A Vet’s Perspective on the Cost of Pet Care

Dr Ben Willcocks provides his perspective on the cost of healthcare for our furry friends. 

As a Veterinarian, one of my pet hates (pardon the pun!) is when people take offence to the cost of veterinary fees. 

If we were to poll the majority of pet owners, a large percentage would say veterinary fees are expensive. And I agree entirely, most pet owners walk out of vet clinics feeling like they have burnt a hole in their wallet. What I take offence to, however, is when people feel the expense is unjustified.

For me personally, I feel something is expensive when I don’t get value for my money. In other words, when the service is insufficient for what it costs. For instance, if I have a painter come in and paint my bedroom walls. I expect the fees to roughly reflect the cost of materials and labour. This gives me a baseline to make a judgement call on the expense of the service.

So the first question I put to everyone is this. What are the actual costs involved in providing veterinary services? This is where itemised invoices are fantastic. I would urge all pet owners to request itemised invoices from their Veterinarian. This will give you a clear indication of what you have paid for, and the specific cost of each service.

The next question I want to put to everyone is this. When something is deemed to be expensive, do you instinctively compare the costs to an equivalent industry or service? Often, when I feel that something is overly expensive, I tend to compare it against a similar service. For instance, comparing the costs of various different forms of public transport in Sydney.

Why I bring this up, is because this is one of the major issues influencing public perception of the veterinary industry. People tend to compare veterinary fees against medical fees, and often find themselves spending more at the vet clinic than with their GP. This is understandably frustrating!

However, what you need to remember is this:

  • The veterinary industry does not have an equivalent ‘Medicare’. There is no public health system for pets.
  • Private Health Insurance in companion animals is available, but at this stage is still poorly utilised.
  • In vet clinics, all services are provided in house under the one roof. For instance, your vet can provide consultation, hospitalisation, anaesthetics, surgery, haematology, pathology, imaging, etc, all in the one clinic, and on the one bill.

So, when you compare this to the medical industry, the differences are profound.

In the medical industry, you would have a consultation with your GP, bloods at a pathologist, imaging at a private imaging clinic, and surgery, anaesthesia and hospitalisation at your local hospital. These bills would all be invoiced separately from one another. Medicare and Private health insurance would likely cover most if not all of the costs without you even seeing the bill.

In the vet industry, however, there are no subsidies. All accrued costs have to be rolled onto the pet owners, or the vets end up losing money (which often happens).

You also need to try to consider the fact that medical hospitals (particularly public) receive funding from the government to assist in developing assets, buying or leasing equipment, etc. In the veterinary industry, all of these costs have to be covered by the clinic owners. For instance, if the vet has an ultrasound machine, they have purchased it outright, or are leasing it. 

Once you start to account for all of these ongoing costs, or debts (equipment leasing, property leasing, etc,) in conjunction with no public or private financial subsidisation you start to get a clearer picture of why vets charge the way they do.

To sum it up, it costs a huge amount of money to run a veterinary clinic and treat animals with the standard of care you come to expect as a pet owner. Often, bills account for actual costs to the clinician and clinic alone, and labour is rarely even included on the bill.

And yes, I agree wholeheartedly with every pet owner out there, Vets are expensive. But what I’m trying to get across in this article, is that the value of the services Vets provide are roughly equivalent to the costs they charge. And health services for pets or people is an expensive business.

So I urge people to keep these ongoing costs in mind when acquiring a pet, and save your money for when the unexpected occurs. The pet industry is now almost an $8 billion dollar industry, and less than 20% of this money is spent on Veterinary services. So rather than buy that extra toy, or treat, put the money aside for a rainy day.

Or better still, get pet insurance. Do the research, pick a good insurer, and breathe easier knowing if you pet becomes unwell you will be able to give them the best standard of care available.

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Posted by Peter1525Report
I had pet insurance for years. Last renewal increase over 20%. Dog nearly 8 years of age. This year, same dog, the increase was 35%. They know that you can't get insurance for a dog that age and then the rip off starts. First they substantially reduce the total amount you can claim and then they hit you with massive increases. I cancelled and now put the money aside to cover the costs.
Posted by Suzanne499Report
Currently have and had pet insurance for years. I worry about the willingness of insurers to pay up. One lot tried to argue that mid-leg bone infection was caused by a pre-existing sprained ankle and so was not covered.