By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
On the surface it was a good year if you were in the vet business. Year-over-year sales increased 9.1 percent, while patient visits increased 3 percent. For pet owners, however, not so much.
Owners have found that the cost of keeping their pets healthy has jumped about 10 percent. Part of this price increase was due to higher fees, but consumers were also buying more products and services.
My chocolate Labrador Retriever, Titus, is now 13 years old. The golden rule: each year of a dog’s life equals seven years of my life. That would put Titus’ age at 91, compared to my age of 73. I won’t go into all of his health concerns, suffice to say that he is at the vet about every two weeks. These visits last 30 to 60 minutes and we usually leave with medication. The cost varies between $ 175 and $ 375 per visit (not including medication). On the other hand, I saw my doctor twice last year and the only medicine I take is free.
Like human medicine, veterinary medicine is experiencing new advances and frequent discoveries. Universities and pharmaceutical companies around the world are stepping up research, conducting quality trials, and making breakthroughs that provide a full range of modern drugs. Thus, surgeries are now commonplace. Conditions that in the past were synonymous with owner end-of-life decisions are now treatable.
Treatments for pet cancer, for example, were virtually unheard of twenty years ago. Today, the Veterinary Cancer Society estimates that one in four dogs will develop cancer (and almost 50 percent of dogs over the age of 10). As a result, more and more veterinarians are treating cancer, but at a cost.
Visits to a specialist to confirm cancer can cost up to $ 1,500. Treatments are expensive – chemotherapy ($ 200 to $ 5,000), radiation therapy ($ 2,000 to $ 6,000), drugs ($ 50 and more per month). A cancerous animal can cost you $ 10,000 or more. And unfortunately, more and more pets are developing cancer.
To make matters worse, there is no health insurance for your dog. This means that there is no government program to reimburse veterinary cancer hospitals, so they pass the entire cost on to the animal owner.
What about pet insurance, you will ask? Unfortunately, many new pet owners don’t feel the need to purchase insurance for their pet until after it’s too late. But even if you have pet insurance, most policies only cover half the cost, and generally pet insurance requires you to pay up front.
Thank goodness Titus doesn’t have cancer, but he had a herniated disc where his tail meets his spine a few years ago.
This small operation cost $ 15,000 – roughly the price of a trip to Europe (which we decided to forgo in favor of the operation). But as Titus got older, his hindquarters sag, while the arthritis in his shoulders continues to worsen. As a result, his prescription drugs crowd mine out of the medicine cabinet and there is no Prescription D plan to cover the costs. All we can look forward to is more of the same. Bottom line – we love it – so it’s worth it for us.
But don’t think your local vet is pulling millions out of your pet’s woes. If all they cared about was money, they would have moved into another field like dentistry or human medicine. There aren’t many veterinary schools in the United States and all of them are very competitive. The cost and duration of education is similar to the cost of a human medical school. But the average salary of veterinarians is less than half that of doctors. New vets have low starting salaries and high student debt payments.
The costs of supplies, equipment and facilities are equivalent to the costs of human medicine. Staff costs are lower, but highly skilled and well-trained staff always costs money, especially in an environment of labor shortages and high turnover. In addition, the stress and pressure caused by the pandemic has taken its toll on veterinarians. Omicron only increases these challenges. In the meantime, the increase in demand for veterinary care has exploded.
Overall, be thankful that you have a vet to go to when needed. Expect your vet bills to continue to increase. The best thing you can do is start practicing preventative care. Regular veterinary care is important, even when nothing is happening. Vaccines, sterilization, dental cleanings, flea and heartworm prevention, blood tests, and annual checkups are essential to keeping the big bills under control.