Frequently asked questions about the cost of veterinary health care
Why can’t veterinarians advise, diagnose or prescribe over the phone and save me a whole lot of time and money?
A veterinarian cannot make a diagnosis based on clinical signs only as observed by an owner. The outward signs may be an indication of any number of internal causes with a wide variety of clinical treatments.
A complete physical examination is an essential part of the process to determine the cause of the clinical signs. It is near to impossible to make an accurate diagnosis and rational plan of treatment if the vet hasn’t seen and had the opportunity to examine the animal.
To prescribe medication for an animal that hasn’t been physically examined by a veterinarian is illegal and places pets at significant risk of potential harm from an incorrect prescription.
Why is there such a wide range of prices for the same or similar procedures among veterinarians?
Each veterinarian sets the fee for service based on the nature and technique of the treatment, the expertise available as well as the cost of supplying the service. This will include salaries, overheads and specialist equipment. These costs can vary from clinic to clinic.
What should I do if my pet needs to be seen by a veterinarian urgently, but I don’t have the money?
If your pet is sick or injured, you need to get veterinary care quickly. Some of the options to help you pay include EFTPOS and credit card facilities, or perhaps you could ask a relative or friend for a loan. Some veterinary clinics have facilities for clients to apply for short term loans from third party credit providers.
Veterinarians have an obligation to relieve an animal’s pain and suffering even if the owner can’t pay. However, this obligation doesn’t extend to diagnostic tests, treatments, or extensive hospital stays. In some cases euthanasia may be required.
Are there any really low cost desexing clinics available?
Veterinarians are doing their part to control the pet population and most offer desexing surgery at less than half its real cost.
Desexing is major surgery. It requires the time of at least two highly trained staff, anaesthetics, sterilised instruments and hospital care.
When you consider the cost of feeding a litter of unwanted kittens or puppies and then finding them all a responsible home, desexing makes a lot of sense.
Routine desexing is not an emergency procedure and can be performed at any convenient time. When deciding to take on a new pet, you can budget in advance to afford the desexing surgery that your new pet needs.
If my veterinarian doesn’t clear up my pet’s problem, can I get a refund?
No. You are paying for an honest attempt to diagnose and treat a problem. A cure is not always possible.
Fees pay for an examination, appropriate tests, treatment and medication. Some problems can require long-term treatment that might need to change over time.
Unfortunately, not every problem can be cured. If that happens, there is a cost if the animal has to be euthanased as it involves skilled administration of a lethal drug.
Why is veterinary care for my pet so expensive?
Veterinary fees by comparison with other professional services are not excessive.
One reason you sometimes feel you are paying more than you’d like for your pet’s health care, is that the costs of human health care in this country are heavily subsidised by governments and private health insurance.
Bear in mind your veterinarian is not only your pet’s GP, but also their surgeon, radiologist, dermatologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, oncologist and their pharmacist as well.
Isn’t the cost of veterinary medicine out of sight and unreasonable?
The extent of care given to any animal is determined ultimately by its owner. There are costs to owning a pet, just as with all areas of life.
Every pet owner has different ideas about what is acceptable pet care. Your vet’s job is to let you know about all the products and treatments available to help you make health decisions for your pet. It is up to the owner to make the ultimate choice. Veterinarians are very aware that for most of us, the decision to spend money on a pet has to be balanced against the needs of the family as a whole.
Should I shop around for the lowest priced vet practice I can find?
You need to feel you are receiving good value. Honest and open communication between you and your vet is the path to great care for your pet.
If you shop around you may not receive consistent care from one veterinary practice and your pet’s history and treatment details may not be on record when they’re needed. Your pet’s care may suffer if you change veterinarians frequently, particularly if your pet has an ongoing medical condition.
As with all services, cost is just one factor in judging the service you receive.
Do I need pet insurance?
The decision to get pet insurance is up to individual owners, but it can be a good idea and save you money in the long run.
Some owners find that pet health insurance gives them peace of mind. It also helps you avoid unplanned expenses and helps with your family budgeting.
If your pet is involved in an accident or suffers a sudden illness it can give you the ability to consider all treatment options and not be restricted by cost.
Your vet’s job is to let you know about all the products and treatments available to help you make health decisions for your pet.
Honest and open communication between you and your vet is the path to great care for your pet.
This content was originally published by Australian Small Animal Veterinarians (ASAV), a special interest group of The Australian Veterinary Association.