our hearts breaking, because this animal NEEDED help! Because we SHOULD have been able to do something! But our hands were tied, because the client was ill-prepared to own an animal. Because they never considered that owning an animal may actually cost them money. Because the client doesn't understand that THIS is our livelihood, this job is how we pay our bills, feed our families.
The client won't see the tears and frustration that we shed later at home because we couldn't help. The very public opinions shared with social media that paints us as the villain make our shoulders slump even lower.
But, wait. What if the client does have the money? Chances are, they'll tell us to go ahead with whatever needs to be done, but they'll say it with a glare. We'll save their pet, and the client will hug their animal. But not us. We may have saved their pet, but really all we cared about was the money. How dare we put a price tag on their pet's life?! And it'll be made known how dissatisfied they we are us. How Fido may have lived and is now doing great, but the cost was outrageous. And, once again, social media will know exactly how much of a villain we are.
There is no winning in this field. It is a thankless job, no matter what we do. But we do it because it's what we love. Because the animals deserve to have us on their side. To have someone who is qualified to know what they need to make their life better.
If we're allowed to.
The following article addresses several myths clients believe about the veterinary field and Dr. Melissa Magnuson does a very good job explaining why they ARE myths and not facts.
Written by Dr. Melissa Magnuson
Veterinary care is medical care. It is no different from human health care but when compared to human health care, it is considerably less costly. Let’s consider some myths about veterinary medicine that clients have told me:
Myth 1: Veterinarians are not REAL doctors.
Just like human medical doctors, veterinary medical doctors have the same amount of schooling to become a doctor but veterinary doctors learn about 10 or more species where human doctors learn about one. Veterinary doctors also have to be radiologists, ophthalmologists, dentists, surgeons, psychiatrists, and grief counselors. Veterinary doctors have extensive medical and surgical training—so they are REAL doctors.
Myth 2: Veterinarians make a lot of money, that’s why it costs so much.
The average veterinarian salary out of vet school is $75,000 per year. Compare this to human medical doctors who make $160,000 starting salary. Specialty veterinarians make $120,000 where specialty human medical doctors make $285,000-$485,000 per year. Both veterinarians and human medical doctors incur the same amount of financial debt to become a doctor, typically around $200,000, which they are required to pay back.
Myth 3: Veterinary hospitals just want to make money, they don’t care about the pet.
The field of veterinary medicine is filled with animal loving individuals who care about pets. The most difficult part of the job is when clients cannot financially afford medical care for their pets. The cost to run a veterinary hospital is high (payroll, equipment, insurance, inventory, labs, leases, loans, rent, mortgages, continuing education to remain current in the veterinary field, etc. ). We are fortunate to work in a business that helps animals. A pet is a luxury item—similar to owning a car—it has to be cared for regularly and it costs to care for them.
Myth 4: Lab tests are not necessary, that is how veterinarians make money.
Lab tests are necessary, and also recommended for pets that appear normal because pets cannot tell us how they feel. The tests often reveal what is wrong and how it must be treated. Most lab tests are sent out to labs that charge the veterinary hospital money, so in order to run the lab tests, the veterinary hospital has to pay the lab first. If the lab doesn’t get the money, the test won’t be run.
Myth 5: Physical examinations are not necessary, veterinarians should just prescribe medication.
The physical examination is the most important part of a veterinary appointment (combined with the client history and answers to our questions.) Remember, pets cannot talk so physical exam findings like heart rate, respiration rate, the quality of the heart sounds, the feel of the pulses, lymph nodes, abdomen, and color of the gums give veterinarians a lot of information to care for your pet properly. Some medicines would be detrimental without the physical exam.
Myth 6: Veterinarians overcharge for medicine, I can get it so much cheaper at on-line pharmacies or my own pharmacy.
Veterinarians purchase medicine directly from pharmaceutical companies and then sell it to the client. These medicines are quality controlled and not expired. Many on-line pharmacies buy from 3rd party resellers overseas and sometimes are not selling the same drug that is approved by the FDA in the United States. Oversea products have different regulations. Also, human pharmacists are NOT trained in animal medicine, only human medicine, so they are unaware of drug substitutions that should never be made. For example—many liquid medications for humans contain xylitol, a toxic substance to cats and dogs that should never be used in veterinary medicine. Medication dispensed from a human pharmacy could potentially be under dosed or over dosed for animals.
Myth 7: It costs me more to take my pet to the vet than to go to my own doctor.
Many people that have their own health insurance do not see the full cost of human healthcare because they only pay the co-pay or meet a deductible. If you do not have medical insurance for your pet, you will see the full cost of healthcare.
Myth 8: My pet is fine, he/she doesn’t not need to go to the vet yearly.
Pets age much faster than humans and examining pets yearly allows the opportunity to discover issues early. There have been many occasions where illness was caught on examination and lab tests in pets that appeared healthy to their owners. Early detection allows the pet to have a much better (and less expensive) chance for living a healthy life. Owners may not always notice gradual changes in their pets. It can be liked to living with someone who is gradually gaining weight – you may not notice, but someone who hasn’t seen that person in a while notices it right away.
How does an owner make it less expensive? Start with the basics…
Feed a good quality food…what you put in your pet affects how your pet feels. If you feed junk, you will get junk.
Keep your pet a healthy weight.
Exercise your pet regularly.
See your veterinarian at least once yearly for a wellness examination. Preventing disease in your pet is much more inexpensive than treating disease.
Always ask your veterinarian for a treatment plan to go over costs before you proceed with diagnostic tests, treatments and medications so you know how much items will cost. Discuss the care you are receiving with your veterinarian and ask questions so you fully understand charges and why the items are recommended.
Ask your veterinarian if it is possible to split up certain preventative care items/treatments among multiple visits to help with finances.
Consider pet insurance, while many do not pay for preventative care, they do cover medical issues that are unexpected.
Consider signing up for a veterinary finance option. CareCredit is a popular payment option. It helps spread out payments for pets that need surgery (spay/neuter), dental cleanings, and/or unplanned incidents. It is also very helpful if you have multiple pets. Check with your veterinary hospital to see if they accept CareCredit.
About Dr. Magnuson
Dr. Melissa Magnuson is a native of southern Minnesota, where she grew up on a small pig and cattle farm. Ever since she can remember, she’s wanted to be a veterinarian and fulfill her lifelong passion of helping animals. With a degree in biology and philosophy from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, she went on to work on a master’s degree at Southern Mississippi University. From there, she completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1998.