September 7, 2023


Why is Veterinary Care So Expensive?

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

We have all probably experienced this same thought:  Why are things so expensive?  From buying groceries to filling up at the gas station, or even going out to dinner– things have all seemed to get more expensive.  Some of these price increases are caused by the current state of the economy, while other prices can vary based on the cost of supplies.

“Why is my vet visit so expensive?”

In the veterinary world, we are also affected by the increasing costs. Our daily supplies including syringes, medications, vaccines, bandage material, etc., are now more expensive. We have also seen an increase in the costs of our lab work, including bloodwork and biopsies. The prices of these items affect what we must charge in order to stay open to provide care for our patients.  We do our best to keep price increases to a minimum, but finances are part of running a business. The veterinary world is not exempt from these issues.

I’m not going to argue with the fact that vet visits can be expensive, but let’s look at the why.  Much like your primary care provider, we must be ready to provide routine wellness services as well as to treat minor health issues (such as ear infections or broken nails).  However, unlike your physician’s office, we must also be prepared like a hospital for more urgent-care needs. We need to have equipment for taking x-rays, running various laboratory tests, and performing surgery. Additionally, we need to stock a pharmacy that can help your pet with everything from flea and tick prevention and arthritis to allergy and pain medications.   So, most vet clinics are performing as your doctor’s office, your hospital, and your pharmacy all in one.

“I don’t pay this much for my health care!”

Think about a visit to your doctor’s office. Let’s say, for the sake of this example, that you have a complicated skin rash.  Your human doctor may look at it and give you medicine to help. She may also send you to the dermatologist who may evaluate your skin and send you to an allergist. The allergist will try to determine if the rash is due to an allergy and will run some tests. If the rash is not allergy-related, you’ll go back to the dermatologist for a follow-up appointment. The dermatologist may take some biopsies of your skin or may send you to a dermatologic surgeon for those tests. Eventually, you go back to your regular doctor to decide on how to monitor the situation for the long-term.  That one rash could involve several specialists, a range of tests, and a variety of medications.

Your veterinarian is trained to do all of those services for your pets, and it costs about 10-100 times less than your medical care does.  Most people have medical insurance that deducts money off of their bills.  If you have ever seen a bill for a human hospital stay before insurance, it is quite shocking!  Human health insurance makes your care appear to cost less than veterinary care. In fact, it is the insurance that you have been deducting from your paychecks that makes your care seem less expensive.

“What can I do about the cost of vet care?”

1. Budget Accordingly

Having a pet is a big responsibility that involves a financial commitment.  Although we can’t predict what the future may bring, we can help to be prepared for it.  Before adopting new pets, plan for what they need to live happy, healthy lives. These things include basic needs such as food, toys, and enclosures or kennels. But they also include grooming, medical, and dental care. This medical care will include exams and vaccines, but there may also be some surgeries and unexpected treatments along the way.

According to a the recent Lifetime of Care study from Synchrony, the lifetime cost of caring for dogs ranges from $20,000-55,000. And, the lifetime cost for cats ranges from $15,000-$45,000.  By accurately calculating what a new pet will need to be happy and healthy, you will be better able to determine if this is the right time to add a new family member.

2. Plan for Unexpected Expenses

If it is the right time for you to add a furry, feathered, or scaled friend to your family, there are a few things that you can do to financially prepare for their care.  Start a bank account for your pet’s medical needs and deposit some money into it each month. That way, if you have an unexpected emergency or treatment is more expensive than you expected it to be, you have some money set aside.

Apply for CareCredit (a credit card for medical expenses for people and pets). Set up an account before you ever have to use it, and it can be an option if your pet needs emergency care. Additionally, you could look into pet insurance.  Some employers offer a pet expense account or offer pet insurance as one of your employment benefits.

3. Focus on Preventative Care

It’s not a secret that animals age much more rapidly than humans.  Depending on the sizes and weights of your pets, one human year may be the same as 5-7 years for them.  This rapid aging stresses the importance of preventative wellness care. With regular physical exams, we can detect and manage issues before they become more serious and expensive health problems.

In the human world, we often put off doctor visits until we feel sick.  Unfortunately, our animals can’t tell us if something is wrong.  Regular vet visits allow us to look for things which may be causing your pet pain. They also give us a chance to identify illnesses in the early stages. Remember, a visit with your vet is like a visit to your general doctor, your dentist, your dermatologist, your oncologist…your everything-all-in-one doctor!  A preventative health check-up is truly a bargain when seeing all these specialists in one!

Keeping a pet healthy and happy is an emotional and financial commitment. It can be worth every penny to see those happy tail wags and to get those sweet cuddles!  Work with your veterinary team to focus on your pet’s wellness, and be proactive and plan for expenses that are a part of pet ownership. By doing these things, you can lessen your stress and we can work to keep your fur-babies (and scaled- or feathered-babies) feeling their best!

Dr. Aili V. Heintz, countrycare animal complex

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.