Why does is it Seem Like the Vet Costs So Much?


Carol Bryant from Fidose of Reality and myself, have decided to bring together our experiences in order to give you two sides to the same story. If you missed our inaugural post of Medicine versus Mom, you can check it out here.

 If you aren’t familiar with Carol Bryant, she is a good friend and fellow pet blogger. She is the founder and CEO of Fidose of Reality. If you haven’t checked out her blog, you really should! As a seasoned blogger and writer she brings her dedicated pet parent perspective to share will all “Dog Lovers of the Highest Order”. Her posts are always a must read for me, and for any other pet parent out there. As we progress through our Medicine versus Mom series, I hope to share with you even more reasons why Carol is awesome! 


While working in veterinary medicine, it was often my job to go over estimates with clients when their pets needed to have diagnostic work done.

I was always sure to take the time to thoroughly explain the tests, why they were recommended, and what they would be able to tell us about their pet’s health. I never made the assumption that someone could afford the diagnostics, nor did I assume that they wanted to.

More often than not, clients were floored by the prices of our diagnostics, and on a few occasions they took it out on me, or other members of our staff. Here are a few of the colorful phrases that I have heard client’s use toward veterinary staff while discussing the cost of diagnostics:

“You deserve to die” (Yes, this was actually said to us because we wouldn’t help her dog for free).

“You are taking food right out of my children’s mouth!”

“You all are just in this for the money!”

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect people to just fork over money like it was no big deal. As a veterinary assistant, I made $15 and hour and our rent was $1450 a month, so I was in no place to drop money on a $500 veterinary bill either. However, I signed Rooney up for Trupanion pet insurance for just this reason.

What I expected:

1. For people to let me explain the benefits of the diagnostics.

2. For people to consider what they were paying for, and how it compares to the costs of human medicine.

I always checked with the doctor to see if there was something, or a few things, they felt comfortable delaying. Basically, we always had a low-end of an estimate and a high-end. Not to mention, there are services that you can get approved for, that will let you pay over the course of 6 months with no interest. Occasionally, veterinarians will offer payment plans as well.

I think much of the issues is perception. People don’t typically know what they pay for in regards to their own medical services (due to insurance coverage) and therefore think that veterinarians have very high margins and make very high salaries.

Both of these assumptions are false.

Being a veterinarian means you have the highest debt-to-salary ratio of any profession! (According to Veterinary Team Brief, in 2012 this was reported to be 2.3:1). I once spoke to a girl who had just graduated from veterinary school, and she had $250,000 in debt and was making a salary of $60,000. Her loan payback schedule had her paying $1500 a month until she was 50 years old.

Based on the current information available in regards to veterinary salary, I think its fair to say that veterinarians DON’T make a lot of money. Certainly not relative to the standard of living in their working area.

In regards to margins…

 According to Veterinary Business Advisors, the average profit margin for small animal practices was 9.9%.

This is compared to private practice doctors offices at 12.4%, outpatient care centers at 14.1% and dentist offices at 13.1% (Cardiovascular Business). Now of course these numbers vary year-to-year, and also vary with respect to private versus commercial practice, but what I am trying to illustrate is that most veterinarians are not rolling in excess cash.

So the question still remains, why does it seems like veterinary costs are so high?

I think the best way to answer this question is to examine the prices of medical costs that we don’t often see.

The average cost for an Xray for the El Camino Hospital, The Hospital of Silicon Valley is $291, but can cost as much as $971, according to their website. At this same hospital, an ultrasound on average costs $277, but can cost as much as $570, and laboratory diagnostics cost an average of $205, but up to $1,571. Those costs are actually the out-of-pocket costs for uninsured patients.

For insured patients, their out of pocket costs average $289 (up to $2171) for an x-ray, $314 (up to $2731) for an ultrasound, and $155 for laboratory testing (up to $1884).


Veterinary costs for the same diagnostics are not only significantly lower (although performing the same task), they also don’t vary based on whether or not you have insurance coverage, and certainly don’t vary $700 from one patient to the other. (These costs were taken from veterinary clinics in the same general area as the hospital mentioned above).

For Carol’s Mom perspective on veterinary costs, please click here.

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