Veterinary Care 101

Download the full brochure: Vet Care 101: The Cost of Compassion

What is a veterinarian?

Today's veterinarian is dedicated to protecting the health and welfare of both animals and people. Veterinarians are highly educated and technically skilled in preventing, diagnosing and treating animal health problems. Because their knowledge and training extends to a number of closely-related areas, veterinarians are often involved in more than just animal medicine.Today in the United States, more than 75,000 veterinarians provide a wide variety of services in private and corporate practice, teaching and research, regulatory veterinary medicine, public health, the uniformed services and other specialized services. The Washington State Veterinary Medical Association has a membership of over 1,200 veterinarians, representing a broad spectrum of veterinary practice.

Why is veterinary care for my pets so expensive?

“Sometimes I think I spend more on my pet's health care than I do on my own!” 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. Relatively speaking, veterinary health care is a great value.  Veterinary fees are a reflection of the costs of maintaining suitable facilities, equipment and technical support personnel to provide the level of care that you expect in animal medicine today. Remember, too, that the original cost of the animal has no bearing on the cost of services delivered by your veterinarian.  Annual and routine veterinary health care is a cost that should be factored in to the decision to own and properly take care of a pet.One reason you sometimes feel you are paying more for your pet's health care than for your own is because generally a third party pays for your health care. People with health care coverage usually don’t pay the entire bill for each doctor’s visit. Often, you only pay a small co-payment, while an insurance company reimburses your health care provider for the majority of your health care costs.  

If my veterinarian doesn't clear up my pet's problem, can I get a refund?

Fees cover what is done for the animal including a thorough physical examination, administration of any tests, diagnosis of the problem, treatment and medications. Some problems can be long term or involve multiple or changing causes. Treatment may be ongoing.You are paying for an honest attempt to scientifically diagnose and treat a problem. There is no implied guarantee and sometimes, a cure is not always possible.   

What about a payment plan that's fair to both parties?

“My veterinarian says my pet's office visit (or vaccinations, surgery, medications, etc.) will cost a couple of hundred dollars or more!” “I just don't have that kind of money all at once. What about a payment plan that's fair to both parties?” Like most other professional offices you visit such as your dentist, chiropractor or lawyer, fees are payable at the time services are rendered. Your best course of action is to call your veterinary clinic or hospital ahead of time and work out an alternative payment plan. The hospital or clinic manager will be happy to clarify the payment policy of the individual clinic or hospital.We recommend that whenever possible, you consider budgeting for veterinary health care in your household budget. Many veterinary preventative health care services can be staggered over a period of time, rather than doing everything in one visit. Your veterinarian can best advise you which procedures can be deferred, if necessary.Most veterinary clinics and hospitals accept payment by major credit cards.  This is especially helpful at the time of a medical emergency. 

Isn't the cost of veterinary medicine unreasonable?

The extent of health care given to any animal is ultimately determined by its owner. Every pet owner has different ideas as to what is acceptable health care. Veterinarians can only make their clients aware of the medical options that are available. Then, veterinarians can recommend and guide owners in their choices regarding the most important health care options for their pets.The final decision and choices rest with the owner.  Veterinarians are willing to and do go the extra mile for pet owners, but owners should be prepared for the associated expenses and understand that the veterinarian should be compensated for his or her professional services and related expenses. 

Why can't veterinarians advise, diagnose or prescribe over the phone?

Not only is it unethical and illegal to prescribe for an animal that hasn't been physically examined by a veterinarian, it is also impossible to come up with an accurate diagnosis and correct plan of treatment and care.A veterinarian can't make a diagnosis based on symptoms only as observed by an owner.  The outward signs may be an indication of any number of causes with a wide variety of clinical treatments.  A complete physical examination and other diagnostic tests are required to determine the cause of the symptoms and the best and most effective course of treatment. 

Why should I spay or neuter my pet?  Why does it cost what it does?

A female animal undergoes surgery to be spayed, while a male undergoes surgery to be neutered. There are long term health benefits to your pet when it is spayed or neutered.  Ask your veterinarian to explain these.  Obviously, the primary benefit is controlling the pet population and reducing the numbers of unplanned and unwanted pets.Spay and neuter procedures are major surgery for your pet.  The procedure requires the time and expertise of a veterinarian and a trained surgical technician, newly-sterilized surgical instruments, general anesthesia, surgical drapes, suture material and hospitalization.  When measured against the cost of feeding and nurturing unwanted kittens or puppies, spaying and neutering is much more cost-effective. 

Should I be wary of "bargain basement" veterinary care?  If so, why?

Washington State sets minimum standards for veterinary care and monitors that care through the state Department of Health’s Veterinary Board of Governors. Generally, fees charged do not relate to the quality of care provided.  However, when you notice significant differences in fees among veterinary clinics and hospitals, it is logical to ask detailed questions about the course of treatment proposed.  If fees seem too low compared to other estimates you have received, your expectations for care may not be met. 

Why is there such a wide range of prices for the same procedure among veterinarians?

Each veterinary clinic or hospital is an independent business. Fees are set by each individual veterinary practice and each has different expenses that are covered by the fees charged, such as salaries for technical staff, rent and utilities.  Often, the different fees do not reflect the same set of services, although there may be certain basic procedures in common. Each veterinarian sets the fees for services based on varying criteria, such as different drugs, anesthetics, antibiotics, medical techniques and products, which have a bearing on the cost of the services. 

I've heard that there may be pet health insurance available.  Is my pet eligible and what is covered?

Third party health insurance is available for pets.  As with human health insurance, different companies offer various levels of coverage with a wide range of deductibles and premiums.  There are also certain restrictions on which medical conditions, injuries and procedures are covered.  Please contact your preferred veterinary facility for more information on this type of insurance. 

I recently took in a stray, but I am unable to afford any care or treatment for this animal. Is this my reward for trying to do the right thing?

If you adopt or take in a stray, you need to be prepared to assume responsibility for the animal's proper care and treatment. Hopefully, a healthy animal is your reward for trying to do the right thing.Veterinarians are routinely faced with these cases.  Most will work out a satisfactory arrangement with the person who wants to pursue treatment for the animal. Defining the financial commitment for the animal at the initial visit can help avoid financial problems later on.Making the decision to take in a stray should only be done with the same careful consideration that is involved in purchasing or adopting a new pet.  Veterinary expenses are not assessed based on the method by which a pet is acquired.  If you cannot accept financial responsibility for a stray animal, it should be taken to your local Humane Society or Animal Services office. 

My Injured or sick pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian for promt attention, but...

 “I just lost my job!”“I don't get my next pay check for another two weeks.” “I barely have enough money to put food on the table and take care of my kids.”Most pet owners have a veterinarian who will work out a payment plan with regular clients.  The problem arises with people who have pets that do not get regular veterinary care, but demand and seek services in an emergency situation without guaranteeing payment. The best solution? Become a regular client before an emergency strikes. If possible, establish a relationship ahead of time with a veterinarian you like and trust. If you choose not to establish yourself as a regular client with a veterinary clinic or hospital, consider how you will manage the financial aspect of an emergency situation involving your pet.

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