Understanding Vet bills and costs

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As both a pet owner and a Vet I do understand that receiving vet bills for the care of your pet can be tough on the household finances, especially if it is an accident or illness with unexpected costs hitting the hip pocket hard.

However, one of the frustrations I have as a Vet is the lack of understanding of what is involved in caring for your pet, even with just a simple procedure or their annual vaccinations, and the expectation that the costs for medicine or operation should be significantly cheaper than what it might be for a human, despite vet clinics and emergency centres requiring similar equipment, qualified staff, medicines in stock and other day to day running costs that a Doctor’s surgery or hospital incurs.

Vet clinics have basic business costs too

Just like any other basic running costs that need to be covered by a business, Veterinary Clinics have to pay rent, electricity, gas, cleaning, admin etc. and of course staff.

From Receptionists to Vet Nurses, Vets and Specialist Surgeons, any business has to cover their most basic running costs and Veterinary Clinics are no different but on top of this there is then the purchase and maintenance of the vast array of medical equipment we use to diagnose and treat the many species and diseases we are faced with, many of which can cost tens of thousands of dollars each!

A Vet Clinic also has to be able to treat most accidents and emergencies in-house so they need an experienced team and also a fully equipped theatre, a comprehensive stock of medications on hand and anything else that might be needed to treat an animal emergency.

Human medical procedures are subsidised whilst our pets’ aren’t

Another reason why vet bills might seem high compared to when we visit the Doctor is that human medical visit and procedures are subsidised by Medicare and/or private health insurance. This is why I believe it’s very easy for pet owners to underestimate the real cost of medical procedures for both themselves and their pets!

Take dentistry for example and if a pet needs a tooth with a cavity removed. Unlike humans, dogs and cats just won’t lie still with their mouth open, and they definitely won’t be very happy if we pulled out a tooth whilst they were awake. In fact there’s a lot more involved in any surgical procedure with pets, even removing a tooth.

Surgery on pets requires a lot of before and after care

As with any surgical procedure, we have to give the dog or cat a health checkup first to make sure they haven’t got any problems that might cause complications under general anesthetic. This might include a pre-anesthetic blood test, just to make sure they don’t have any hidden illnesses, as unlike humans a pet can’t tell us if they aren’t feeling well.

Then the induction agent is given and the dog or cat is kept asleep with a gaseous anesthetic via a tube down their airway.

Whilst they are under, their heart rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure amongst other things are constantly monitored and they are placed on intravenous fluids and also provided with any antibiotics, pain relief or other medications that may be required. All of which have a cost attached to them and there’s a lot of extra aftercare needed for pets whilst they recover from anesthetic.

Human grade facilities and equipment

The equipment used for pet procedures and surgeries is often exactly the same as that used in human procedures.

Then there’s a clean up as well – all instruments need to be sterilized and cleaned before the next patient comes along. Not to mention all the towels and blankets that a Vet clinic needs to wash. Our washing machines and dryers are pretty much going all day long.

Dentistry is just one example of a procedure for pets that demonstrates how much extra care is required for making sure a pet is comfortable and safe than what is required when treating a human for a similar condition.

And again, vet bills are not subsidised like a human’s medical bill, so they are a true representation of what a medical procedure really costs and which is why they can seem high when we think about them in terms of our own medical bills and day to day living costs.

Fortunately over the past few years we have seen the introduction of insurance cover for our pets. Whilst some pet owners may feel this is yet another cost they don’t need, just like our own health insurance it provides the protection and peace of mind should our furry family member get sick or be injured in an accident.

It’s important to know about any common injuries or illnesses that your dog or cat might experience due to their breed, age and lifestyle and remember that trauma and accidents can happen very quickly with our pets so having the right cover for your pet is an important consideration.

If you research and get the right level of cover it can help you with those pesky unexpected vet bills too.  Find out more about pet insurance and the types of cover available with HIF here.


Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service.

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