The Elephant in the Middle of the Exam Room

My dual career as an author and a practicing veterinarian provides me with a unique vantage point. Not only am I privy to the issues my veterinary colleagues are stewing about, I also receive a plethora of emails from my readers candidly venting about their experiences as consumers of veterinary medicine.  It’s rare that those on both sides of the exam room table are growling about the same issue, but these days this is certainly the case.

See if you can identify the elephant in the exam room based on the following data that has appeared in current veterinary news feeds along with quotes from recent correspondences with my readers:

– The number of pet visits to veterinary hospitals is dramatically decreasing (DVM Newsmagazine, June 2011), and a special session was held at this year’s conference of the American Veterinary Medical Association to explore ways to increase public awareness about the importance of annual checkups for pets.

– “In my opinion, most of the decline in veterinary visits is primarily due to the bad economy. If you are barely scraping by, you are certainly not going to the vet for a very pricey annual exam, especially if your pet seems fine.”

– While pet spending is up, the market isn’t growing fast enough to support the number of new veterinarians entering the veterinary profession. (DVM Newsmagazine, June 2011) Veterinarian supply is growing faster than pet owner demand. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)

– “Sadly there are some veterinarians who see hospitalization fees as a revenue stream and do not inform clients that no one will be supervising the pet they recommend be hospitalized. While one tends to like to think of their vet as a kind, caring person and many are, some are more business than heart.”

– Eighty-nine percent of current veterinary school graduates have student debt.  The average student loan debt of students graduating in 2010 from veterinary school was $133,873 (15% have debt in excess of $200,000) and the average starting salary was $48,674. (Veterinary Information Network News Service, January 4, 2011)

– “My question is why most vets feel the need to worry about money instead of worrying about taking care of the pets.”

– Although the number of households in the United States with cats is increasing, the number of feline visits to veterinary hospitals is decreasing. (Banfield Pet Hospital® State of Pet Health 2011 Report)

– “I’d love to take each of my cats in for dental cleaning on a regular basis and I have two cats that desperately need attention now. For me, it’s a matter of costs. Vets continue to increase their charges and there’s no break for multiple pets. Dental disease is a precursor for renal failure in cats and yet it’s so expensive for cleaning – yet alone extracting any teeth. Then blood work is usually advisable to be on the safe side. It’s a small fortune when you leave the vet’s office for ONE pet. Next you’ve got the cost associated with monthly flea control. You have to draw the line somewhere and hope for the best.”

– Fifty-four percent of cat owners and 47% of dog owners report that they would take their pet to the veterinary hospital more often if each visit were less expensive. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)

– “I am not saying veterinarians can’t charge a reasonable fee for their services, but most people can’t afford $300+ bills every time they step into a clinic, per pet, per year, and that is for the healthy ones who are coming in for regular yearly checkups and not for other medical concerns that require medications, further diagnostics, overnight stays, dental cleaning, blood work etc.”

– Fifty three percent of clients believe that veterinary clinic costs are usually much higher than expected. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)

– “I am sick and tired of the way veterinarians financially take advantage of people who are emotionally upset about their pets.”

– Twenty-four percent of pet owners believe that routine checkups are unnecessary and 36% believe that vaccinations are the main reason to take their overtly healthy pet in for an office visit. (The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study 2011)

– “We have a lot of price gouging going on here at local vets. A dental cleaning has gone from $75 to $300 and up at many places. A lot of the clinics are buying high tech equipment and passing overhead costs on us so they really shouldn’t complain when clients come for less visits.”

Have you identified the common thread amongst these comments and statistics?  No doubt in my mind that the “gripe du jour” is the “M word.”  Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the real issue is too little money.

This blog is not intended to create or perpetuate harsh judgments. Please hear me when I say that I know that not every veterinarian or every person who brings their pet to see the vet is thinking primarily about money.  Clearly, however, money matters are on the minds of many, in fact more so than I’ve witnessed throughout my thirty year career.   Never before have I observed colleagues declare bankruptcy.  Never before have I spent so much time in the exam room trying to help folks figure out how to do more with less.

My goal in presenting this information is to create some understanding about what’s going on in the minds of individuals on both sides of the exam room table.  Blame this money mess state of mind on the diseased economy, veterinary competition, or the expense of going to veterinary school.  Whatever the causes, there is an awful lot of emotion tangled up in the financial aspects of providing and receiving veterinary health care these days.

What are your thoughts? Let’s talk about it and in doing so we will be able to kick that big ole’ elephant out of the middle of the exam room!

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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30 Comments on “The Elephant in the Middle of the Exam Room

  1. I guess I am really lucky. My vet lets me charge. The bill goes up and down, but I expect I will owe him money for the rest of my life. The first time I visited him it was an emergency and he was not even my vet. Did not know me. It was a life threatening situation. He asked me what he wanted me to do and when I told him I could not pay him right away, he just asked again what I wanted to do and when I told him to do whatever it took, there was no question. He has been my vet ever since and I have recommended him to others.

  2. What most vets are not telling their clients is that they are over vacinating their clients pets..I have heard this from 2 different wholelistic vets..I was told that usually after the 3rd year of vacinations .. most, animals will not need any more vacinations..Also that overvacinating can lead to health problems.

  3. Thanks, Dr. Kay, for making overt what is usually a topic that everyone avoids! Veterinary medicine has always struggled with this, and nowhere is it more of an acute issue than in the ER, where emotions run high, and so do the bills. With the advent of the ‘new normal’ and increasing financial pressures, this problem has only gotten worse. We see many, many animals every day in the ER that are easily fixable, but that fix is out of the reach of most people. We are killing way more animals than I have ever seen for financial reasons.

    There is no solution, unfortunately. You can’t ask vets to works for less, or pay their staff less, as most of the costs are fixed and not too many vets are rolling in dough. People have a general misconception that vets become rich by charging for their services, when the actual situation is far from that. The vast majority of vets live fairly modest lives, and don’t overcharge or cheat their clients.

    I do think that, for those vets that do overcharge or practice questionable medicine, the market will eventually correct them out of the picture based on negative word of mouth. I may be a bit pollyanna on that one, but I like to think that their negative karma will come home to roost eventually. Doesn’t help those that have run-ins with them, but I think the system will eventually provide balance.

    Thanks again, Dr. Kay, for sparking up a lively topic!

  4. For me, the *first* question is “Exactly WHY do things cost so much?” Not “how can I possibly afford to pay what will be asked of me?”

    This means…
    1 – Is the vet being honest?
    2 – Are the veterinarian’s suppliers and real estate owners being honest?
    3 – Are the drug manufacturers being honest?
    4 – Are the manufacturers of the raw materials being honest?
    5 – Are the regulatory agencies of the US government actually regulating?

    Why doesn’t a community raise some money to send a young person to
    college who loves to work with both people and animals, help provide
    her/him with a place to do it, and then regularly honor the new veterinarian as a beloved member of that community?

    Talk about the “old” days!

    Also, I was wondering what the woman who said “If you can’t afford a dog, don’t have a dog” would plan to do with the 6 million dogs presented to US shelters each year. Do ya gotta be Rich to have a dog?

  5. Bottom line for me: vets rely on technology over common sense. Their clients (people and animals) rely too much on what vets say instead of listening to their own common sense. Find a vet you can trust and work with. There aren’t very many, unfortunately. We should not have to protect ourselves and our animals from vets, but that’s what’s happening.

  6. My Belize vet is dirt cheap. She has little overhead, the drugs are cheap, and she does free email consultations. She has a low overhead since she works out of her home. That said, she doesn’t have the latest equipment and freely acknowledges her limitations.

    So we’re in the USA for a couple months. Maggie has heart disease and liver disease. The expenses are mounting up although this vet has been helpful about trying to keep costs down and working with me.

    I hope the economy improves — and my retirement financial prospects. I’d love to adopt more animals, but honestly don’t know how I’d afford them.

  7. Thank you for addressing this topic.

    I feel very fortunate that I can afford insurance for my animals. I am especially fortunate that I have a great vet for my dog; the vet is practical and does discuss costs of procedures, diagnostics and medications, just as a matter of course. I appreciate that he is up front about that information; he understands that cost out of pocket is an important factor in the decisions we make for our animals. He will typically provide several options and leave the final decision to me. But he also kind, in that he will share what he would do “if this was my dog”. I am more than happy to support his business (and yes, it IS a business) by bringing my dogs to his clinic. I have been a client now for over ten years.

    There is a big contrast when it comes to my horse’s vet. His expertise is excellent, and again, I feel fortunate that I have access to such a resource. But I do tend to have ‘sticker shock’ when I see my bill for semi-annual vaccinations, “well visits” and routine care. The vet is top notch in equine medicine, and I know my horse will be in good hands in the event of an emergency or injury. But I also know that I will be paying off that bill over months, should I need those services, even WITH insurance. Thankfully, the clinic owners understand that this is a necessity, and work with their clients on payment plans. (But the practice is so large that they have staff to deal with billing and payments, unlike a smaller practice like my dog’s vet.)

    With both vets, I appreciate receiving an itemized bill, even down to specific items and medications used during procedures or surgery. Some people may be overwhelmed with an itemized statement, but I appreciate it as a way of confirming what it costs to care for my animals, and what the vet’s expenses are, beyond his professional time.

    I agree with others here who would like to see a “menu of services” posted for routine care and procedures. If a vet posts a range of expected costs for, say, routine neutering (“$X to $Y, depending on size of dog” as an example), the client might appreciate that information, and it may also facilitate the discussion of costs, in the exam room.

  8. As a Behaviour Specialist and Consultant, with seven years of academic background in child – and animal-psychology, animal behaviour,veterinary medicine, and other peripheral subjects, I do know something about this subject.
    While one should not expect veterinarians to work for nothing (many owners do), or costs far below their own needs, the situation is getting ludicrous and highly suspect.
    One of my own patient’s owner was offered a low cost spay for her 5-1/2 month old puppy, i.e., $39.99 on low-cost days. This was offered in the lobby of her hospital with a flyer. When she tried to make the appointment, she was handed a pre-op estimate for $425.00. How did $39.99 turn into $425.00?
    Well, the list included everything but the kitchen sink. Cage space, anasthesia, medications, nursing fees, room and board (separate from “cage space”), post-op monitoring, etc., etc. The list was endless.
    This was truly a ploy to get owners to come in and then zap them wih a bill big enough to choke a horse (in their case, an owner).
    When she questioned the estimate, they graciously reduced it by $50.00.
    This is unacceptable! This is a long-established hospital, not one just starting up with high costs for equipment, new location and other special expenses of a newly opened facility.
    I could understand the owner’s deep anger and her cancellation of the surgery. In cases like these, insurance is not much help.
    Outcome: the owner went to a bona-fide low-cost spay/neuter clinic where she paid $180.00 for exactly the same pocedure and aftercare. Pup and owner are fine!
    Fortunately such cases are not common but they leave a bad taste in the mouth and imagine the “recommendations” this particular owner gave to this particular hospital!

    What I would like to know is: WHAT DID THE $39.99 COVER?

  9. Our state veterinary teaching college used to give a Teaching Discount on many procedures/examinations, as they utilized students for some of the work. However, it appears that a number of private practice veterinarians objected to the disparity in prices (felt they were being undercut), and the vet school was forced to raise prices in order to avoid a lawsuit. Then the vagaries of the economy struck…

  10. As with human healthcare, costs are increasingly a serious issue, particularly for those on tight budgets, as well as for providers squeezed by high costs of modern medical practice (drugs, technology, etc) and inability of end consumers to afford it.

    Some of the difficulty in the conversation between vet & “patient” however might be avoided if there were more transparency, e.g., if all vets had a published schedule of costs & procedures, along with an explanation of why they are at a particular level.

    Just as humans are being forced by economics to “shop” for healthcare providers who provide good care at less cost, people are having to do the same for their animals. Vets seeking to expand their income and practices also need to know how competitive they are being with other vets providing the same services. Knowing the costs — in the market as well as at the local vet of choice — is increasingly a fact of life for vets AND their patients. There is nothing wrong with “charging whatever the market will bear” so long as everybody knows what that is. Woithout that information, customers will always be wondering if their vet is overcharging or if they simply haven’t properly realized the cost of care BEFORE they got that cute “doggie in the window” whose economically forced neglect now has them wracked with guilt.

    Here is an example of a cost item that begs for transparency: I don’t have dental health coverage but can get my own teeth cleaned, including x-rays, for about $150 at my local dentist. To give my dog’s teeth the same care costs me several multiples of that. I understand that canine teethcleaning involves the extra expense of sedation/anethesia & perhaps the associated extra expense of staff, etc., to support that. But many people don’t understand these distinctions and believe that the vet is “screwing them” on costs when they can get their own teeth cleaned “cheaper than my dog can.”

    Eventually, some sort of equilibrium will be reached between (a) the number of vets needed for the population of animals to be treated, (b) the cost of providing the necessary treatment and (c) the economic ability of pet owners to afford it. Raising the subject on this blog is an important part of that process.

    Perhaps vet schools could contribute more to the discussion and the concensus by including in their curricula one or more courses on the financial side of vet practice, including best-practices for providing the highest quality of care for the lowest cost sufficient to generate a livable margin for the practicing vet.

    If it is any consolation to vets & vet schools, the problem is also faced by other professional schools that turn out lawyers, doctors, dentists, etc, most of whom face the same economic squeezes in their practices between diminished income potential, high student loan debt and a populace increasingly unable to afford their much-needed services.

    In trying to solve this problem in the “brave new world” of a globalized economy, it is not enough to merely think “out of the box.” We need to start thinking “out of our minds.”

  11. A great topic! As I work in the human health care field, I see a lot of parallels. Overweight people and overweight pets leading to multiple chronic diseases is one. It is interesting that so many studies are proving how good pets are for human health, so it’s in our own best interest to keep our pets as healthy as possible! Prevention (good quality diet, teeth brushing, exercise) will go a long way to minimizing vet bills. When something goes wrong, we all want the high tech diagnostic equipment, the skilled surgeon, and the 24/7 care available. I agree with others that pet health insurance is well worth it (and may offer discounts for multiple pets in the household).
    Laurel, celebrating the love of dogs at http://laurelhuntbooks.com
    Bark Wag Love

  12. Part of the problem here lies in undereducated clientelle, and veterinarians who want to empower their clients to make decisions on behalf of their pets. As a dog trainer, I am well educated on dog health. When I go into my vet’s office, I can look at my dog’s blood work and have an educated clue about what is going on (the biology training at the post secondary level really helps with that!), and when my vet wants to do radiographs or ultrasounds, I am not clued out about what that implies for my dog. The same is not true for many of my clients. At our local vet college, all the students take a course called the art of veterinary medicine where they learn how to talk to clients and how to help clients to understand what things mean. This is terrific, and largely, an improvement. But one of the things I have noticed that is different from going to the vet years ago is that the vet no longer says to me “I need to take an x-ray”. Now vets say “would you like me to take an x-ray?” My response is usually “is an x-ray and appropriate diagnostic, and does my dog need this?” I think a lot of time because my clients don’t understand everything that is going on, and the vets are asking them to make decisions about diagnostics, bills can run up the flagpole really quickly. When the clients aren’t educated, I have seen diagnostics run up quickly and clients come away complaining. I think clients need to learn to ask good questions such as “will the treatment be any different depending on the outcome of the diagnostics?” If the answer is no, then ask why there is a need for diagnostics. I also often ask my veterinarian if there is a more cost effective treatment option. Knowing how to play the game shouldn’t be important but often is. Knowing what questions to ask and how to ask them can help with the client/veterinarian relationship, and ultimately, give your dog the best chance for his best help!

  13. A year after my current vet set up her clinic in my town (still a 40-minute drive for me), I changed vets; had a very good vet an hour away, but was also extremely happy with this vet new to me.

    I’ve been her client now for well over 20 years. We’ve been through some really rough financial times, my dogs, cats and I; now I just have one dog – can’t support more than one, and |I’m getting Rather |Olde, too!

    |Not only is my vet truly great as a vet, as is her new partner in the practice |(the partner has been working there for quite a few years now), but also, she does all she can to help us clients find our costs affordable. My vet(s) are those team-mate kinds you talk about in your book, _Speaking for Spot_. I just couldn’t ask for better.

    I’m on very limited fixed income, eroding with inflation. But for my current dog, I took out vet insurance. I had SUCH a hard time with my diabetic dog and his expenses; friends helped. I COULD NOT let my dog die because I didn’t have money. So, he died unexpectedly – NOT of diabetes, but of cancer; my first dog to escape euthanasia.

    As my vet said, he took things out of our hands; as he’d spent the day before in the clinic for observation, and we were about to do ultrasound.

    My new dog is 4.5 years old; I got her just under a year ago, and breathe more easily now, because i have that vet insurance. I chose Trupanion, for its reputed reliability, though |I have to cover the basic expenses. But if Camellia should ever contract diabetes, or some similar long-term, somewhat expensive disease to manage, Camellia will have 90% of her expenses covered.

    The way, then, that my vets and I have gotten through – is, ALWAYS, to consult about what is needed, and to discuss possibilities – and their costs. The total effect is, we really are team-mates.

    Mon, 1 Aug 2011 19:17:05 (PDT)

  14. Pingback: Help with the costs of veterinary care

  15. I am fortunate that I’m able to afford pet health insurance for my dog. So for those pet parents who can afford pet health insurance, you should definitely get it and factor this into the budget for the length of your dog’s life. For those who are experiencing difficulties during this poor economic state, I work with this organization that help families who fall into financial hardship to help pay for care (www.fairydogparents.org). It’s a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts.

    As for dental care, for those of you who are willing, brushing your dogs teeth every day can help reduce plaque build up. If not every day, once a week or month will go along way. I personally have wondered if pet hygienist is a possible new career :-). Most dentist these days do not perform cleanings themselves. Their dental hygienist do. So why not have something similar in pet health? There are dogs who are okay with scaling without putting them under. Again, preventative care is key.

  16. Dr. Kay,

    Again I applaud your courage to take on this topic.

    Let’s start from the beginning. The picture in this post says so much. The defensive body language of both the humans, the placement and body language of the Basset and the dancing elephant in the picture. PERFECT! I think had you not written a word, that picture says it all.

    Yet, you did write it and in doing so have opened up a conversation that enables and allows everyone to be reminded of something we all learned in kindergarten. There are two sides to a story. We humans get so caught up in our own worlds that we can’t see what’s outside our own narrow viewfinder.

    Does money matter? Sure! Are all the points you make valid? Sure. We are all facing a new world. The structure of the culture we have grown up with isn’t working as it did even 10 years ago let alone 20 or 30 years ago. Seems like everything is growing and changing at such a grand pace that this uncharted territory we are living in today has no foothold for us to grasp and we are floundering. This means as you say… we are left in an emotional state that our generation has never experienced before and it is human nature to blame or point the finger over there.

    I must refer to the picture again… look at the dogs full body expression. Isn’t this what we just love about our dogs and why we have them as our pets. This ability to unconditionally love us, not judge, not blame… just keep coming back to give and receive LOVE? Look at him in this picture. He’s wondering what we humans are arguing about while he’s sitting there… filling ill?

    I don’t know what to say about all this except that we are in a time like never before and as things shift and sway as they have been and will continue to do, we might be better off seeing the world from a dogs point of view–and try to love more unconditionally. At least this way a more gentle conversation is possible where everybody wins, especially our pets.

    Much appreciated,
    ~jill
    aka Shewhisperer

  17. Not that many years ago, before pet insurance companies, vet clinics were modest buildings with small staffs. The pink bottle of bubble gum flavored antibiotic that my children got for an ear ache cost me three times as much as the very same bottle stamped “for veterinary use only” that I got for my dog … now things seem to be reversed. I have to ask why? The bottle was the same. The medicine was the same. The label and the marketer were the only difference.

    But now that same bottle is being dispensed from a top of the line high over-head building that rivals my own health care offices with prices to match. While the human hospitals are laying off staff, vet clinics are expanding. hmmm. It has become a big business. Did pet insurance drive up the income possibilities? Who’s really making money?

    Why can I still buy vaccinations wholesale at bargain prices? They don’t cost more to produce just because they are going to a veterinary clinic, do they?

    Much to ponder.

    Thanks for the venue for venting!

  18. A very timely topic here in the land of rescue.
    In the last 30 days we have had an influx of 27 bassets, all 3 and under, all intact and in need of veterinary care. When sp/neuter’s are averaging $500.00, dental average $900.00 and up before extraction, families are abandoning their companions due to the unbalanced financial crisis. Sadly, this trickles right back down to over crowded shelters, rescue groups and our furry companions facing medical needs that are not forthcoming. Geographically prices are all over the board, in our local community low cost vet care is only just beginning, and services available are a tankful of gas away, adding that to the ever increasing price of vet care is catastrophic at the shelter and rescue levels. Where is common ground?

  19. As a petsitter I have witnessed first hand the heart wrenching decisions that must be made regarding veterinary care and finances. Currently, I have a client who in one short week has racked up a $5000 bill for her beloved cat who has pancreatitis. Veterinary medical technology has advanced and is comparable to human medicine and I am thankful for it!! I regard my pets as family members and, therefore, want to provide the best possible medical care and expertise available. The answer is PET INSURANCE !! All of my family members are insured, including my pets! Pet Plan ( http://www.gopetplan.com) Insurance Plan made it possible to treat my special needs French Bulldog mix, with multiple medical problems, and extend his life by 2 years. I believe strongly without PetPlan I would have had to make end of life decisions prematurely. Shop carefully…not all pet insurance policy’s are created equal. I encourage ALL pet guardians to invest in pet insurance. You will be SO GRATEFUL that you did!!

  20. I agree that veterinarians are very expensive, but if you own a pet you should own it with the full knowledge that pets cost money. Would we leave a child without check-ups? I hope not. Well, for many people pets are their children and I would hope they are taken care of just like a person would be taken care of. Preventative measures are much cheaper than paying costs for an emergency. I take in older dogs with full knowledge that as a dog ages medical problems appear. They deserve to have their later years just as full and fun as when they were healthy pups, or at least as good as can be for their age. Don’t have a pet if you can’t afford it!

  21. I talk to a lot of fixed or low income pet owners and I find it very sad that many of them won’t take their pets to a vet even when there is a problem. The reason given is not that they don’t care or couldn’t spend some money, but that their prior experiences were that care was provided, meds handed to them and the bill was a shock and more than they expected. So their conclusion is that going to the vet is out of their reach. I am not afraid to talk about money with the veterinarians I use, and I am upfront about it and I do make it clear that cost plays into the decisionsmaking. Sadly this has a bit backfired on me as I believe my vets seem to think I either don’t have money or don’t want to spend money, so neither has for example receommended adequan for my two dogs that suffer from arthritis. I was the one who asked about it. So I believe communication and talking about money is definetely something that veterinarians should become more aware of and more comfortable with. I have found that both of my vets are willing to work with me on keeping the costs down. For example my local vet will come for house visits, to both me and my neighbor as we both have multiple dogs. He charges a one time house visit fee for the first pet, that is very reasonable and then a small extra fee for each additonal pet, then they all get their shots, microchips, blooddraws or whatever routine work needs to be done. It really doesn’t take all that long to do it so I feel it’s financially not bad for him and for me it’s great because I don’t have to make 5 or 6 trips to his office at 22 miles roundtrip, wait for our turn etc.
    Then if any follow-up care is needed I bring that pet to his office.

    I believe that possibly veterinarians may have to look into doing the same as we have done in human medicine for a long time. Train and employ people who will do a lot of the questions and history on pets that the vets don’t have time for and filter it down to what the vet needs to know to take care of that pet. For example I am a nurse, I see a patient weekly and may spend an hour inquiring about various bodysystems (Pain, vital signs, bowel movements, sleep, skin issues, appetite, energy etc.), then if there is something of concern I call the doctor who then spends a minute or two on the phone with me to order new meds or tests or to decide he/she needs to see the patient. Vets simply don’t have the time to spend half an hour or longer with one owner/dog and be profitable. One of my vets has well-trained technicians to take a history or take down the concerns, that narrows it down for the vet when he comes into the room.

  22. I love, love, love my vet, but from time to time, I too have gasped at the bill. As a business person, the one thing I don’t understand is why people expect a quanityt discount for multiple pets. Three cats for dental work is 3 times the work of one cat. Exams and shots for two dogs is twice the work of one dog. I don’t see a savings of a vet’s time. If there IS an instance where the vet realizes some savings for multiple pets, I would hope they would pass it on. But otherwise, I don’t get it.

    I talked to a trainer once who had someone ask them for a quantity discount for training three dogs. Last I knew, training 3 dogs took longer than training one dog! I guess it’s all about educating the client.

  23. Well, firstly, let’s put the vets for whom it’s more business than life calling aside.

    As long as the economy sucks and everybody is broke, I don’t think the elephant is going anywhere.

    Yet, I never had the feeling that our vet over-charged anything. I think his fees are reasonable. I know for him being a vet is a life calling. I also know that he has to pay his bills and eat on occasion.

    I’m sure money is on his mind a lot, particularly since recently he’s been forced to get a new office (as the building he was renting for 20 years has been demolished to make room for a new Walmart or whatnot).

    Money is on my mind a lot too. I never blamed HIM for our financial hardship, though most of our money go to him.

    I do think it’s about priorities. I know a person who “cannot afford to take her dog to a vet” but has money to buy furniture, go to a hair-dresser and all that good stuff …

    Me? I bought clippers and I give myself a brush cut at home. I have my clothes barely holding on. But I do find the money for the needed veterinary care.

    I think the other important issue is that annual check ups and other preventative measures are CHEAPER than dealing with the potential fall out of not doing those!

  24. Thank you for bringing up this issue. Another issue that goes along with this one is the perks vets get from pharmaceutical companies and “prescription food” companies to sell their products. I had a vet tell me that Hill’s Science had “special” ingredients to help with allergies and other issues. Hill”s Science, Eukanuba and other “prescription” foods contain corn and wheat glutten, peanut hulls and sawdust and cancer causing preservatives and 4d slaugherhouse by products. New vets are indoctrinated by having access to reduced foods from this company from their pets. The nutritional classes vets take are from “prescription” pet food companies.
    Whenever I go to the vet, the vet is pushing vaccines on my 13 year old dog who has arthritis. If it is not that she is pushing Rimadyl or other NSAIDS or the latest flea/tick product which the FDA is reviewing.
    Most vets do not even mention alternatives such as acupuncture, Traditional Chinese medicine nor homeopathy.
    I have opted to only take my dog to the vet for blood test and if needed, radiographs. With the exception of a few vets,I no longer believe anything the allopathic veterinary profession has to say.
    I also do titer testing and give my dog home made food with a supplement. He is a healthy 13 year old who’s arthritis is controlled with Traditional Chinese herbs.

  25. I agree about the monetary issues. Maybe vets should do what Meinecke auto does — or whatever the company is that advertises on TV. A deluxe package, a nice one, a basic one, a minimum one, and one that is just rabies.

    Animal Care Center is very expensive. Very good but very expensive. It makes it very hard.

  26. Everything you write here seems true to me, however I was pleasantly surprised last week when I took my lab/dobie? mix Mickey to our Sebastopol vet, Analy Veternary Clinic, was given lots of time and concern by first the tech and then Dr. Alexander over why Mickey’s usually flagship-straight, proud black tail was drooping between his legs (diagnosis was some kind of injury, but tail not broken), given mild pain med for him and toenails clipped, all for a little under $60. So yes, I will go to the clinic when I feel it’s necessary and glad to find it still affordable.

  27. On two points mentioned.

    First, why do most human pharmacies sell a 30 day supply of human generic medicine for $4, while Frontline and Heartgard are perhaps $8 per pill?

    Second, years ago it would have surprised me that a vet or shelter would leave pets unsupervised overnight. Now I would assume that is the norm. At the very least, pet owners should be told that if the building burns down, there is no one to let the pets out of their cages.

  28. I am deaf, and use a relay service to make telephone calls. The relay service voices what I type and types what the other party says. Yes, the call take a bit longer than a “normal” conversation. However, it is rude, not to mention, illegal, to refuse to accept a relay call.

    I recently changed vets because the front office refused to accept relay calls “Can’t you just make a phone call like a normal person??”, “I don’t have time for this c***”. The new vet is more than willing to accept relay calls and communicate by e-mail.

  29. I decided to delay a dental for my beloved cocker spaniel a couple of years ago because the vet quoted a price of $450. Knowing that his prices were hard to cope with I asked for an estimate on major surgery for my other cocker, a diabetic, as she was regaining weight. I knew I’d need months to save up, but he flat-out refused to give me an estimate because it was “way too soon.” The amount turned out to be $1300 plus almost $600 for two complications, and almost another $300 for his ignorance about diabetes and progesterone. Needless to say, cocker #1 never got her $450 dental because of the money I spent on cocker #2.

    I didn’t want to price-shop because competence was #1 for me, but he turned out not to be all that competent anyway. My new cocker is getting a dental tomorrow for less than $200 with a vet who seems on top of the latest research and also has a lot of experience.

    The vet in-between was low priced but even more incompetent than vet #1

    A vet who belongs to the AVMA and AAHA and is thorough, well-read, attends conferences (and doesn’t just hang out at the vendor booths) is well worth the extra money to me. Vet #1 misdiagnosed a friend’s dog’s chf for over a year, and he’s now lost that client too. If vets are worried about money, imho they should pay more attention to their competence than marketing strategies.