Vets Might Be Expensive, But Do You Think They’re in It Only for the Money?


Do you complain about how much it costs to go to the vet? Do you refuse to go to the vet at all because you think they’re going to charge you lots of money for things your cat doesn’t need? Do you rail about veterinarians who won’t accept payment plans to treat your cat? Do you gasp when you see an estimate for a veterinary procedure, and then resent the fact that your vet wants to charge you "more than your doctor charges" for the same procedure?

Well, I say you need to get a grip.

There are plenty of articles about the expense of running a practice, veterinarians’ crushing student loan debt (students who go to medical school often wind up with less debt and a higher income) and the fact that offering payment plans is a huge risk for vets, so I’m not going to go into any of that.

And if you think vet care costs more than human medical care, you either have very good health insurance and thus never see the full bill, or you haven’t been to a doctor lately.

What I want to talk about is where the veterinarian’s heart is.

Sure, I’ve heard a few horror stories, typically involving emergency veterinary clinics — which most often demand some kind of deposit or payment before they even begin treatment, and with good reason for the most part.

Emergency clinics are equipped with advanced equipment and highly trained staff. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And unlike your regular vet, the odds are good that they will never see you or your pet again after the crisis is over. Do they have a right to be suspicious that a client might "forget" to pay their bill if they’re allowed to walk out with a payment plan? Hell, yeah. And would they be able to keep providing that skilled treatment and advanced care if they couldn’t make ends meet? Hell, no.

Let me tell you a secret: I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of veterinarians over the course of my life and working with a number of clinics in my current job at a pet insurance company. Without exception, these people and clinics want above all to help pets and do anything possible to save the life of a gravely injured or ill pet.

Sure, I’ve met a couple of vets who were really crappy communicators and whose table-side manner I didn’t like at all, but even they seemed to be in it for the love of pets, not the love of money.

I think the real issue here is trust. If a vet starts talking about money, or if your clinic wants payment up front, it can sound like they care about money more than they care about your pet’s well-being.

I’ve talked to people who, when they see I’m considering expensive treatment for my cat, have said, "I’m surprised you trust your vet so much. They’re doctors and into ‘heroics’ — and money-making, of course," like somehow I’m a sucker for believing my vet cares about my cat and not just her bank account, or that maybe I’m so gullible that I’ll buy anything they’re selling. First of all, if you don’t know me well enough to know that I’m a well-informed advocate for my cat, you don’t have any right to say that. And furthermore, if I didn’t trust my vet, she wouldn’t be my vet!

Yes, veterinarians do talk about the cost of care. That’s an important part of their job — trying to help their human clients balance their finances with the care their cat needs. I appreciate that honesty: The money talk is important, and introducing the cost factor is not a sign of greed.

Yes, vets do recommend procedures that can be expensive and seem unnecessary, such as dental cleanings. But those "expensive and unnecessary" dental cleanings can prevent even more expensive and dire health emergencies. If that sounds like money-grubbing to you, I think you’re misunderstanding your vet’s motives.

What about you? Have you had good or bad experiences with clinics when it comes to the cost of treatment? Has your vet been willing to work with you to get your cat the best possible treatment and stay within your financial limitations? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter 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.

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