Veterinary Care Is So Expensive…Vets Must Be Greedy


This is the never-ending battle that vets have to face on a daily basis — clients unable to pay for care, clients failing to make payments towards care provided, etc.

If vets were compassionate people who loved animals, they would treat them for free if the client couldn’t afford to pay, right? Compassionate we are, but rich we are not (at least not the majority of us, particularly the younger ones with larger debt loads). As much as we would like to provide care to pets whose owners cannot afford care, we simply cannot afford it.

While I will offer a few thoughts here, please view this article, the author’s information is worthwhile, but you may also be interested in reading the comments section.

Things to consider…

  • Vets generally have 8 years of schooling (college and vet school), just like MD’s.
  • Vet school is more competitive than medical school for admission – sure there are fewer veterinary schools than med schools, but there are a wide range of med schools out there — some can pick the finest candidates, while others are willing to take applicants that meet the requirements for admission. Vet school is not like that. Sure, the schools are ranked, but what it all comes down to is that vet school admissions statistics are pretty steady across the board. Have I mentioned how many times people in the human medical profession remarked on my chosen profession and said “I just didn’t think I could do it” (dentist) or “I wanted to be a vet, but I didn’t get in.” (human physician)? Many people envy us but there’s not much to envy when you consider what issues we have to face on a daily basis – mostly surrounding money.
  • Human physicians have the benefit of having insurance companies cover costs, and all the client might pay is $10-30 for a visit (some policies have higher co-pays). It is no wonder that clients think that vets are overcharging when they see a $60 exam fee, but that’s all we get; there is no behind the scenes work that fills our wallets with additional cash that you don’t even have to worry about. Pet insurance companies exist, but they require clients to pay the bill completely before they will reimburse the client. I will never deny that human physicians generally pay more for malpractice insurance, but I don’t know whether that alone justifies the disparity of income between MDs and DVMs.
  • Vets have to learn everything about every species – and we are tested on them in order to get licensed. (I cannot tell you how frustrated students are when they leave the national board exam having been asked 20 questions about chickens, a species that most of us are not likely to ever see in practice, but we still have to know the medicine related to chickens so that we are deemed competent enough to treat these issues, and thus given a license.
  • Vets tend to work unusual hours, not just the regular 9-5, particularly nights and weekends so as to accommodate people who cannot afford to take time off from work to take their pet to the clinic. And there are the 24/hr practices that are always open – all holidays included! I once paid a $200 exam fee for my cat to be seen in the middle of the afternoon, for an emergency. Why? Because I was paying for the best of the best at UC Davis. (Believe me, as a student, that bill hit me hard! But I paid it and skimped on other luxuries (like going out to eat, movies, etc) for a while. Oh, and I got pet insurance! …because the $150/year that it costs to insure each of my pets makes my vet bills very predictable and I no longer have to worry about affording the care my pets need in the event of an emergency!)
  • Overhead — equipment costs money. LOTS of money! Many of our professors will inform us of the cost of pieces of equipment and the costs have always been in the thousands. $80,000 for a decent ultrasound – eek! $160,000 for a CT scanner, $140,000 for an x-ray machine. These things add up, and lose value over time and with the way technology advances, there is likely to be something better out 10 years from now. These are just pieces of equipment! Mortgage or lease payments are huge. Even if we wanted to break even, the costs wouldn’t be decreased that much, even without factoring in salaries.

Let’s consider other professions outside of the medical field:

Lawyer -hourly rates are $250-550+ (though the Wall Street Journal wrote an article in 2011 about top lawyers charging up to $1250/hour (and, no, I did not forget a decimal). Lawyers do not have medical equipment to purchase, do they?

Mechanic -the least expensive average hourly rates are anywhere from $60-90/hr in North Dakota, Mississippi, and Illinois, where cost of living is generally lower than places like New York or California which have hourly rates averaging $80-115/hr. Don’t believe me, check out this map! …Oh, and that rate doesn’t include any of the costly parts that you are going to need.

Hairdresser – the average cost of a haircut in the US is $45 (as of 2006) – and that doesn’t include highlights, dye, etc. Most hairdressers can do at least 2 haircuts per hour, so they are making $90/hr minimum, but much more if clients are getting special services. Also, some people spend a hefty sum on their haircut – I know a [straight] male who got his hair cut for over 100 (not including tip).

Are all of these professions educated? Lawyers are certainly educated, but mechanics and hairdressers are able to learn the skills of the trade without formal training & education. So, where do you think vets average? Somewhere around $50 (as of 2009). Sure, that doesn’t include diagnostics or medication, but in the end, you’re already spending less on your pet than on your car, or lawyer and about the same cost as a haircut.

Don’t forget, you are paying for the expertise of the doctor, who endured some really rigorous training to be equipped with sufficient knowledge to practice medicine. Don’t expect free or discounted services, it’s unfair to other clients. Plus, when was the last timeĀ  you walked into a business and expected free service?