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Can We Please Stop Hating on Emergency Pet Clinics Now?

They charge more than a regular vet and need the money up front, but that doesn't make them thieves who care nothing for your cat.

JaneA Kelley  |  Jan 19th 2016


Recently I saw a thread on a Facebook group I follow where a person was freaking out because an emergency clinic is charging $1,300 to $1,500 to unblock a urinary obstruction in her cat for a two- to three-day stay at the clinic.

I understand freaking out about the cost, because that’s not exactly chump change. It’s not like I could just pull $1,500 out of my butt if one of my cats needed emergency care, either, so I get it. But the thing that aggravated me was that instead of offering solutions to the original poster, most of the people used the post as an opportunity to gripe about emergency vets. They essentially accused emergency vets of being greedy bastards who only care about money.

Greedy vet by Shutterstock

Greedy vet by Shutterstock

This is far from the first time I’ve heard this complaint. Even though I’ve explained the reality of emergency vet care a million times (and could probably explain it a million more and I’d still hear people whining about the cost), I decided to try one more time.

I commented that it’s quite normal for emergency vets to charge higher fees, and that when I took my beloved Dahlia to the emergency clinic in Maine four years ago, they wanted $1,500 for one night in an oxygen cage and critical care. I also said that having worked for a pet insurance company, I’ve seen emergency clinic invoices that were considerably higher than that.

When Dahlia was sick, I paid the emergency clinic without complaint, and it wasn’t because they were “holding my cat hostage.” They were saving her life, for God’s sake! That was worth a lot more than $1,500 to me. I didn’t waste time fuming about how the emergency vets were robbers because I have a grasp on reality: It does cost an emergency clinic quite a bit more money to stay open 24 hours a day and to buy or lease the high-end diagnostic equipment like CT scanners that they need in order to be able to figure out what’s wrong with a critically ill pet. Not only that, but they still have to keep the lights on and the staff paid.

Naturally, between the whining about how awful emergency vets are to charge so much money, there was the “and they don’t offer payment plans because they’d rather see your cat die than not get their money up front!”

Oh, please. Somebody call a WAAAAmbulance.

The reason emergency clinics don’t offer payment plans because there are lots of “good people” who have burned them in the past. Even if an emergency clinic could in some rare circumstances offer payment plans, the odds that anyone who would be able to authorize such a thing wouldn’t be there after regular business hours.

Scared cat at the vet

Scared cat at the vet by Shutterstock

Do you know what happens when these otherwise good people “forget” to make those payments? The clinic either goes out of business or the vet who treated the cat without taking full payment gets that cost taken out of her paycheck.

Oh, wait, I know what’s next: Vets are totally so rich that they can afford it! Um, how about no. Did you know that vets these days graduate with about a quarter million dollars in student loan debt — about the same as medical doctors — but earn a small fraction of an MD’s salary?

Look, I have a lot of compassion for people who are up against it with a critically sick cat. Like I said, I’ve been there. I was fortunate that I was able to qualify for CareCredit to treat Dahlia’s illness back then, but now I have no credit cards at all and if I were in that situation I’d have to ask friends for help. I do, however, have health insurance for my cats, which is an important safety net.

Speaking of pet health insurance, during my two years working at a pet health insurance company, I got to see just how far clinic staff go behind the scenes to make sure pet parents actually can get their furry friends the care they need. So you may think they don’t care, but they do. They want to help, but there’s only so much they can do.

The point I’m trying to make here is that emergency clinics are not staffed by greedy, money-grubbing bastards who want your pets to die because you can’t afford the care. The reality is that you’ve got to be prepared for emergencies — it’s part of being a responsible pet caretaker. So quit hating on emergency clinic vets and staff. They don’t deserve your wrath — they really are doing everything they can to help your cat within your budget.

Read more by JaneA Kelley:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.