The High Cost Of Veterinary Care8 min read
PETS ARE LIVING LONGER
The high cost of veterinary care is often brought up after receiving a bill or an estimate for medical or surgical procedures being performed on a family pet. Times sure have changed! Years ago one of my jobs as a teenager was to take the family Miniature Schnauzer to our veterinarian for vaccinations. This was in the early 1970’s. I didn’t mind the chore since it gave me an opportunity to drive my parent’s car! Back in those days I put the dog up on the exam room table. The veterinarian walked in, gave several injections, then left. That was it. No hello. No physical exam. No nothing. This is the way it was. Expectations for veterinary care were low. People accepted that an animal could not be treated like a person. A lot of animals were put down in those days because the technology to help them did not exist at the time.
Today things are different. People expect the same level of care, or even better, for their pets. Animals are not just creatures to herd cattle or protect the household. They are important family members. Just take a look at all the pet supermarkets that have sprung up around the country to service this demand. Humans have tended to anthropomorphize their pets. I really enjoyed having clients roll a stroller containing a cat or small dog into my exam room. You would think that I was a pediatrician. That never would have happened 30 years ago.
There is high tech veterinary care available today that can treat any medical condition in our companion animals. There are board certified: cardiologists, surgeons, oncologists, internists, radiologists, dentistry, behaviorists and the list goes on. The specialization of veterinary medicine has been dramatic over a very short period of time. All of this can explain the high cost of veterinary care.
THE HIGH COST OF VETERINARY CARE
You don’t have to go to a specialist to get top notch medical care for your dog or cat. Many practices today employ ultrasound equipment, as shown above, to help diagnose many medical conditions. I used ultrasound to visualize abdominal or thoracic contents without having to resort to an invasive procedure. It was a piece of cake to diagnose pregnancy or even get a urine sample via a bladder tap (cystocentesis) through the body wall. It is a very handy piece of equipment. It is also very expensive. The equipment has to be calibrated frequently to produce accurate results. All of this leads to the high cost of veterinary care.
In Florida the cost of land is prohibitive. Many veterinary practices are built in leased strip malls. Even before they open their doors they have invested a minimum of a half a million dollars or more to practice their profession. Around the United States the majority of specialists practice in larger cities around the country. Opening a specialty practice on a high traffic piece of real estate can run 2-3 million dollars or more! These specialists will draw referral business from a huge radius but access to that high quality care can quickly run up a bill.
The quality of emergency veterinary care is on par with human medicine. Any emergency situation from a Cesarean section to an automobile accident can be managed by the multitude of emergency facilities that have sprung up around the country. Many clinics are specialty practices during the day that moonlight as emergency practices after closing hours. The availability of such high tech veterinary medicine can lead to the high cost of veterinary care.
THE SURGICAL SUITE
This is one part of veterinary medicine that is usually not seen by the average pet owner. Most people do not want to watch surgery. I once had a guidance counselor at a local high school call me and asked if a young girl could watch me do a couple pieces of surgery. I said sure. I told her to stand at the entrance to my surgical room. Soon after my initial incision I noticed she was about ready to get sick or faint. My assistant lead her away and had her sit in my waiting room. Those feelings are understandable for the young and uninitiated.
Many hospitals today employ laser surgery. This is the same equipment used in human medicine. There are many benefits of laser surgery. It auto cauterizes the wounds which minimize bleeding around the surgical site. In Florida I used it in several of the hospitals that I worked in. It was like having a magical wand in your hand that could sculpt a surgical wound in a matter of minutes.
Veterinary practices have anesthetic machines that are the same or rival those used in human medicine. The same types of drugs are used to sedate and then maintain general anesthesia. Once an animal is under a general anesthetic that animal has to be monitored to ensure adequate oxygen saturation and heart rate. Veterinarians employ pulse oximeters and electrocardiograms to ensure stable cardiac and respiratory functions. Monitoring equipment is expensive and can add to the high cost of veterinary care.
THE JOY OF PRACTICING HIGH QUALITY MEDICINE
Being able to help someone’s pet thanks to the wonders of technology is a great thing. I have always liked medical challenges and the equipment available to most veterinarians today can help provide top notch medical care. One of the greatest advances has been in veterinary imaging. Most veterinary practices today have adopted digital technologies. The digital films can be viewed on huge tv flat panel monitors at a level of detail that blows you away. The images can be manipulated and or enlarged by the simple movement of a computer mouse. Going from regular xrays to digital radiography is like going from a black and white tv set to a huge 70 inch HD flat panel tv!! The improvements in image quality are dramatic.
Pharmacological advances in veterinary medicine have allowed the profession to treat conditions that would have been unimaginable years ago. There have been tremendous advancements in the treatment of heartworm disease and other internal medical conditions. Most human drugs are used in veterinary practices around the country. This is understandable. For every human medical problem there is an analogous animal model. The proliferation of high quality flea and tick products is amazing. When I got out of vet school in 1981 all I had were flea shampoos, sprays and dips. This plethora of veterinary pharmacopeia has added to the high cost of veterinary care.
THE BEST WAYS TO DEAL WITH HIGH MEDICAL COSTS
If you are a billionaire the high cost of veterinary care will not phase you one bit. Most people are not in that category and need to budget money for animal care. What happens unexpectedly is what can break any household budget. Even though high tech medicine is readily available it doesn’t mean that you have to swallow it all! Veterinarians are all good at practicing at a level comfortable for any personal budget. The main goal is to help the animal as much as possible.
If you have a young kitten or puppy it is imperative that you purchase some form of pet insurance. It is cheaper to buy insurance when the animal is young. Do not forget that puppies and kittens can get into trouble just as easy as a human toddler can. Even at a young age having pet insurance will make the high cost of veterinary care more palatable.
Another variation on paying for expensive veterinary bills is to apply for CareCredit®. This company caters to veterinary and human dental needs. The majority of people seem to apply at a veterinarian’s office at the time they need it. It is best to apply in advance before you actually need the credit. It is simple to do online.
Veterinary medical care continues to advance with time. The profession is intertwined with human medicine in many ways. Many surgical and or medical procedures have been performed first on dogs and cats before being performed on people. Let’s be frank about one thing. The high cost of veterinary care may daunt many but when compared to the high cost of human medical care it is still a bargain.