Health Care Costs for Pets: Is It Too Expensive?
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.
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.
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.
© 2012 Bob Bamberg