Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.
Why Are Vet Visits So Expensive?
Ever gone to a low-cost vaccine clinic with your dog or taken your pet in for a discount spay or neuter? No matter what dog owners do, the cost of taking our pets to the vet seems way too expensive. And no matter what vets do, we hear complaints when the bill comes.
It is out of control and there does not seem to be a good way to control it. A lot of people end up asking this question: Why is my dog's vet so expensive, anyway?
1. Vet Techs, Nurses, and Receptionists
Do you want your pet handled by a high-school dropout who was fired from the local burger chain because they were sleeping on the job? Probably not.
A well-trained veterinary technician works a demanding (and sometimes dangerous) job and is going to demand a good salary with fringe benefits. If the vet is not going to pay for that person, he or she will shop around and find a better spot, and the vet will end up with kids fired from the local burger shop.
We also have to spend quite a bit on receptionists. A good receptionist will get people seen on time and make the whole visit seem less stressful; they too deserve a good salary, health care, a retirement plan, etc.
Having any employees is expensive. Having good employees to handle your dog costs even more.
2. Rent and Land Value
Anyone that has run a small business can understand this problem. Rent in the poorer parts of town are a lot less; rent in shopping centers with lots of parking and next to major roads is a lot more.
For those vets who bought their land in a great location and have built their own clinics, there is always the chance to avoid taxes and sell that land for a profit, then retire or move somewhere else.
This is not something you see on your bill, but it is there. If your vet bills are too high, one alternative is to load your dogs up in the car and drive away from the urban area you live in. Vets that live further out in the country, where land values are low, are more likely to be less expensive.
3. Medications and Materials
Big pharma is everywhere, and that includes your local vet clinic. Some of the medications available at your veterinary clinic are generic and inexpensive, but most of the newer medications are still under exclusive license and the pharmaceutical company that owns the patent charges a lot.
The big drug companies come by with free note pads, mugs, pens, and other things to remind the vets about their new products and encourage them to prescribe them. This is only one of the reasons they are more expensive.
Guess who gets to pay for those “freebies”?
Besides keeping a supply of drugs on hand, your vet also needs to have supplies. Some of them are simple and inexpensive, but dogs come in all sizes, and even something as inexpensive as a tracheal tube has to be available in sizes large enough for a mastiff and small enough for a Chihuahua.
If your vet takes care of exotics, the situation is even worse. Tracheal tubes have to be available in odd sizes, special catheters have to be ready to use, and there are also some medications that a vet will need to keep on hand.
Large instruments are also expensive and if your dog has special needs it pays to go to an expensive clinic that has what she needs. A cast might be enough for most broken bones, but for some internal fixation is what the dog really needs. A laparoscope, an ultrasound, and many other instruments are expensive.
4. Veterinary Education
To earn their doctorate a vet must complete four years of veterinary college after attending 2 to 4 years at an undergraduate university. (It is usually 4, and the vast majority of veterinary students have already completed a degree in animal science, biology, chemistry, or some other related field before starting at the veterinary college.) Going to college all of those years costs a lot, about $40-60,000 a year. Most vets do not have that money so they take out student loans that have to be paid back after graduation.
5. Loans and Corporate Practice
All vets need to attend six to eight years of college before gaining their veterinary degree. Some of the colleges cost a lot less than others, but the median price range for a college in 2006 was between $15,000 and $30,000. That was 10 years ago, when the latest figures were available, so of course it is a lot more now.
Most students have to take out loans to afford vet school. When they are finished, of course, those loans need to be paid back. If the local clinic does not pay enough, there are some corporate practices that are willing to pay more to new graduates.
The local clinics need to pay more to attract young vets. Their prices have to go up to do so, and when the corporate practices are able to attract less young vets their wages go up to.
Those expensive employees I mentioned? Young veterinary graduates also need to be paid. Their salaries are also figured into the bill that is given to you as you leave with your dog.
Are You Paying Too Much at the Vet?
As this video explains, sometimes you really do pay too much.
Most of the vets I have met over the years work for the benefit of their patients and are not worried about making much money. Not all vets are concerned about keeping your costs down, however, and there are a lot of ways to save money that you won't find out about during the visit to your dog's clinic. If you feel you are paying too much for your dog's health care, call some other clinics in your area and ask about prices.
Learn how to brush your dog's teeth and feed a raw diet to avoid excessive costs on dental care. Read about the research being done in vaccines, and do not waste money on vaccinating your dog every year. Find out about yearly heartworm testing. And, if your dog is on a daily or monthly medication, you should consider ordering it or buying alternatives from a feed store or from some of the less expensive pharmacies on the internet.
And remember, call around if you really need the lowest cost office call and services. This does not mean that the vet you visit will have all of the materials that the more expensive veterinarian will have, but he may be just as good.
Veterinarians do not need to be so expensive. They could charge a lot less if they followed the practices used by your local pediatrician. All they need to do is schedule 10 appointments per hour, have most of the visit performed by their staff, and order a lot of lab tests that are not really necessary.
Does that sound like a good idea to you?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2016 Dr Mark
Is your vet is too expensive, leave a comment and let us know what you think should be different
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 26, 2020:
Dr Stephanie K, thanks for taking the time to comment on this. I do recommend that owners both brush and feed raw, but as you well know that does not always happen. Some people do not want to spend the extra five minutes a day to take care of their dogs teeth and they end up paying for it later.
I agree that top of the line care is more expensive but if someone is unhappy with their bills they should shop around. Is the level of service going to be the same? As you point out, of course not. Some clients are more concerned about their bill than with their dog receiveing post-surgical monitoring, gas anesthesia, etc. We can still provide for some of them, but I do not think things can be the same.
Dr Stephanie K on August 26, 2020:
As a fellow vet, I generally agree with you on a lot of your points. Most clients seem unaware of the costs it takes to just physically keep our doors open, little on compensating the doctor and team for their time and skills. It is up to us to show folks where their money is going.
One thing to note though, I am confused as to your recommendations of feeding raw food to help with dental health. I agree we should be encouraging pet owners to brush their pets' teeth, but other good additions are using appropriate chew treats, dental water additives, and regular cleanings with x-rays (just like humans get at their dentist, but under anesthesia for obvious reasons). The latter will cost less the more frequently people get their pets' teeth deep cleaned appropriately, and keep the pet more pain free and with less systemic disease.
It is also a bit odd to encourage people to shop around every time. Top of the line care is not cheap, but understandably not everyone wants or needs top of the line care, as long as everyone understands the trade offs. We should encourage folks to find a veterinary hospital that they like. If practice A has surgery fees let's say consistently $300-500 more than practice B, but has a dedicated licensed technician sitting with their pet from start to finish including recovery in a nice quiet comfortable area, and all the monitoring parameters to keep a pet safer under anesthesia, vs practice B that has no licensed technicians, only a pulse ox for monitoring, and a recovery ward with loud cold metal cages where no one is actively monitoring them every minute, then practice A should be significantly more expensive. Most clinics are not price gouging. It is up to clinics and clients to determine what best suit their needs to see if they are a good match.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 20, 2020:
Jill, you do not believe that vet techs should earn a living wage? (They deserve to fly to Germany for vacations too.) You do not believe that land costs money? You do not believe that education has to be paid for? Many years ago I had a mechanic fix my broken motorcycle for $5. Using your logic, no mechanic should ever charge more than that and if they do they are just charging me excessively. No excuse for that.
Jill Mason on July 19, 2020:
I don’t believe any of this, when I was in Munich for 2 years. Taking my dog to the vet, vaccines, working pills, nails trimmed and a check up cost me €38, There is no excuse for the excessive charges for medical treatment for pets and human beings.
Maria f Alvarez on June 25, 2020:
@drMark: my pediatrician would never insist on senseless labs or injections that aren’t mandatory or necessary. They just request to monitor. I have taken my small dog to the vet for teeth cleaning and I knew there would be extractions. The bill went from $350 to $530 to $1100. That was ridiculously crazy. Then I took here again for vomiting. It went from one day observation to 3 days and all they did was watch her and take her out to poop & pee. That bill went from $130 to $560. Only to send her home with the same meds for vomiting. She was very perky the 2nd day she was with them. Come on now. Where I live there are many vets to be trusted - I like the one doc in this practice but when he isn’t there I have to see someone else. Most times I handle everything from home. It’s an industry that has taken advantage of their clients. What ? Because we love our pet babies - so the client owner is vulnerable!!!! Not cool what’s so ever! I have told myself that these will be my last poochies because with 3 kids and 2 poochies who can afford a home anymore. Things need to change. And Vet school wasn’t expensive years and years ago so why do they charge the student so much when it’s not different that years ago too! There is such exploitation with everyone and everything!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 27, 2020:
Jesse--what do you mean "note that they do very little math"?
Jesse Pollock on May 25, 2020:
Note that they do very little math. I.E. this is an excuse. Ask them what they drive, what their house is worth, their second home. Vets do NOT pay trained technicians much, the field is saturated.
Most clear $80,000 a year.
Note that this is NOT the Clinic's owning vets earnings. The owner of the clinic makes over double that in every case I have looked at to date.
Miss T on September 11, 2017:
My dog requires epityl they were going to withold a new prescription until i paid for a bloodtest. Im on min wage and it cost me £138 for an appointment a bloodtest and 4 wks tablets
Elaine Dodd on April 26, 2017:
Post op visits should be free in no treatment given
Vets should be more lenient shopping for rxs. Much cheaper on the outside especially w the dog discount card
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 26, 2016:
As I mentioned in the reply to tsadjtko, we always recommend those tests but a lot of times people decline them. Can you imagine telling your pediatrician "okay, do the blood test, but my kid does not need an xray or ultrasound". Some dog owners feel like their pets are their kids, others figure they are being overcharged. Guess who has to decide who is who in a 10 minute office call? (One receptionist I heard of asks if the animals are numbered or named; the animals with numbers are treated like livestock, those with names get offered everything.)
Thanks for leaving those great comments!
Bob Bamberg on September 25, 2016:
Interesting article, as always, Doc. Vets often get accused of ordering unnecessary tests, as do physicians. In the case of physicians, they practice defensive medicine to protect themselves against lawsuits.
In the case of veterinarians, they need to order tests simply because the pet can't answer the vet's questions. If a dog shows up with dry, flaky skin and a dull coat, it could be any number of things...from allergies to various systemic diseases. The vet needs to run tests to rule out causes in order to reach a diagnosis, and many pet owners just don't realize this.
Around here many veterinary clinics open very early in the morning (some as early as 6) and stay open til 8 or 9 in the evening so that people can drop off their pets on the way to work or bringing the kids to school or daycare, and then pick them up after work, soccer, band practice and all the other things that keep American families on the go. The vet has to provide coverage for all those hours.
In my area and, I suspect, all over America, vets face a new type of competition. There is a national company that sends teams of vets and techs to various pet supply stores monthly or bi-monthly, usually for an hour and a half at a time to administer vaccinations, do micro-chipping, provide parasite control and perform other preventative services at prices lower than brick and mortar veterinary clinics.
I service 28 pet supply stores, a combination of chain stores, independents, and feed and grain stores, and these teams are at all of them. The store gets a cut, of course, and people line up to avail themselves of these services.
This service, while an advantage for pet owners, takes a lot of revenue from vets who will find it difficult, if not impossible, to make up for this lost revenue.
And veterinarians also face competition from Dr. Google. Some pet owners will diagnose a condition based on what they read on the internet and provide treatment based on what they read in comment streams on various web sites. Please, God, if there's such a thing as reincarnation, don't let me come back as one of these people's dog!
Then there are the holistic practitioners offering accupuncture, massage therapy, and other alternative modalities. Many vets work in concert with these service providers, or get training and certification, themselves, in order to incorporate alternative medicine into their practices.
It ain't easy being a veterinarian in this day and age...at least in the Northeast where I live. The vet schools are enrolling to capacity, but you don't see many new veterinary hospitals opening up.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 18, 2016:
No problem, Melissa. I was thinking about your situation after I answered and was remembering all of those first volunteer-type jobs. Mine was with a rural vet, so you may have to move out of urban NY to find someone--maybe on a summer break? I hope you do not get frustrated and give up on your vet tech education, because based on the great exotic hubs you have written you are an intelligent and thoughtful person and any vet will be lucky to get a person with your insights working with him.
Glad to hear your dog is doing okay, even with those missing teeth!!!
Melissa A Smith from New York on September 18, 2016:
Sorry for directing my rage at you--yes she's fine, she had it extracted a while back and 5 other teeth.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 17, 2016:
Thanks for that positive comment, Suhail. It sounds like you have found a rural vet that is more interested in K2´s well being than in just making a buck. I hope you tell your friend about him.
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on September 16, 2016:
This is a very informative hub, Dr Mark. I liked it immensely.
I admit that I like our vet. He gives lots of time, charges little, and recommends medicine and specialist only if necessary.
But I agree with you. There are both genuine and false excuses for charging more and acting irresponsibly.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 15, 2016:
Hi Melissa I am sorry to hear that. I do not know about the situation in NY, but in Chicago I always had students volunteer in the summer at my clinic; I remember there were always extras problems with insurance, but other than that it was a rewarding experience for all of us, and it is nice to have fresh eyes on a situation. (It is great to have mistakes pointed out because we all get in a rut.)
I have not seen you write anything about your dog in a while. I hope his broken canine tooth had no further problems.
Melissa A Smith from New York on September 14, 2016:
Maybe you don't do this, but all vets should hear this. I'm about to end my vet tech education because I can't find a required clinic for it, no one will let me volunteer there FOR FREE. I have a biology degree. You vets want to save money? Give some students a chance and stop turning them away because they don't have 100000000 hours of experience.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 12, 2016:
Thanks for the comments, tsadjatko. I am not sure about the tests, because we were taught to offer all of them and let the clients decline, but you are right about some vets being in it for the money. I worked for someone like that many years ago, and he told all of us "Do not give a $5 bottle of pills when you can give a $20 shot". Those of us who did not follow his instructions did not hold jobs there for long.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate you taking the time to let me know about the vets in NY, altered photocopies and all. (That sounds like something the CIA would come up with--uh oh, that final part was redacted!)
The Logician from now on on September 12, 2016:
R. Mark, you make a lot of good points but even taking them into consideration I have found throughout my life of over 50 years of almost yearly visiting vetterinarians that some veterinarians, I'd say most of those I have encountered, routinely will charge 50% to 100% for routine procedures like shots, neuter and spaying or related surgery more than you can find with other vets if you shop around.
I also have often found that veterinarians routinely recommend unnecessary expensive tests and procedures taking advantage of owners love for their pets instead of suggesting what they know is a more practical course. They might start a treatment that they know is likely to result in thousands of dollars of expense to the pet owner never suggesting that may be the case or suggesting for a tiny fraction of that potential they could put the pet down and get a replacement.
I have witnessed this so often I cannot believe that Veterinarians aren't taught or trained to practice in this way. Or else they are all innately greedy. On the other hand I have always found the vets 30 - 60 minutes out of a city to be substantially cheaper, the ones who don't own property that will become much more valuable and be sold.
I'll give you a first hand example, when I started breeding dogs in upstate NY I went to the vet everybody recommended as the best in my town. Funny thing was he never looked at my dogs. He had a staff of veterinarians, about 5, I found out later were all recent graduates of veterinary school, and while he was out playing golf they saw his patients. After a couple bad experiences with them trying to soak me I decided to do some research and found they were 50% to 100% (or more) expensive than other vets a little out of town and even in the nearest town on all the things they had done with my dogs. When I asked them to transfer my dogs' records to another vet the records they sent were photocopies with a blank paper covering all their charges on the dog's record. They didn't want their competition to know how badly they were ripping people off.
I once took an old ferret to them with an obvious 1 inch tumor on his tail and told them I want to know if it is benign or malignant. They examined the ferret and recommended a treatment that they said would cost $180 dollars. I asked if it was malignant and they said they can't tell. I have a BA in biology, I knew that was a lie. I said you mean you can't take a biopsy and look at it under a microscope and tell me if the cells look malignant? She was taken back, and said well yes we can do that. (DUH!)
I said do it, she came back and said it does look malignant. I told her well since I can buy several ferrets for $180 why don't you put him down. Guess what that cost me! I should have taken it home and drowned it, I'd have saved $60.
I could tell you more stories as I worked my way through college working for an old veterinarian who used very out dated practices, the stories I can tell!
So Dr. Mark, respectfully, with no reflection on you or the accuracy of all you have presented here, I believe in shopping around for a vet and will never trust the most expensive ones.
I remember selling a Siberian Husky pup to a young newly wed couple who were wealthy. When they took the pup to their family vet he told them he suspected the pup had ectopic ureter, I know you know what that is but for your readers it is an abnormally placed ending of the ureter. Instead of ending in the bladder, it drains into the urethra, the vagina or the uterus and the dog is constantly dribbling urine. He told them he wanted to run a test for $300 and if that was the cause surgery to correct it would be $1000 with a 50/50 chance of success! Although ectopic ureter can occur in huskies, my line bred for 25 years by me never displayed it so I highly doubted this.
I gave them their money back and took the dog back. In two weeks, before I could get it to the vet for a second opinion, it stopped leaking urine without any treatment.
The vast majority of encounters I have ever had with veterinarians have resulted in similar controversial situations, or charges for things I didn't authorize or want and my objections always rebutted with all kinds of bogus excuses.
Having followed you on hub pages Dr. Mark I would bet my life you are one of the honorable vets around, I wish I could say the same for so many others I've dealt with in your profession.