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Cost of Veterinary Care

Cost of Veterinary Care


When you adopt or purchase an animal, you must take responsibility for providing proper veterinary care so it can live a healthy and happy life. If you are considering adding a pet to your household, you should understand the costs involved so that you can make an informed decision about your commitment to your new companion. Below, we explain the cost of veterinary care, including the factors that influence the overall cost of treatment, your payment options, and pet insurance.


Each animal has distinctive veterinary needs based on its species, breed, preexisting conditions, personality, age, and medical history. In general, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) estimates that animal caretakers typically spend the following on medical treatments and services for their pets:

  • Dogs: $227 per animal and $378 per household (since many owners have more than one pet)
  • Cats: $90 per animal and $191 per household
  • Birds: $14 per animal and $33 per household
  • Horses: $133 per animal and $373 per household

Smaller pets like hamsters and rabbits may cost between $30 and $90 per animal each year, while fish, frogs, and reptiles typically require between $20 and $80 per year in veterinary assistance, although some may need none. Your vet costs will typically increase as your pet ages, especially if your animal is prone to congenital conditions (for example, some types of purebred dogs tend to develop certain orthopedic issues as they get older).

You can reduce your animal's risk for illness and lower your long-term veterinary care expenditures by bringing your pet in to your veterinarian for regular preventive care appointments. Detecting signs of disease or disorder early can allow your doctor to remedy them before they become more complex and expensive. Spending a small amount on prophylactic treatments such as vaccines or anthelmintic (anti-parasite medications for fleas and ticks) can help you keep your veterinary costs affordable for the future.

Even pets that are given excellent care at home may sometimes develop severe or emergency medical conditions, so you should be prepared for this possibility.

You can also help lower your veterinary costs by keeping your animal as healthy as possible. This involves providing proper food, exercise, and attention. However, even pets that are given excellent care at home may sometimes develop severe or emergency medical conditions, so you should be prepared for this possibility. Talk to your veterinarian to learn more about what to expect for your animal's medical costs and how you can limit your expenses while attending to your pet's needs.

Of course, veterinary costs are not the only expenses associated with animal ownership and caretaking. You will also need to budget for your animal's food, water, bedding, toys, leash, litter box, and any other items. While not technically medical costs, many of these products can help ensure your animal's wellbeing and comfort.

The Veterinarian's Experience

One of the most important cost factors in your veterinary care is your doctor's expertise and experience. Your veterinarian may be charge more for his or her services if he or she:

  • Has been practicing for many years and established him or herself in your local community
  • Is accredited by an organization like the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (or APHIS)
  • Has earned membership in professional organizations like the AVMA
  • Completed additional post-doctoral or continuing educational training to refine his or her skills or become a veterinary specialist

You might be tempted simply to choose the least expensive veterinarian in your area, but you should be careful, because a practitioner's low cost could be an indicator of quality. In many instances, you can actually save time, hassle, stress, discomfort, and expense by choosing a more experienced veterinarian, since this doctor will probably be able to diagnose and treat your animal more efficiently and effectively, reducing the need for multiple appointments and lowering your pet's risk for complications. However, working with a less experienced but still qualified veterinarian as he or she builds his or her practice could also help you save money while building a long-term relationship with your doctor.

To find an experienced and skilled yet affordable veterinarian, you can:

  • Research local veterinary practices' online reviews from other pet owners
  • Check databases of accredited professionals, like the one provided by the AVMA
  • Ask friends, family, neighbors, or acquaintances with pets which veterinary practice they use for their animals
  • Read veterinarians' websites to get a better idea of doctors' credentials and services

Using these methods to research doctors and understanding how experience factors into cost can help you balance expense with expertise to find the right veterinarian for your budget and your animal's needs.

RELATED: Find a qualified veterinarian in your area

The Location of the Clinic

You may choose to bring your animal to a different city or region in order to save veterinary costs.

The cost of veterinary care also varies by region, based on differences in rent, average income, and general cost of living. For example, a veterinary practice in Beverly Hills will probably charge more for the same services than a clinic in a small town in Indiana. You may choose to bring your animal to a different city or region in order to save veterinary costs, but this may be difficult for pets that have trouble riding in the car, and you will have to account for travel costs.

In addition, the amenities the clinic offers will also affect the price. For example, some basic veterinary practices may use an external lab and radiography services, while others will provide these in-house. A clinic may also be more expensive if it has earned accreditation from the AAHA, or American Animal Hospital Association. AAHA-approved hospitals, practices, and clinics must meet strict standards for cleanliness, anesthesia administration, surgical care, emergency treatment, veterinary technology, dental treatment, and continuing education for veterinary staff members.

Cost of Technology

A pet X-ray

Advances in veterinary techniques and devices can make your animal's treatment smoother and more successful. Using more sophisticated tools and methods typically requires additional training for your veterinarian and his or her staff, so clinics that offer the latest technologies tend to be more expensive. However, in some cases, veterinary technology is so efficient and powerful that it actually reduces your overall treatment costs.

Below, find a list of the most common veterinary technologies and their typical costs:

  • Laboratory technology: This includes the techniques and equipment required to test blood, urine, feces, saliva, and tissue for disease, as well as harvest stem cells and perform blood transfusions. Laboratory services can cost as little as $5 for basic testing or up to several hundred dollars for more intensive lab treatments.
  • Radiography: X-rays can be used to assess the health of fetal animals, diagnose orthopedic conditions, detect cancer, or learn more about an animal's internal condition. Veterinary radiography typically costs between $100 and $500, although it may be more if your doctor uses digital x-ray technology (which provides clearer images and emits less radiation). Most animals do not require sedation and anesthesia to have x-rays, but these would also add to the expense of this treatment.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Veterinarians use this advanced imaging technology to diagnose conditions like brain tumors, bone fractures, neurological disease, soft tissue conditions, and spinal disorders, among other issues. MRIs are one of the most expensive diagnostic treatments, often costing upwards of $2,500 per scan. For this reason, veterinarians usually reserve them for intensive or complex cases.
  • Ultrasounds: This is a minimally invasive diagnostic technology that allows your veterinarian to assess your animal's internal structures, including its liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs. Veterinary ultrasounds typically cost between $50 and $500.
  • Endoscopy: If your pet is showing symptoms of a more serious internal illness or disorder, your veterinarian may perform an endoscopy. During this procedure, he or she will create a small incision and insert a small instrument, typically connected to a camera, to look within your animal's body and diagnose your condition. Veterinary endoscopies cost between $800 and $2,000 depending on the site of the treatment, your animal's condition, the anesthesia used, and your clinic.
  • ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology): Veterinarians use techniques like artificial insemination and even IVF (in vitro fertilization) to help animals breed more successfully. ART treatments often cost thousands of dollars.
  • Microchipping: This identification technology involves inserting a small chip about 12 millimeters long between your animal's shoulder blades. If your pet becomes lost, the shelter or veterinarian's office that finds your animal can simply scan it with a special device to find your contact information and return your companion. Microchips usually cost between $30 and $50. Most veterinarians recommend placing them as an affordable safety measure.
  • Laparoscopy: This surgical technique is similar to endoscopy. During a laparoscopic procedure, your veterinarian will insert small computer-controlled instruments and cameras to modify the animal's tissue. This technology allows for minimally invasive surgery and veterinarians often use it to neuter and spay animals. Laparoscopic instruments are quite expensive for a veterinary clinic to purchase, so these types of procedures typically cost several hundred to several thousand dollars. Anesthesia and sedation may add to the price of this treatment.
  • Electronic Medical Records: Many veterinary clinics use digital filing to save animal's information, diagnoses, and test results. Electronic Medical Record systems can also be used for billing and communicating with veterinary specialists. This technology does not add any direct expense to your veterinary bills, but it may slightly raise the overall cost of the clinic.
  • Laser Treatment: Veterinarians can use powerful beams of light to make treatments more accurate, efficient, and successful. They can use lasers to treat arthritis, geriatric conditions, dermatological issues, orthopedic problems, allergies, infections, and wounds. These sophisticated treatments typically cost one thousand dollars or more.
  • ECG (Electrocardiogram): This technique involves passing ultrasonic waves through an animal's body to create an image and numerical measurements of the pet's cardiovascular function. This procedure can provide important diagnostic information while being minimally invasive. A veterinary ECG usually costs between $25 and $100, making it an affordable test.

Speak with your veterinarian to learn more about the kinds of veterinary technology his or her clinic offers and the cost of these services.

Cost of Medication

Your veterinarian may prescribe oral, inhaled, topical, or injected medications for your pet, on either a preventive basis or as a treatment for an acute or chronic condition. Veterinary medication costs vary based on the type, dosage, and length of time it should be taken. Generally, veterinary medications cost between $30 and $200 per month.

Most veterinary clinics sell their prescriptions directly, but you may be able to reduce your expenses by purchasing them from a grocery store, outside pharmacy, or online retailer. These are valid strategies to reduce your expenses, but you should verify with your doctor that your animal's medications are accurate and only buy them from an accredited pharmaceutical retailer. Your state pharmacy association should be able to explain whether or not a given pharmacy is qualified to sell veterinary medications.

Most veterinary clinics sell their prescriptions directly, but you may be able to reduce your expenses by purchasing them from a grocery store, outside pharmacy, or online retailer.

You shouldn't ever purchase your animal's medications from outside the United States, since they may not meet FDA (Food and Drug Administration) standards and could include unsafe materials. You should also avoid giving your animal medications designed for human use. Although they often contain the same basic ingredients, human drugs may be an unsafe dosage or contain other ingredients that could be harmful to your pet. Your veterinarian can tell you which human drugs may be safe for your animal so that you can provide medication while saving money.

Paying for Veterinary Care

In most cases, payment will be due before or on the day of your animal's veterinary appointment. Most clinics accept cash, checks, and credit cards. Many practices offer financing and payment plans, but they may also offer incentives such as discounts or additional services for pet owners who are able to pay in full.

Some communities may provide lower-cost veterinary clinics for animals and pet owners in need.

If you are unable to afford necessary veterinary care and do not qualify for financing, you may also be able to pay for your animal's treatment by exchanging your services. For example, if you are an accountant, you might offer to do the clinic's taxes as a trade for a procedure. In addition, some non-profit organizations, such as RedRover and In Memory of Magic, offer financial aid options to animal caretakers struggling to pay for veterinary fees. Some communities may also provide lower-cost veterinary clinics for animals and pet owners in need. Investing in pet insurance may also help you handle routine and unexpected medical expenses for your animal.

Financing Veterinary Care

Expensive veterinary treatments can put animal caretakers in a bind. If your pet needs an emergency treatment, complex procedure, or costly medications, veterinary financing can help you maintain your pet's wellbeing without breaking the bank. Your clinic may offer financing completely in-house, in which case you would arrange the terms of the loan directly with administrators there, or you may finance your veterinary care through an outside lender such as Compassionate Finance. Financing allows pet owners to break the cost of veterinary treatments into manageable monthly chunks over a longer period of time, typically from six months to five years. If you decide to finance your animal's veterinary care, you will need to qualify for a loan and be prepared to pay back the cost of treatment as well as any accumulated interest.

Get financed for veterinary care today with Compassionate Finance

Veterinary Pet Insurance

Just like human health insurance, purchasing veterinary pet insurance can help you budget for and afford your animal's medical bills. Many companies offer veterinary pet insurance, so you should do research to determine which provider and program may suit your needs. When looking for veterinary pet insurance, you should:

  • Make sure your preferred veterinary clinic accepts your plan so you can apply your coverage there.
  • Clearly understand the financial aspects of the plan, including your deductible, monthly payment, copayment dynamics, and how coverage is applied. For example, some insurance companies may pay the veterinary clinic directly, while others might require receipts for reimbursement.
  • Learn what types of veterinary care your insurance covers. Some providers only cover routine care, while others assist pet owners with emergency procedures. Most pet owners prefer to have insurance that covers critical care, since these situations tend to be the most financially difficult and unexpected.
  • Verify that your chosen insurance plan is accredited and approved by your state regulatory organization.
  • Confirm that your insurance company utilizes licensed veterinarians with adequate medical knowledge to accurately process your claims.
  • Look up reviews and user testimonials about your potential insurance provider to learn more about the company's customer service and find out if any other pet owners have been treated unfairly.
  • Ask your veterinarian which pet insurance options his or her clients most often use.

As with human medical insurance, you should purchase pet insurance as a preventive measure before your animal becomes sick. If you attempt to get pet insurance after your animal has been diagnosed with a severe illness or chronic condition, your rates will be much higher and your pet may not even qualify for a plan.

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