Managing the Cost of Veterinary Care


In the past few generations, pets have moved from the backyard to the bedroom (and in some cases, the bed). An estimated 56% of American households own some kind of pet. Whether it is a dog, cat, bird or something more exotic, animals are now part of the family, which means that people are sometimes willing to do – and spend – almost anything to take care of them. For 2015, the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association estimated Americans will spend $60.59 billion our pets.

Here’s the Breakdown:

  • Food – $23.04 billion
  • Supplies/OTC Medicine – $14.39 billion
  • Vet Care – $15.73 billion
  • Live animal purchases – $2.19 billion
  • Pet Services (i.e. grooming, boarding etc.) – $5.24 billion

…and that’s not including emergency and surgical procedures. Pet owners whose fur-children have serious medical conditions, like cancer, can spend thousands (and sometimes $10,000 or more) on treatments.

Most people never see the true costs of their own health care. For example, pets often get the same cancers and undergo similar treatment as people. Surgery, medications, and a hospital stay for a person can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; for a pet it’s around $5,000. That’s not price gouging; it accurately reflects the increased cost of running a facility with high overheads.

That said, pricing for the same procedure can vary by hundreds or even thousands (and this true for human procedures as well), depending on where you live and whether the vet is board certified (meaning they completed 3-4 years of additional training and are recognized by the AVMA as a specialist in their field).

Know Your Options

Beyond the procedure, many factors – drugs, on-site aftercare, X-rays, blood work – play into your total vet bill.

Get a Second Opinion

Rarely are conditions so critical that a decision has to be made on the spot. Once your pet is stabilized and not in pain, take the diagnosis and get a second opinion. Ask about more than the diagnosis – the procedure, follow-up care and medication are all factors that can affect cost.

Ask Questions

Ask your vet about each element of the treatment plan. If you manage your pet’s personal health records, there could be tests that could be eliminated either because you have the records on file (especially if you are at a specialist or emergency after hours vet) or because of treatment plans already in place.

Learn Common Discounts

Some vets offer senior discounts, but you can also ask about generic drugs and treatment options. Asking about what you can do from home can shave hundreds off your vet bill, as can asking your vet if they participate in telemedicine networks for e-Consultations and follow-up visits to reduce the cost of long-term care.

Have an Emergency Plan

What would you do if…
…your dog ate the bag of chocolate chips that was left out on the kitchen counter?
…your cat had a seizure right in front of you?
…your dog fell down the stairs and started limping?
…your cat was overheating on a hot summer day?

Every pet owner needs an emergency plan. Beyond basic first aid, it is your responsibility to have everything in place in case the unthinkable happens. Once you arrive at the vet, initial treatment and stabilization in the case of an emergency can cost $1,000 or more.

Consider pet insurance

It won’t help initially, but they will reimburse you after the fact, which will lower costs in the long term.

Have your pet’s records ready

Collect copies of your pet’s health records and keep them all in one place, either in a folder or online, so that you can grab them in the event of an emergency. The more information an emergency vet has, the better care they can provide.

Have a “rainy day” fund

Emergency care will have to be paid upfront, so have enough money saved somewhere, either in a special account or as the available balance on a credit card.

cat counting money


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  1. James December 3, 2015 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    I know from personal experience that veterinary care can be expensive. I like the advice you give to get a second opinion. Like you say, rarely does a decision need to be made on the spot.

  2. Jason Strong January 27, 2016 at 11:43 pm - Reply

    My pride and joy in life right now is my new dog Sampson. He’s a beautiful golden lab and I can’t wait to give him a good and happy life. With that being the case, I’m trying to figure out the cost of good vet and see what I can afford. This helped me see some good ways to manage those costs and I feel much better about the whole situation.

  3. Nhyeanyee February 12, 2016 at 4:19 am - Reply

    You do have to pay the bill to the vet. Then you get the money from the insurance. I was on hodaliy when my dog dislocated her hip. My friend told the vet I was on hodaliy, so the vet made my friend pay a a3100 before they would put her hip back in place. Luckily they had a credit card on them.They then had to pay the rest when they picked the dog up. I wasn’t happy about it as I have been with the same vet for years. My insurance money then took a month to arrive!I now put money aside instead of having insurance. I have spent 1000 s of pounds on my dogs insurance have only ever had a claim of a3180. I could have payed that one myself!

  4. Alex Trodder March 10, 2016 at 10:13 pm - Reply

    My sister’s family just got a black lab puppy for Christmas. I like how you talk about having an emergency plan and fun set aside for your furry friend. It helps to know if your veterinary clinic offers emergency services in case your pet is choking or eats something poisonous. I’ll pass this article on to my sister.

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