One of our little dogs had a vet appointment this week for an annual booster shot. This time it was a five-way distemper vaccine, with an eighteen-dollar shot of Benadryl first to prevent allergic reactions and swelling at the injection site. The visit started with a very complete physical, because like most vets these days, ours won’t administer the booster shots without examining the dog first.

We suffer a bit of vet culture shock each time because our previous vet charged only for the vaccines and the office visit… he didn’t require a physical before he gave the dogs a shot. When he retired a few years ago, just before we got our puppies, we had to find another vet… and although we’re extremely satisfied with the vet we have now, her more up-to-date requirements and prices have come as somewhat of a shock.

I understand the value of vaccines and even the regular physical examinations… but especially in their first year, when the puppies had to have vaccines every few weeks, all those charges for physicals really added up. The price of spaying was also unexpectedly high, but the tiny scar and the procedure followed this time were so much better than what we had experienced when our other dogs were spayed, there was no comparison. We have two dogs… still puppies, really… and during the first two years of their lives, we have spent a few thousand dollars at this vet for vaccines, physicals, spayings, and two emergency procedures.

I guess it is another case of you get what you pay for, and this is one area where we have not chosen the most frugal option. We have discovered that some vets are very different now. With our previous vet, the costs were minimal, but so was the caring and consideration for the animal. As a contrast, our new vet is amazingly kind and compassionate. She insists she is never more than a telephone call away and encourages us to call if we have any questions, even at night or on weekends, and she will always give us an immediate appointment if there is a problem. Her availability and skill are important to us because our dogs are such a vital part of our family. The only downside is that any vet visit has suddenly become a substantial expense… and that is sometimes not too easy to get used to.


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Dan

I know just what you mean. Every time I take my dogs in for a shot the office visit is $45 and the shots are extra. I can’t even feel that the service is worth it but I can’t shop around because this vet is the cheapest.

Marilyn

Funny because just before I read this, I had made an appointment with the vets. I have to drop off my oldest of three dogs at the vets for the day so it can be determined what is wrong with him; what the treatment will be and of course, how much it will cost. Since I do not have any money budgeted for the vets as I live paycheck to paycheck, I will have to pay for this with my grocery money. Who needs groceries anyway?

Grace

I totally agree with you! We have 4 dogs and 3 cats and one new kitten. I know we have spent many, many thousands on their care and airline travels and kennel cost when we have moved from across America. We love our pets so much and they give us great joy. I have thought about getting some books and studying on how to give shots checkups etc. I do not even know if there is such an item and then I also wonder how to get the injections they need yearly. Anyone know? How about Holistic for animals?

Stephanie

We have veterinary insurance on our cat. Yes, our cat has the health insurance that we can’t afford. It’s been worth it, due to two urinary tract blockages and a life-threatening liver disorder (all before the cat turned 4!) The insurance reimburses about 40% of our vet bills, including routine vaccinations and physicals, and it costs us about $30/month.

You might ask your new vet office if you can have a vet tech do the routine vaccinations, especially if the pups haven’t had any serious illnesses and they’re just getting booster shots, with no symptoms. If you’re an attentive pet owner, you’ll know when your animals aren’t feeling well.

To Marilyn: Ask your vet about payment options. Some vets will set you up with a repayment schedule, or let you file for a veterinary services loan to cover the costs.

To Grace: You’ll have a hard time finding a non-veterinary source for the vaccinations for your housepets, but knowing pet first aid can be very handy (the Red Cross has a course, and there are several books available). Some basic techniques to learn: Diagnosing dehydration (pinch the skin and pull it away from the animal’s body– it should spring back immediately), fixing and disinfecting minor cuts (betadine to clean the cut, bandages or sutures to patch it up. Don’t bandage tails– it never works), fixing broken/bleeding toenails (corn starch to stop the bleeding if it’s a bad nail trim, or disinfectant+bandaging+vetwrap for broken nails). Knowing what medications are toxic to which pets (don’t give anything to a cat without vet approval– their livers do not process toxins the way humans and dogs do and a single ibuprofen can kill a cat), and what doses. It’s also helpful to know how to give subcutaneous fluids to a pet and how to give a shot (both of these your vet will teach you if you have a need for it), because being able to take home a cat who only needs a shot or daily fluids will save you kennel costs and overnight care.

You can also save some by collecting urine/fecal samples on your own when you need to take a pet into the vet. Fecal’s pretty obvious– just make sure you know which pet left the sample (label your baggies!) Urine samples are harder. For dogs, bring a soup ladle and tip it under the dog until the dog finishes their business. For cats, fill the litter box with unpopped popcorn. After the cat uses the box, drain out the urine into your sample container (obtained from the vet– these are sterile containers). Urine samples are tough, though, because it’s ideal to get a sample that hasn’t been exposed to the bacteria in the urethra or in the litterbox, so having the vet extract it is best. Also, if you’re doing a UA to check for crystals, the sample needs to be under the microscope as fast as possible– crystals can form spontaneously even after the cat’s peed, and that can lead to a misdiagnosis of urinary tract problems.

The best holistic medicine you can give your pets is to feed them a raw food diet that they like, give them lots of exercise, and clean places to do their business.

Gina

I’m appalled at the cost of vetinary care. I went in to get my cats worm medicine and they wouldn’t give me any because it has been over a year since they have seen them. And what is this thing with them pushing you to get your dogs teeth cleaned? I love my pets but they are animals not children. We got along fine in the past with very little vetinary care, now I’m forced to make a decision of whether to get my pet help or just let it die. That’s just wrong.

Richard

Hey folks. I have to disagree with the sentiment expressed by some here.

Veterinary medicine has changed, and though vets can still be sensitive to your needs when you set a financial limit before the appointment (in some cases, they can provide a “syptomatic diagnosis” for example, rather than tests…but not always), you can’t expect them to devote time and care to your animal, then to provide state-of-the-art diagnostics and standard-of-care treatment, and then at the end say “sorry, but I can’t afford to pay you”. Many procedures are performed at a price below cost, yet the clients still think they have been overcharged. The spay is perhaps the best example of this, where veterinarians often perform a spay for less than it costs the clinic, in order to establish their first contact with a client and begin a longer relationship with them. The vet is performing what in humans would be referred to as an “ovariohysterectomy” (I’m not a vet…but I believe that is correct), and regardless of whether this is performed quickly in the vet hospital, it still requires induction of anesthesia, the anesthesia itself (the anesthetics are often quite expensive), continual monitoring … often by the technician…during the procedure. In addition, whatever portion of the day is taken up by performing the spay has to bring in revenue to pay for the operation of the vet hospital or clinic, including lease/mortgage, staff, utilities, supplies, etc. Vets don’t make a very good income, yet they deliver a service that has required a huge commitment to education (typically 8 years to get through vet school) plus they had to pay for a Licensing exam in each state in which they are allowed to practice (or be licensed in states with reciprocal agreements), and they are required to meet minimum continuing education requirements (which they often have to pay for), and if they perform emergency services or other specialty services with a Board Certification, they have also received an additional training (3 years for an emergency vet).

Just like you, they have to balance the budget. As a group, in general, veterinarians are among the most compassionate individuals you will ever meet. They went to vet school (typically) because of their love of animals and they worked hard to get there (vet schools are considered to have the toughest entry requirements of any program – exceeding law school and medical school).

There work is not covered (typically) by insurance, so you see the full bill, which you rarely do for medical bills…but remember, they are just as responsible for the life of the animal as MDs are for the people they treat…and though they don’t have as fancy a surgical suite as a modern MD surgeon, they have to perform a procedure that is often comparably difficult to that performed by a human physician…and make sure the animal lives. Their patients can’t talk to them, so they often have to employ a very scientific approach to obtain a diagnosis. They are also (increasingly) subject to malpractice lawsuits…so they too have to pay malpractice insurance … and increasingly, they are targeted by people seeing another way to make some money.

Lastly, remember that a veterinarian has to have a knowledge of many animal species, often including dogs, cats, many types of birds, many types of rodents, sometimes including reptiles and amphibians. All of these species they treat have different “normal” blood values and “normal” physiological parameters (temperature, blood pressure, heart rate) and they all metabolize drugs differently (many human drugs are very toxic to animals…because they are different than humans!).

The reason the veterinarian performs a physical exam prior to a vaccination is to make sure that the animal is in a healthy state to handle the vaccination without a complication. Remember, even vaccines can cause reactions.

Personally, I think veterinarians often perform heroically. They are kind and compassionate, and nearly all of them really want the patient to go home healthy and the client to be happy, and they work very hard at low pay to make that happen.

PC

In my state, IL, the pet owner can buy and administer their own vaccines with the exception of rabies. It’s a simple subcutanous injection or for kennel cough, an internasal spray. I buy my vaccines at either a feed store or a local pet supply store. Make sure this is legal in your state and there is no substitute for a regular examination for a pet. My vet taught me how to do the under-the-skin injection. With four dogs and three cats, this is a significant way to save money. He also allows me to do rehydration and anti-biotic injections at home to spare me the daily trip to the vet when a dog is ill.

I peel the labels off the vaccine bottle, glue them to a sheet of paper and photocopy them for each pet. Keeping proof of vaccination in an easy to locate file is important for vet emergencies.

My vet is fine with owners giving their own shots but he is also an older vet who is pretty low tech and no-nonsense. Home-administered vaccines are better than none at all, in his opinion. Most boarding places will accept this form of documentation as well. But to stress the point, check your state laws for yourself to make sure this is legal.

The other caution, buy vaccines from reputable feed stores and pet suppliers and check expiration dates carefully. Last time I bought the five-in-one, it was under six bucks at the feed store. I buy mine in person. Never checked out mail order sources and not sure I would since I can’t check out the product before purchase. Some vaccines have to be kept refrigerated so that is another reason I’m leary of on-line shopping for these products.

The local county health department also organizes low-cost rabies vaccination clinic days in my area. It might be worth checking if this is an option in your area.

My area also has some pretty hefty fines for not vaccinating. If a pet is found wandering and impounded, we can also be fined by animal control and the fine is very steep if the lost animal is not current on shots. If you leave a pet in a car when the temperatures are over 75 degrees or under 30 degrees, local ordinance allows a fine of $275 per animal. Needless to say, I don’t take my pets much of anywhere.

Henry C.

My small dog (Maltese) ingested poison of some sort last week. I took her to an emergency clinic and they hooked her up to an IV, gave her some shots and in one hour charged me $440. I then brought her to our vet clinic. They treated her the first day and charged me $450. They don’t keep pets overnight and watch them, so I had to bring the dog back to the emergency clinic overnight. The next morning, they charged me $300. I told the doctor that this was getting expensive and I couldn’t afford $1,000 per day to save my dog. She just said if it was getting too expensive, they would put her to sleep for me. Boy, did that callous remark get me mad.
Then back to the vet clinic for another day of treatment, tests and medicine. I told the doctor that this was getting too expensive when she said the dog would need to got back to the emergency clinic a few more nights and back to the clinic during the day. I said give me a break! She said they don’t treat pets for free. I told her I wasn’t asking for free treatment and I have already payed $1,300 the first day and next morning.
I ended up taking the dog home the next day, after the dog stayed overnight in the vet clinic where they charge slightly less than the emergency clinic because no one is there overnight to watch the animals. I was charged in the end $740 by the emergency clinic and over $1,360 by the vet. Now the vet clinic is calling to say that I should bring the dog back for more tests.

Luckily, she is getting better. Their treatment worked. But I don’t feel much gratitude in my heart to the doctors. I feel they have become so greedy, and have put their quest for big bucks first over love and care for the pets.
They seem to be taking advantage of the knowledge that pet owners will pay any price to insure good health for their pets or to save their lives.
They won’t even look at your pet before you give a deposit of a few hundred dollars with a credit card.

Christine

I live in a rural part of Puerto Rico and we constantly find stray animals of all ages that people bring out to the country and leave. Of course they are mostly females, either pregnant or around the age of their first heat. At one time we had nine dogs and more than twenty cats and kittens. Since we have all types of animals, chickens, cows, goats, horses and others our large animal vet has helped us by teaching us to give shots, wormers, enemas etc. We buy our medicines and vaccines at the local feed store. Unfortunely we can no longer afford to have these poor animals spayed because of the cost. We try to help all the animals that cross our path, but each day it is more and more difficult. A few years ago we found a vet that charged us only $25 to spay a female, but he moved to the states. Even though there are more vets in our area none of them are willing to lower their costs knowing that the animals are rescued. Lately we have had to take animals to the humane society because we cannot keep them or find homes for them.

Pat

I just took my dog to the vet because he had a little yellow discharge from one eye. I also asked to have his ears checked as he sometimes scratches his ears. Otherwise very healthy. It was $60 for a “sick call” (this was during regular hours), 21 for an ear smear, 21 to examine the cornea for abrasion, a “tear test” for 21, eye ointment and eardrops, total of $171! I almost fell over. BTW, the dog is a regular patient there and gets regular vet care. Why didn’t the vet inform me of the prices of these things before he disappeared and I found out at the checkout? While I am glad to have good vet care for the dog, whatever happened to “clinical judgement”, when you use experience to determinte the most likely cause, then discuss other options with the owner before running up the bill? I am appalled – what happens to people who cannot afford this? Fewer people will take their animals to the vet and there will be lots of suffering and heartbreak to owners, or people will be going into debt to provide care to their beloved pet. I am definitely going to call around to see if I can find a vet practice that better suits my needs. It is too bad that vets don’t have “Nurse practitioners” for common conditions and routine health maintenance, to help keep costs down.

Michelle

Here in Florida we have a mobile vet clinic that travels all over. For the last two years with the bad economy and being out of work, I’ve started taking my dog to this outdoor clinic. They set up in business parking lots (with permission) and give vaccinations. They usually post a banner a couple weeks in advance. I was reluctant at first, but finally did it. They do a quick exam, administer the shots, at check out you pay and receive heartworm medication (a MUST in Florida). I get the required vaccinations and flu + Bordetella because of the possibility of boarding during hurricanes here. It cost me $123 and I was given $12 rebate papers on the medicine too. This was half the amount for the SAME service at my vet 3 yrs ago. Six months ago my dog got into red ants and the trip to the vet for just medicine and exam for the bites, no scraping was $130. He did it again 2 months ago and I reached for good ole Vermont Bag Balm. When I got my dog license tags from the County Humane Society the lady gave me a list of low cost clinics locally if I need more extensive care for him. You might give consideration to either of these options if available to you.

Randy

I know exactly what you mean in this article. I guess like many other things vet care included prices continue to climb. My only real concern though is when it gets to the point that unfortunately many pets will be euthanized rather than have critical care should they need it. In such a situation the pet will pay with their life for their owners financial misfortune.
Our little cat, Pumpkin is 10 years old. He as a stray when we took him in some years ago. Recently he began loosing much weight on his back end. Just the other day he suddenly developed a hemotoma on his ear for no reason. This required a trip to the late night local emergency Vet. They drained the hemotoma. Unfortunately little did we know that this would stress Pumpkins unknown underlying glucose condition. I paid $285 to have the Hemotoma drained. The very next day Pumpkin quit eat and was barely walking. Stress had pushed his underlying condition over the edge.
I took Pumpkin to our regular local Vet the very next day after having his Hemotoma drained. Afetr exams and bloodwork they concluded he needed IV fluids. He spent two days there getting his fluids. I picked him up on day three and paid the bill of $340. The first night back home Pumpkin was still not good and began going downhill quickly. The very next morning I returned with him promptly to our local vet. They ran more blood work which had clearly gotten worse rather than better. They had not put him on insulin initially because they said that his sugar levels were 360 but then came down to 200 but then went up to 240. This time in though one day later his glucose was very high and his Ketones even higher. He was critical to say the least. My local Vet stated he was to critical for them so they recommended a critical care vet in Leesburg Virginia. On leaving my local vet I paid their new invoice of $320.
As I write this I have just left Pumpkin at the Leesburg Virginia Vets office. He is on IVs which are providing him with Glucose as well as other things. The hope is to save his life by reducing his glucose and his Ketones. They estimate he will need to stay there at least 3 days with 24/7 care. For this I was required to pay up front, are you ready for this readers ?? I was required to pay $3500 yes three thousand five hundred dollars. This is of course if the can save him in the three days. They did mention in the end it may take longer and if that is the case what I paid up front will not cover the anything beyond the three days.
I should note I am by no means a rich guy. I work very hard just like many out there. In matters such as this though it is simply to hard to let such a wonderful little cat dye when their is a chance he can live. In my case I paid because I could pull together the funds. Like many though had I not been able to I would have been truly devastated had Pumpkin given his life all because I could not afford his Vet care. MY sympathies will always be with those who cannot afford to save their pets due to lack of money.

cheryl

Yes, just like human health care, veterinary care has become very expensive, partly because our pets are living much longer and care has become more sophisticated. I guess it is like human care in that many years ago if a person had heart disease they just died young. Now there is so much that can be done to keep a person alive, but that means sicker people stay alive longer and need more expensive care as they age. In the “old days” pets just got their routine shots and when they got sick, they died. I have spent thousands of dollars on my dogs when the treatment outcomes had reasonable chances of succeeding. My vet is not cheap but she always lays out all treatment options and gives me her best advice for what she would do were it her dog being treated. If you know upfront what the costs will be, then you can’t really complain about a vet charging what seem to be high fees. Like doctors, they often have huge student loan debts to pay back, as well as the cost of running a business. They may be vets because they love animals, but they deserve to be fairly compensated for devoted service. I guess the bottom line is that if you choose to have a pet, you must decide how much treatment you are willing to pay for. It isn’t easy, but there have been times when I have had to decide that the kindest course of treatment is to just keep my dog comfortable and let her go when the right time comes.

Holly

For me it is not so much a matter of being charged for a service, but rather the feeling that I am being overcharged. Or course, anyone who works should get paid for what they do, but sometimes I can’t see the justification for the amount. I got charged $20 for pretreatment of my dog before her vaccinations with 50 mg of Diphenhydramine. This is basically the equivalent of two tablets of Benadryl. So I got charged $20 for something that in generic form for humans costs around 20 cents. How expensive is the liquid form of this drug? It must be worth its weight in gold or else they are really marking it up at the vet’s office. That is what annoys me. Just my two cents.

Andrea

I spend six months in Arizona in the winter months and the other six months in BC Canada. I just purchased a German Shepherd puppy who had a very through examination in order for the medical guarantee certificate. At eight + weeks I took her to my vet for her first shots. Now, The shots came to $21.00 The bill came to $94.50. That’s because I was charged $69.00 for an exam.
She had just had an exam two weeks before, I informed the vet of this, I was informed they cannot vaccinate an animal unless they themselves do an exam. I was told this is the law.
I also booked an appointment for my two Shih Tzu’s to have their Rabies booster. I was just informed $69xtwo will be on top of the cost of vaccine for an exam. The Shih Tzu’s had a full examination in December before I was called home from Yuma. Their Rabies has since expired. This is ridiculous. Two examinations in a matter of a couple of months. I know exactly what’s wrong with my Shih Tzu’s, The older one is overweight but very healthy for her age. The younger one is very healthy but she has cataracts which she is being treated for. Why then do they require another exam before they can have their Rabies booster?