Veterinary Health Care
Why does it cost so much to provide veterinary care for my pet?
The fees you pay for veterinary services take into consideration a number of factors, including the costs to compensate your veterinarian and veterinary team for their professional services and the expenses involved in maintaining the hospital and equipment. When someone decides to adopt a pet, he or she needs to be prepared to include annual veterinary care in the overall cost of owning the pet.
Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer, which means you may be spending more over the lifetime of your pet. However, in general, the annual cost of caring for a pet hasn’t increased much over the past several decades. (Consider how much the costs of many professional services, such as human healthcare, have risen over that same period!) Certain advanced procedures may come at a higher cost, but as the owner, you decide what care you want to provide your pet. Overall, veterinary care is a terrific value for pet owners.
It may seem like you’re paying more for your pet’s care than for your own, but that perception may stem from the fact that you’re paying the entire cost of a service or procedure, rather than a percentage or set fee determined by an insurance company. If you want to save money on your pet’s care, there are several pet insurance plans available. These plans may cover or help keep costs down for many routine veterinary services, prescriptions, medical conditions, and diseases. Your veterinary hospital may also offer a third-party healthcare line of credit as an option. Be sure to ask at your hospital if they accept any of these plans.
What is a veterinary technician?
A veterinary technician is trained to assist veterinarians in caring for pets. These professionals perform many of the same tasks that a nurse would for a doctor. Veterinary technicians have received extensive training, either in accredited programs or on the job. Responsibilities vary among clinics, but the basic duties remain the same. For instance, technicians collect patient samples, perform lab tests, assist during patient exams and dental cleanings, and take x-rays. Senior techs also train and mentor other staff members. Some technicians work in research facilities or for manufacturers.
I’ve seen a lot of information about supplements and nutraceuticals. How do I know what my pet needs?
Supplements, and nutraceuticals in particular, are becoming very popular with pet owners. Your veterinarian can help you weed out confusing and conflicting information and advise you on any supplements your pet might benefit from.
Which pet food should I feed my dog/cat?
The answer is different for each pet, although many commercially available foods are fine to feed healthy dogs and cats. You can look for a nutritional adequacy statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), as well as the words “complete and balanced.” Pets’ nutritional needs do change, depending on their life stage and health. Your veterinarian can recommend a pet food, as well as give you advice on deciphering ingredient lists and determining how much to feed your pet.
I recently lost my pet, and I’m having trouble dealing with the loss. Where can I find help?
Losing a pet can be extremely upsetting and hard to move beyond. We have such a close bond with our pets, so letting go is never easy. Many veterinary hospitals offer grief counseling, as do some veterinary colleges and professional organizations. You can contact your veterinary hospital to find out who they recommend to help you through this sad transition.
My pet has the same thing wrong that he/she was just treated for. Can the veterinarian just prescribe the same medication that he/she did the last time?
Even though your pet may be showing the same symptoms as he or she did the last time, the problem may be different. Many diseases have similar symptoms, and your veterinarian needs to examine your pet to ensure that he or she correctly diagnoses the cause.
What toys/accessories are appropriate for my pet?
Many clinics offer veterinary-approved toys and accessories for pets. With all the options out there, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s safe. Your veterinary hospital can also recommend toys based on your pet’s age, breed, needs, and interests.
My pet won’t stop chewing/digging/barking/scratching/spraying. Where can I find help?
Certain behaviors can be extremely frustrating and difficult to overcome. Many veterinary hospitals offer behavior counseling and obedience training. Call your clinic to set up a behavior assessment.
My pet needs to have surgery. Should I be worried about the anesthesia?
Modern anesthesia is generally quite safe. Most veterinary hospitals perform a physical examination and run blood tests before all procedures requiring general anesthesia to make sure your pet doesn’t have any hidden health issues. In addition, a skilled veterinary technician should be monitoring your pet’s vital signs during the procedure, to ensure your pet’s safety or to catch and treat any potential concerns as quickly as possible. Anesthesia and patient monitoring vary greatly from clinic to clinic. Ask your hospital what they do to protect your pet before, during, and after the use of anesthesia.
My pet’s just been diagnosed with a medical condition/disease I’m not familiar with, and I want to find out more about it. Where can I find information I can trust?
You can turn to the Pet Health Section of our website, which offers current, trustworthy information on a wide variety of topics. In addition, many veterinary colleges and professional organizations offer excellent resources online. Your veterinarian will also be happy to discuss your pet’s health in more detail.
Will microchipping hurt my pet?
Not any more than a regular vaccine injection. The chip is inserted at the back of the pet’s neck, where the skin is loose. Microchipping is a safe and effective way to identify your pet in case he or she becomes lost.
After I have my pet microchipped, is there anything else I need to do?
You pet’s microchip should continue to function over your pet’s lifetime without any maintenance; however, the system won’t work unless you keep your contact information current. Whenever you move or change your phone number, make sure you update that information with your pet’s microchip manufacturer. Remember to also get your pet new ID tags at the same time.
Are natural remedies for flea/tick/heartworm prevention safe to use on my pet?
Although natural remedies may offer some protection or repellency against parasites, they are not nearly as effective as prescription products. In addition, natural remedies often need to be applied far more frequently than once a month, making them less convenient as well. Some, such as garlic, may actually be harmful to your pet.
Just because a product has “natural” on its label doesn’t mean it’s safe. Consult with your veterinarian before using any over-the-counter preventives on your pet.
Why should I buy flea/tick/heartworm preventives from a veterinary hospital when there are other, cheaper places to get it?
If you purchase preventives from sources other than a veterinary hospital or a website affiliated with a veterinary hospital, you don’t have any guarantee that the product is authentic or that it has been stored and shipped properly. When you order from your veterinarian, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to rely on his or her expertise and knowledge of your pet’s medical history.
I’ve never seen a flea or tick on my pet. Why should I bother putting my pet on preventives? Isn’t this an extra expense that’s just not worth paying for?
Fleas and ticks are not just minor nuisances; they can transmit serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases, some of which can be passed to people. Even indoor-only pets are at risk because fleas and ticks can hitch a ride inside on your clothing, shoes, or other pets. Keeping your pet on a monthly preventive is your best bet for protecting your pet—and your family—against these parasites.
I’ve heard that some clinics offer anesthesia-free dentistry. Is this safe for my pet?
Anesthesia-free dentistry, or non-professional dental scaling, can be extremely dangerous for pets, for a number of reasons.
Most pets won’t lie still during a dental cleaning, so there is a strong risk of injuring the pet’s gums and other soft tissue in the mouth. A frightened pet could also bite the clinician.
Even if your pet could be trained to remain completely still for all the scraping and noise of the procedure, his or her teeth need to be cleaned under the gums, where tartar and dental disease can hide. This process is uncomfortable, which is why pets should be anesthetized. Dental, or periodontal, disease begins in the spaces under the gums where the teeth and gums meet. Cleaning just the visible surfaces of the teeth only makes owners feel like their pets’ teeth are clean, when in reality, dental disease is still trapped under the gumline.
Your pet also needs to be ventilated during the procedure. Ventilation keeps your pet’s airway open and keeps tartar from potentially ending up in his or her lungs, where it can actually kill your pet.
The cosmetic cleaning that a pet would get from a non-professional scaling just isn’t worth your money or your pet’s health.
Why does my pet need dental care?
Dental health is just as important for dogs and cats as it is for people. Bacteria and food debris accumulate around the teeth and, if left unchecked, will lead to deterioration of the soft tissue and bone surrounding the teeth. This decay can result in irreversible periodontal disease, tooth loss, and expensive oral surgery. Bacteria can also cause serious, potentially fatal infections in your pet’s kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart.
Unless your pet just ate something fishy, stinky breath isn’t normal. Having a veterinarian evaluate your pet’s teeth regularly and clean them as needed will help prevent dental disease and any related problems.
How can my puppy/kitten have worms? How was he/she exposed?
Almost all puppies are born with intestinal parasites, which are passed from mother to pup during pregnancy. Although kittens are not infected when they’re born, they can become infected through their mother’s milk. Puppies can also become infected while they’re nursing.
Puppies and kittens should both be dewormed every 2 weeks, starting at about 2 weeks of age for puppies and 3 weeks of age for kittens. After the biweekly series of dewormings is finished, monthly deworming should begin (at about 8 to 9 weeks of age for kittens and 12 weeks of age for puppies).
Why does heartworm treatment cost so much?
Many factors affect the cost associated with treating heartworm infection, including diagnostic testing, hospitalization, medication, and office visits. Preventing heartworm is much less expensive, which is why most veterinarians recommend that you keep your pet on heartworm prevention year-round.
I’ve been late several times when giving my pet a heartworm preventive. Should I be concerned?
Unfortunately, if you were late or missed a dose even once, your pet could have become infected if he or she was exposed during that time. Call your veterinarian, and explain the situation. Depending on how many doses have been late, they may recommend that you have your pet tested for heartworm infection, then put your pet on a regular preventive schedule. You should also have your pet retested in seven months, as recommended by the American Heartworm Society. (For heartworms to be detected, they need to be five to seven months old.)
Why does my dog/cat need to have a blood test before starting heartworm medication?
Your pet should be tested for heartworm infection before he or she is placed on a preventive to avoid any harmful or possibly fatal complications. For instance, if a heartworm-infected dog is started on a monthly preventive, immature heartworms (called microfilariae) can die suddenly, causing a serious, shock-type reaction. In addition, preventives won’t kill adult heartworms, so an infected dog needs to be started on a treatment plan.
My cat doesn’t go outside. Why should I put him/her on a heartworm/flea/tick preventive?
Just because your cat doesn’t venture outdoors doesn’t mean outdoor parasites can’t get inside. Mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease, and as you probably know, mosquitoes always seem to find a way to get inside your home. Plus, fleas and ticks can both hitch a ride on clothing, so every time you come back into the house, you could potentially be bringing these parasites in with you.
Although you can’t always protect your pet from coming in contact with these bloodsucking insects, you can help protect him or her from the diseases they can transmit. Ask your veterinary hospital to discuss the benefits of preventives with you.
Can’t I just give my dog/cat a Tylenol or Advil to help with pain, rather than paying for more costly veterinary pain medication?
Never give your pet medication intended for people unless your veterinarian has prescribed it. Most over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can have serious, potentially fatal consequences if a pet ingests them.
A variety of pain medications are available for dogs and cats. Your veterinarian can help you determine which one will fit your budget and help alleviate your pet’s pain.
What should I expect during my pet’s wellness exam?
During your pet’s wellness exam, your veterinarian will take your pet’s history and perform a thorough physical examination. He or she will also give your pet appropriate vaccinations and perform a diagnostic workup, which may include blood, fecal, and urine tests to check for parasites and underlying diseases. Your veterinarian will prescribe preventives and may recommend dental work or other follow-up care. The specific services provided during the exam will vary depending on your pet’s age. You can help by letting your veterinarian know if you’ve noticed any unusual behavior or physical changes in your pet.
Why should I bring my pet in for regular veterinary visits when he/she is healthy?
When you consider the cost of prevention versus the cost of treating a disease or condition, you’ll find that treatment is often far more expensive. For example, parvovirus treatment can frequently cost 10 times more than a single parvovirus vaccination. When you keep your pet up-to-date on preventive care, you’ll know that your pet won’t have to suffer from a condition that could have been prevented or treated.
What vaccinations does my dog/cat really need?
Your veterinarian will determine which vaccinations are appropriate for your dog or cat, based on individual factors, such as lifestyle and health status. Veterinarians commonly recommend that dogs be vaccinated against rabies, distemper, and parvovirus and that cats be vaccinated against rabies and panleukopenia (feline distemper). Additional vaccines, such as feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and Bordetella (kennel cough), are recommended based on your cat or dog’s risk.
Many of these diseases can be fatal to your pet. Preventing them is far easier and less expensive than treatment. If you would like more information on vaccines, ask your veterinarian.
Does my pet have to get a rabies vaccination?
Many areas have laws that require dogs and cats (and sometime ferrets) to be vaccinated against rabies. These laws help protect both pets and people from this deadly disease. Check with your veterinarian to learn local requirements and to find out what he or she recommends. Except in certain rare cases, a veterinarian needs to examine a pet before the vaccine is given.
Because of rabies laws, control and prevention programs, and pet owners’ cooperation, domesticated pets in North America rarely become infected with this disease. By keeping your pet up-to-date on his or her rabies vaccination, not only are you protecting your pet, but you’re also helping to eradicate rabies from the pet population in your community.
How hard is it to get into a veterinary program?
Getting into veterinary school is extremely competitive. Because veterinary programs have a limited number of positions to fill, not all students who apply get in. Those who hope to become a veterinarian must have high grades in their pre-veterinary studies. In addition, any real-world experience or additional years of college may be beneficial.
What education does a veterinarian need?
Most veterinary degrees require at least six years of study at the university level, including a minimum of two years of pre-veterinary education and four years in a veterinary medicine program. Veterinary students usually spend 4,000 hours or more in classroom, laboratory, and clinical study.
To stay current with veterinary medicine, techniques, and technology, practicing veterinarians read scientific journals and attend continuing education symposiums, seminars, and courses.
What is a veterinarian?
Put simply, a veterinarian is a doctor who studies animal health; prevents, diagnoses, and treats diseases and health issues in animals; and helps protect the welfare of animals and people. Veterinarians are knowledgeable and well educated on many aspects of animal care and fulfill a range of roles across the private and public sectors. You can find veterinarians working at small animal clinics, emergency and specialty hospitals, universities, research facilities, pet food and drug manufacturing companies, and government organizations.
I’ve found a clinic that’s offering prices well below what other clinics are charging for veterinary care. Is this a good option if I don’t have much money to spend on my pet?
Just like human doctors, veterinarians are expected to meet minimum standards of care (as overseen by veterinary regulatory authorities). Thus, the quality of care your pet receives should not change based on the fees charged for services. However, if prices are considerably lower at one clinic, you should ask for clarification about what the procedure or treatment includes. You may find substantial differences in the level of care provided by that clinic.
Can I get health insurance for my pet? If so, what’s covered?
Several companies offer health insurance for dogs and cats (and other pets). These plans have premiums and deductibles, just like human health insurance plans. The premiums and deductibles vary based on the level of coverage you select. Many routine services, such as office visits and diagnostic testing, are covered, as well as prescriptions, procedures, and surgeries for a wide variety of diseases and conditions. However, there are restrictions and limits, as well as certain guidelines to follow, including making sure your pet receives regular preventive care.
Your veterinary hospital should have more information about pet health insurance.
My pet is injured/sick, and he/she needs to see a veterinarian. However, I can’t afford the office visit, much less treatment. What can I do?
Many veterinarians who see a pet on a regular basis are usually willing to work with the owner to come up with a payment plan. This is one of many reasons why it’s a good idea to keep up with your pet’s routine care. Owners whose pets don’t receive regular veterinary care will have a harder time finding a veterinarian who is willing to provide services without guaranteed payment. Contact your veterinary hospital, and ask if they offer any alternative payment options.
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! The cost of veterinary care has risen very little over the last 20 to 30 years, especially when compared to the cost of human health care or almost any other services.
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.
I just got a new puppy/kitten. How much will veterinary care cost during the first year? And how much should I expect to spend annually after that?
Puppies and kittens generally have the same health requirements: an initial veterinary visit that includes a physical exam, vaccinations, and tests for parasites. Follow-up visits include the rest of the puppy/kitten series of vaccinations, as well as treatment and preventives for parasites. Most veterinary hospitals can give you a basic estimate for these services, and most of the fees for these services shouldn’t vary significantly from hospital to hospital.
Why do some veterinary hospitals charge such different prices for the same procedure(s)?
Each veterinary hospital sets its own fees. These fees are largely based on expenses, such as salaries, utilities, and rent, that all vary from one area to another. However, the services that are covered under the same procedure or treatment may also differ from clinic to clinic. Medications, medical techniques and products, anesthetics, and equipment can all affect the cost of services.
Why can’t a veterinarian give my pet a diagnosis over the phone? I can’t afford to come in to the clinic every time my pet has something minor wrong.
Besides being unethical and illegal to prescribe medication over the phone, veterinarians can’t accurately diagnose or treat a pet without physically examining him or her. Veterinarians appreciate observant owners and want to hear their description of the pet’s symptoms. However, many diseases have the same symptoms but require different treatment. To determine the cause of the symptoms and ensure the best outcome, veterinarians need to examine the pet in person and sometimes perform diagnostic testing. Treating a pet for the wrong disease will cost more in the end and could be harmful or even deadly to your pet.
I recently found an injured stray dog/cat. I paid for the initial veterinary care, and the animal is living at my house, but I can’t afford any additional treatment or medication. What can I do?
Legally, once you decide to adopt or “take in” an animal, you become the owner. As the owner, you are responsible for the pet’s care. When you take in a stray, he or she may be injured and require veterinary care. Because the amount you pay for his or her care isn’t related to how you’ve acquired the pet, you need to carefully consider whether adopting a stray pet is a financially advisable decision. If you can’t afford the pet’s care, you have the option to relinquish the animal to a local humane society or shelter (although some shelters cannot guarantee that the pet will not be euthanized).
Veterinarians often come across such cases, and many of them will work out an arrangement for people who want to help the animal. However, make sure you tell the veterinarian the situation before he or she examines and treats the pet.
If you find a stray, you should also ask the veterinarian to check for a microchip to determine whether the animal has an owner.
Why should I have my pet spayed or neutered? Why are these procedures so expensive?
Spaying and neutering can have major benefits for your pet, including lowering or preventing the risk of several diseases and types of cancer. Your veterinarian will be happy to discuss these benefits. In addition, spaying and neutering help control the pet population by reducing the number of unwanted pets.
Spaying and neutering are surgical procedures that require your pet to be put under anesthesia. The cost of these procedures takes into account the anesthesia, your veterinary team’s time and expertise, monitoring, drapes, suture material, and hospitalization. Spaying or neutering your pet is much less expensive than feeding and caring for litters of unwanted puppies or kittens or dealing with potential pregnancy complications.
Veterinary care seems way more expensive than it should be. Shouldn’t veterinarians go out of their way to help owners keep pet care expenses down?
As the owner, it’s up to you to decide how much money and care you’re going to put into your pet. Each pet owner has his or her own idea of what constitutes reasonable pet care. Your veterinarian recommends services, procedures, and preventive measures that he or she feels will benefit your pet. The owner makes the final decision as to what options to provide.
Veterinarians understand that the cost of taking care of a pet can sometimes seem overwhelming, and they will do what they can to help owners. For instance, your veterinarian can often provide suggestions for how to stay within your budget, such as spreading out routine services. However, when someone decides to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet, he or she needs to be prepared for the expenses associated with veterinary care and to compensate veterinarians for their time and expertise.
My veterinarian says my pet’s office visit is going to cost several hundred dollars. I can’t afford to pay that much money at one time! Isn’t there some sort of veterinary payment plan?
Just like your doctor, dentist, and most other professional offices, veterinary facilities usually require payment in full at the time of service. You can call before routine visits and ask about the hospital’s payment policy, as well as any alternative payment methods. Most veterinary facilities accept major credit cards, and some also accept veterinary insurance plans.
If you would like help in preparing for pet care expenses, contact your veterinary hospital. They can often advise you on how much you can expect to spend on routine care for your pet, as well as how to prepare for emergency care. In addition, your veterinarian can help by spreading out preventive health care services over several visits.