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Health Care Costs for Pets: Is It Too Expensive?

Updated on October 12, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

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Some Insight Into Your Vet Bills

In my 20-plus years of dealing with pet owners, the cost of veterinary care very often comes up. My unscientific observations leave me with the feeling that virtually every owner feels they're paying a lot of money for their pets' health maintenance.

However, it seems that increasingly more owners consider the expenditure worth it. Even to those who consider vet bills to be a hardship, very few begrudge the outlay. That's because the status of pets in so many households has been elevated to that of "full family member."

It's not unusual at all to have pet owners tell me that they've spent upwards of 2 to 5 thousand dollars to get their pet through a health crisis or to correct a condition that would otherwise become chronic.

When you compare veterinary medicine to human medicine, veterinary medicine can seem to be a bargain. We have to go to our primary care physician, who gives us a referral to a specialist, who sends us to a lab for special studies that often require consultations with another specialist. It can turn into an extensive road trip.

The Veterinarian Plays Many Positions

Generally, when you go to your vet's office he or she is the internist, surgeon, anesthetist, radiologist, dermatologist, gynecologist, nutritionist, and a bunch of other "ists" all rolled into one. And MD's only have to learn the anatomy and physiology of a single species.

Veterinarians go to school for 8 years, many go on to study a specialty and, except for the ones who bought the winning lottery ticket, graduate with considerable student loan debt. Yet, they often earn less than many other professionals with similar education levels.

Not that I think we should pass the hat for the vets, but, like teachers, they certainly deserve a pay scale that compensates them for their educational and professional achievements.

DIY CAT SCAN
DIY CAT SCAN | Source

Animal Health Care: You've Come A Long Way, Baby!

The past few decades have seen tremendous strides made in the care available to our pets. They get chemotherapy, MRI's, and pacemakers. Drugs to relieve their symptoms or cure their diseases are available at a lower cost than similar human drugs.

And I don't suppose a veterinary clinic equipped with lab, X-ray, ultrasound and surgical equipment is any cheaper than a comparably equipped MD's office. And veterinary equipment and supplies must accommodate everything from a hamster to a St. Bernard...or a horse or a cow.

But the advances in veterinary equipment and protocols have made it possible for vets to diagnose conditions far earlier than ever before, and that prevents much pain and suffering and saves the owner a great deal of money as well.

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Human Patients Compared To Pet Patients

How about the actual examination or treatment? We answer the doctor's questions, breathe when he tells us to, stop breathing when he tells us to, lift-bend-or rotate whatever he needs lifted-bent-or rotated, and we don't wee wee on his waiting room rug.

Pets, on the other hand, usually think the exam is a serious invasion of their personal space, and the vet, (and the techs) are often in harm's way. Or the truly happy-go-lucky pet (probably a golden retriever) thinks it's playtime, thwarting attempts to complete the exam. In any event, veterinary clinics are more labor intensive than most human practices since, for example, it sometimes takes two or three people to hold the patient down long enough to complete an exam.

And vets often have to support your decision to euthanize a pet whose suffering cannot be relieved or for whom there is no hope of recovery. Very often, when they're comforting you and helping to dry your tears, they're hoping they can hold theirs off until you leave the clinic.

The Ultimate "Animal People"

Anybody who regularly deals with pet owners, such as retailers, groomers and trainers, will confirm that "animal people" are a special lot. Dealing with the public can be stressful at times but dealing with "animal people" is seldom so.

Animal people tend to specialize in empathy, enjoy shopping for (and often with) their pets, and will sacrifice many personal pleasures to accommodate the needs of their pets. They don't do it for the glory, they do it because they're animal people and that's that.

Vets are probably the ultimate animal people. They revel in their ability, and they agonize over their inability, to cure sick or injured animals. I've known vets who've brought sick animals home from the clinic, so they could monitor them overnight during a crisis.

When we write the check we acknowledge that it might be a lot of money; money that could be used for other wants or needs. But we seldom hesitate or second guess. It's for our pet, and, when you look at the big picture, worth every penny.

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© 2012 Bob Bamberg

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    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi again, Patty...you're so punny...Eddie was the cat-alyst for my crusade...Boom Boom deBoom! Whether you're great or crazy, Dan gets an attaboy for putting up with you all these years :). Me thinks he's probably an animal person, too. Thanks for the additional comments. Regards, Bob

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image

      Pages-By-Patty 5 years ago from Midwest

      Oh, Bob, thanks so much for your "great lady" reference; however, it's more like "crazy lady"! And Eddie is just a perfect name, isn't it?

      About 18 years ago (and before my rescue involvement), Dan & I were at the ER (with the rottie) and as we checked out I noticed a caged 6 week old kitten with a leg cast longer than his body! I made the comment "What a cute kitten!" and the clerk said "You want him? He's homeless and needs a leg asap." We left without him but all I talked about for 2 days was Eddie. Finally, Dan said "Go get the freakin' cat!"

      I was so clueless to cruelty and the over abundance of abuse cases needing homes back then...I called and actually asked "Do you still have Eddie? And if so, how much is his adoption fee?" She said, "Honey, if you want him, he's yours and we'll even throw in the antibiotics! But you need to take him to a specialist tomorrow." I got off the phone and told Dan, "Oh my gosh, he's free and so is the medicine!" ha! Hence, Eddie was the catalyst for my crusade against cruelty.

      And, yes, I re-read your article before your reply and got a good chuckle from the "Cat Scan"!! Wendell, Cecil and Hazel are all great names. My sympathy to your family for Cecil's passing. My Eddie passed a year ago and it's never easy saying goodbye to those furry faces.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello All,

      I'm quite surprised! I sort of expected to get hammered as a shill for the vet industry. I'm glad the article was well received...so far anyway.

      I'm disappointed! No one mentioned the photo I labeled as a Do-It-Yourself Cat Scan. I thought I'd be able to turn my speakers up and hear howls of laughter.

      Hi, wetnosedogs. I've got over 20 years in feed 'n grain retail and I've loved every minute of it because I'm dealing with animal people.

      When you're at the drugstore or the big box store, you're there because your have to be. When you're at the feed 'n grain store, you're there because you want to be. You don't have to have animals, feed the birds, or have a garden. You do so for the pleasure they provide. For those of us on this side of the counter, it's a win-win situation: dealing with wonderful people who are happy to be there.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Hi Nadine, your mouse episode reminds me of a customer I had who spent over $800 on tumor removal for her pet rat. No one can judge spending priorities of others. Value is in the eye of the beholder.

      A customer once spent over $40 just on treats for her dog while "Bubba," behind her in line, rolled his eyes, clenched his jaws and shook his head. Another customer caught it, and after he left, said, "I'll bet he'll be down at the VFW tonight and will spend $50 on booze for himself and his friends...who will all pee it out in the morning." Different strokes for different folks. Thanks for stopping by.

      Hi, DrMark X2, your kindness regarding the steroid injection (you get an "attaboy" for that, by the way) illustrates my point about vets being the ultimate animal people. In my experience, most veterinarians will go out of their way, and up and beyond, to work with clients regarding payment.

      And many have performed procedures gratis or at a reduced rate just so that clients could keep their animals. They don't do it for the glory; they do it because they're animal people...and that's that. Thanks for stopping by and tweeting.

      Hi Patty, nice to see you. If there's such a thing as reincarnation, I'd like to come back as Patty's pet! Your bionic cat is testimony as to what a great lady you are...and to the fact that animal people will go to extraordinary lengths for their pets.

      My son and daughter-in-law have a cat named Eddie, another named Wendell, and a rabbit named Hazel. They had a third cat, Cecil, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge this past summer. Eddie sounds like a mischievous name, but it was Cecil who was the mischievous one. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Hello, brackenb, thanks for stopping by. There are only a few large animal vets in my area because we don't have working farms anymore, just hobby farms, but I gather they're the same as the vets in your area.

      I hear they're out in all sorts of weather and at all times of the day and night. Plus, they do their treatments in unheated, poorly lit barns and smaller shelters. But, that's what animal people do. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Thanks, again, everybody...I appreciate you taking the time to comment (especially twice). Regards, Bob

    • brackenb profile image

      brackenb 5 years ago

      Brilliant hub! I spend quite a lot of money with vets as I have many horses and the majority of the vets I have dealt with have shown absolute commitment whatever the problem or time of day or night.

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image

      Pages-By-Patty 5 years ago from Midwest

      Oh Lord...I think I've seen every vet in town for every possible ailment! Thank goodness for Care Credit in emergency situations! Had one cat with a $6800 vet bill! Crazy, huh? Ellie is a feral who was hit by a car so every bone in her face was broken, her trachea was torn, her c-2 vertebrae was broken along with her pelvis. Her head trauma and spinal cord damage was pretty extensive but the surgeon said he could make her a new metal body and he did!! He wasn't sure she would remember how to use the litter box and couldn't guarantee she would walk again but she's running through the house as I write! :) The man is a miracle worker!

      Then there's Eddie....he needed two metal legs after being horribly abused. And the list goes on...

      Good thing animals don't need college funds!!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      I just wanted to let you know that I tweeted this and it has already been retweeted, in less than five minutes!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 5 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Good job tackling a difficult subject. The value of a pet is really relative to what a family can afford, no matter how much they care about it, and sometimes all of the expensive diagnostics are not available to everyone, for that very reason. I was treating a case of pemphigus on a dog´s face this afternoon and the owner could not afford the $3 for a steroid injection. Of course I gave it anyway, but the condition will recur and I am not going to be able to treat the dog for the rest of her life.

      Pet owners should do what they can now for their family members, while they are able to help. They really are worth every penny.

    • Nadene Seiters profile image

      Nadene Seiters 5 years ago from Elverson, PA

      I see people all the time at the vet's office who complain that it's too much money. I never once thought about that while any of my animals are at the vet's office, I'm just hoping that whatever is wrong with them is at least treatable.

      I once had a tumor removed from a mouse; it was about a quarter of her body size. It cost me around two hundred dollars and everyone told me she would die, but she actually lived through it. I guess my point is that a pet owner should always be aware that costly medical bills are looming and have a plan. Even a mouse can become costly if you are emotionally attached enough to do anything for it.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 5 years ago from Alabama

      I enjoyed this hub about extraordinary "animal" people. Agree they are worth every penny.