Why Are Vet Bills So High?


First, how many people are aware that veterinarians right out of school make far less than a human doctor right out of school? A newly licensed vet in California can expect to make $25,000 – $35,000 per year. A zoo veterinarian with a year’s experience in the Central US averages about $32,000. This is only $10,000 more than an average vet tech at a zoo in the Central US will make. Even with years of experience, salaries still remain far less than those of a human doctor. The average salary of a human medical doctor is approximately $115, 000. To add insult to injury, veterinarians often carry as much debt with school loans as a human doctor will. It is not uncommon for a full-time veterinarian to work well over a 40 – 50 hours a week. And just like human doctors, there is medical school, internships, more schooling for specialties and vets have to learn many species – not just one.

Out of that veterinary bill you are asked to pay has to come: salaries for the veterinarians, veterinary technicians, office manager, office staff, kennel crew; building mortgage/rent and maintenance (including utility bills); equipment purchases from cotton swabs and syringes to the newest ultrasounds, respirators, autoclaves, etc. (and some of the equipment can cost tens of thousands of dollars); initial purchase of any supplies sold to clients; cleaning materials, insurance, etc. Even if equipment is fully paid for, there can be service contracts to make sure the machines can be repaired when needed. Not only this but there are service checks of equipment, certifications, etc. Running a practice is far from cheap! The cost of keeping the practice going has to come from somewhere.

When a veterinarian sees your pet for an annual physical (which may or may not include shots depending on species), people often complain about the bills. Let’s look at a recent exam for one of my cats: annual physical, distemper and 3 year rabies. It was a $74.00 bill. Then add on two boxes of heartworm preventative for two of my dogs. The total came to $127.00. Yes, this sounds expensive. Could I have saved money? Maybe I could have bought the heartworm preventative on-line. No, checks of online stores showed no real substantial savings there after factoring in shipping, having to get a prescription from the vet, etc. I could buy and give my own vaccines. I know how to vaccinate. But a popular supplier only sells in 25 dose batches.

Plus, if stored wrong or if I cannot use all the vaccines before the expiration date, I could render the vaccine ineffective and waste a lot of money. Then I have to get syringes (and many states do not allow shipping of them without a prescription). Plus, I would still have to get the annual physical done. A state licensed vet must give rabies vaccines by law. I could save quite a bit of money on rabies vaccines by going to a rabies clinic. But rabies clinics are poorly advertised and never around the time one of my crew will need the vaccine. Over all, it is more convenient and even safer to go to the vet. I can get everything done at the vet and it is more convenient.

Now what about vets requiring payment up front before treating? Humans have health insurance companies to deal with this stuff. (Those without insurance are often denied treatment at private hospitals. It is not uncommon to see public hospitals go under because people do not pay their bills.) Veterinary pet insurance is not all it is cracked up to be after reading the fine print. For every patient that walks out and leaves a bill unpaid, the cost has to be passed on to the other patients. If not, the clinic would not be able to operate.

Let’s look at a human example. My husband works for a human reproduction clinic. All self-pay patients (insurance does not cover the procedure) must pay up front. Why? Think of the financial losses if the self-pays did not pay up front and had to be sometimes forced into paying. It is not uncommon for a single cycle to run $8-$10,000. A clinic could be forced to close due to lack of payment. The clinic could not afford to pay staff or their operating costs. Same thing for veterinary clinics: enough debt from people not paying, the greater the risk of the clinic closing or having to boost fees for other clients.

I have heard horror stories from more than one vet about clients promising to pay a bill after treatment and then not paying at all. Even the small stuff adds up to thousands of dollars over a fiscal year. Most vets I know do not like having to do this – force payment or at least partial up front or sometime having to refuse treatment. But remember, it costs to run a clinic. People do not work for free. Equipment and maintenance is not free. Clinics have buy all the supplies used to treat your pet.

So, when you complain about a vet bill, please stop and think. It is very expensive to run a clinic. It is very expensive to bring in the newest technology to better treat pets. Even once a piece of equipment is paid for, there can still be thousands of dollars a year in maintenance agreements to keep the machine running. Every time a person does not pay a bill, your bills may go up. So, now you know why your vet charges what he/she does!

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