FAQs: Veterinary Health Care

Why does it cost so much to provide veterinary care for my pet?

The fees you pay for veterinary services take into consideration a number of factors, including the costs to compensate your veterinarian and veterinary team for their professional services and the expenses involved in maintaining the hospital and equipment. When someone decides to adopt a pet, he or she needs to be prepared to include annual veterinary care in the overall cost of owning the pet.

Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer, which means you may be spending more over the lifetime of your pet. However, in general, the annual cost of caring for a pet hasn’t increased much over the past several decades. (Consider how much the costs of many professional services, such as human healthcare, have risen over that same period!) Certain advanced procedures may come at a higher cost, but as the owner, you decide what care you want to provide your pet. Overall, veterinary care is a terrific value for pet owners.

It may seem like you’re paying more for your pet’s care than for your own, but that perception may stem from the fact that you’re paying the entire cost of a service or procedure, rather than a percentage or set fee determined by an insurance company. If you want to save money on your pet’s care, there are several pet insurance plans available. These plans may cover or help keep costs down for many routine veterinary services, prescriptions, medical conditions, and diseases. Your veterinary hospital may also offer a third-party healthcare line of credit as an option. Be sure to ask at your hospital if they accept any of these plans.

What is a veterinary technician?

A veterinary technician is trained to assist veterinarians in caring for pets. These professionals perform many of the same tasks that a nurse would for a doctor. Veterinary technicians have received extensive training, either in accredited programs or on the job. Responsibilities vary among clinics, but the basic duties remain the same. For instance, technicians collect patient samples, perform lab tests, assist during patient exams and dental cleanings, and take x-rays. Senior techs also train and mentor other staff members. Some technicians work in research facilities or for manufacturers.

I’ve seen a lot of information about supplements and nutraceuticals. How do I know what my pet needs?

Supplements, and nutraceuticals in particular, are becoming very popular with pet owners. Your veterinarian can help you weed out confusing and conflicting information and advise you on any supplements your pet might benefit from.

Which pet food should I feed my dog/cat?

The answer is different for each pet, although many commercially available foods are fine to feed healthy dogs and cats. You can look for a nutritional adequacy statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), as well as the words “complete and balanced.” Pets’ nutritional needs do change, depending on their life stage and health. Your veterinarian can recommend a pet food, as well as give you advice on deciphering ingredient lists and determining how much to feed your pet.

I recently lost my pet, and I’m having trouble dealing with the loss. Where can I find help?

Losing a pet can be extremely upsetting and hard to move beyond. We have such a close bond with our pets, so letting go is never easy. Many veterinary hospitals offer grief counseling, as do some veterinary colleges and professional organizations. You can contact your veterinary hospital to find out who they recommend to help you through this sad transition.

My pet has the same thing wrong that he/she was just treated for. Can the veterinarian just prescribe the same medication that he/she did the last time?

Even though your pet may be showing the same symptoms as he or she did the last time, the problem may be different. Many diseases have similar symptoms, and your veterinarian needs to examine your pet to ensure that he or she correctly diagnoses the cause.

What toys/accessories are appropriate for my pet?

Many clinics offer veterinary-approved toys and accessories for pets. With all the options out there, sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s safe. Your veterinary hospital can also recommend toys based on your pet’s age, breed, needs, and interests.

My pet won’t stop chewing/digging/barking/scratching/spraying. Where can I find help?

Certain behaviors can be extremely frustrating and difficult to overcome. Many veterinary hospitals offer behavior counseling and obedience training. Call your clinic to set up a behavior assessment.

My pet needs to have surgery. Should I be worried about the anesthesia?

Modern anesthesia is generally quite safe. Most veterinary hospitals perform a physical examination and run blood tests before all procedures requiring general anesthesia to make sure your pet doesn’t have any hidden health issues. In addition, a skilled veterinary technician should be monitoring your pet’s vital signs during the procedure, to ensure your pet’s safety or to catch and treat any potential concerns as quickly as possible. Anesthesia and patient monitoring vary greatly from clinic to clinic. Ask your hospital what they do to protect your pet before, during, and after the use of anesthesia.

Are natural remedies for flea/tick/heartworm prevention safe to use on my pet?

Although natural remedies may offer some protection or repellency against parasites, they are not nearly as effective as prescription products. In addition, natural remedies often need to be applied far more frequently than once a month, making them less convenient as well. Some, such as garlic, may actually be harmful to your pet. Just because a product has “natural” on its label doesn’t mean it’s safe. Consult with your veterinarian before using any over-the-counter preventives on your pet.

Why should I buy flea/tick/heartworm preventives from a veterinary hospital when there are other, cheaper places to get it?

If you purchase preventives from sources other than a veterinary hospital or a website affiliated with a veterinary hospital, you don’t have any guarantee that the product is authentic or that it has been stored and shipped properly. When you order from your veterinarian, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to rely on his or her expertise and knowledge of your pet’s medical history.

How can my puppy/kitten have worms? How was he/she exposed?

Almost all puppies are born with intestinal parasites, which are passed from mother to pup during pregnancy. Although kittens are not infected when they’re born, they can become infected through their mother’s milk. Puppies can also become infected while they’re nursing.

Puppies and kittens should both be dewormed every 2 weeks, starting at about 2 weeks of age for puppies and 3 weeks of age for kittens. After the biweekly series of dewormings is finished, monthly deworming should begin (at about 8 to 9 weeks of age for kittens and 12 weeks of age for puppies).

Why does heartworm treatment cost so much?

Many factors affect the cost associated with treating heartworm infection, including diagnostic testing, hospitalization, medication, and office visits. Preventing heartworm is much less expensive, which is why most veterinarians recommend that you keep your pet on heartworm prevention year-round.

I’ve been late several times when giving my pet a heartworm preventive. Should I be concerned?

Unfortunately, if you were late or missed a dose even once, your pet could have become infected if he or she was exposed during that time. Call your veterinarian, and explain the situation. Depending on how many doses have been late, they may recommend that you have your pet tested for heartworm infection, then put your pet on a regular preventive schedule. You should also have your pet retested in seven months, as recommended by the American Heartworm Society. (For heartworms to be detected, they need to be five to seven months old.)

I’ve found a clinic that’s offering prices well below what other clinics are charging for veterinary care. Is this a good option if I don’t have much money to spend on my pet?

Just like human doctors, veterinarians are expected to meet minimum standards of care (as overseen by veterinary regulatory authorities). Thus, the quality of care your pet receives should not change based on the fees charged for services. However, if prices are considerably lower at one clinic, you should ask for clarification about what the procedure or treatment includes. You may find substantial differences in the level of care provided by that clinic.

Why is veterinary care for my pet(s) so expensive? Sometimes I believe I’m spending more on my pet’s health care than on my own!

Relatively speaking, veterinary care is a great value! The cost of veterinary care has risen very little over the last 20 to 30 years, especially when compared to the cost of human health care or almost any other services.

Veterinary fees are a reflection of the costs of maintaining suitable facilities, equipment and support personnel to provide the level of care that is expected in animal medicine today. Remember, too, the original cost of the animal has no bearing on the cost of services delivered. Annual veterinary care is a cost that should be factored in to the decision to own a pet.

I just got a new puppy/kitten. How much will veterinary care cost during the first year? And how much should I expect to spend annually after that?

Puppies and kittens generally have the same health requirements: an initial veterinary visit that includes a physical exam, vaccinations, and tests for parasites. Follow-up visits include the rest of the puppy/kitten series of vaccinations, as well as treatment and preventives for parasites. Most veterinary hospitals can give you a basic estimate for these services, and most of the fees for these services shouldn’t vary significantly from hospital to hospital.

Why do some veterinary hospitals charge such different prices for the same procedure(s)?

Each veterinary hospital sets its own fees. These fees are largely based on expenses, such as salaries, utilities, and rent, that all vary from one area to another. However, the services that are covered under the same procedure or treatment may also differ from clinic to clinic. Medications, medical techniques and products, anesthetics, and equipment can all affect the cost of services.

I recently found an injured stray dog/cat. I paid for the initial veterinary care, and the animal is living at my house, but I can’t afford any additional treatment or medication. What can I do?

Legally, once you decide to adopt or “take in” an animal, you become the owner. As the owner, you are responsible for the pet’s care. When you take in a stray, he or she may be injured and require veterinary care. Because the amount you pay for his or her care isn’t related to how you’ve acquired the pet, you need to carefully consider whether adopting a stray pet is a financially advisable decision. If you can’t afford the pet’s care, you have the option to relinquish the animal to a local humane society or shelter (although some shelters cannot guarantee that the pet will not be euthanized).

Veterinarians often come across such cases, and many of them will work out an arrangement for people who want to help the animal. However, make sure you tell the veterinarian the situation before he or she examines and treats the pet.

If you find a stray, you should also ask the veterinarian to check for a microchip to determine whether the animal has an owner.