“It’s All About the Money!” Behind the Cost of Pet Health Care

A common concern or complaint we hear from pet owners and caretakers is the cost of pet health care. People often complain about the costs involved in everything from wellness care to sick and emergency care. I own a low-cost veterinary facility, so we often work with people with limited finances. Even with our lower costs, there are folks who cannot afford to provide adequate care. When faced with the inability to afford their pet’s health care, some people tell us “You just don’t care” or “You just care about the money, not my dog”. While this is not true and we want to help every patient that walks in through our door, the reality is that we cannot afford to do this for free.

The cost of veterinary care is not just dictated by the veterinarian.  There are many factors that affect cost, same as in any other business. This is a list of what I have to consider as a veterinary clinic owner:

1. Overhead: This is the part that most people do not think about. Overhead includes rent and utilities. It also includes supplies needed. When people say “that pill only costs $0.10 to make”, they don’t realize all the other costs. Yes, the pill ingredients may only cost $0.10, but there is the cost of the pill vial, the label, the employees putting the medication together, the computer system that is used to create the invoice/label/record, the employee handling the prescription request, the doctor reviewing the order and creating the prescription. The list goes on and on. Some people say “it is only time”. Well, employees are paid for their time, thus time is money.

2. Pharmaceuticals and equipment: Veterinary medications and equipment are as costly as human health supplies. There isn’t a ‘this is for a dog, not a human’ discount. There is also not a ‘my client can’t really afford this, so can I have it for free’ discount available from distributors. We have similar costs to what those in the human field have, and we cannot afford to give products or procedures for free or for less than its cost plus overhead expenses. If a veterinarian does not charge enough to cover all their expenses (and yes their cost of living expenses / salary is part of it), then they cannot remain in business.

3. Employees/payroll: Having staff is expensive. Let’s start by saying that veterinary staff members are amongst the most underpaid employees out there. Veterinary technicians go to school and undergo significant debt to make what some people make without an education or specialized skills. Veterinarians graduate with hundreds of thousands in debt and the monthly repayment sometimes equals a mortgage payment on a nice house, yet they make way less than a human health professional. Why do they make so little? Because veterinary medicine is costly yet does not pull in as high a profit. As an employer, it is not just their hourly or salary that I have to cover. I have to pay employee taxes, health care, worker’s comp, vacation / paid time off, and overtime (I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but you get the idea). A $13/hour employee costs us over $20/hour, sometimes more. So the ‘it’s just time’ argument is invalid. Time is money.

4. Business taxes: Taxes, taxes, and more taxes. It is very expensive to own a business, especially a small business. From employee taxes to income tax, everything we do that generates money is taxed, so the ‘profit’ is never what actually goes into our ‘pockets’. And business accounting is not as easy as putting things in Quickbooks® (this I say from experience). You need a good accountant to manage, or at least oversee, all of the financials in your business.

Most veterinarians and staff go into this line of work for one reason: because they want to help animals. Not being able to do things for free or for credit doesn’t mean that we don’t care, it means that we can’t afford to take financial responsibility for someone else’s animal. If we did, we would be out of business soon. While we would love to make payment plans for everyone in need, the sad reality is the majority of individuals do not repay on these payment plans. I know it is unfair for those who would, but unfortunately it is a risk that most clinics cannot take.

Also, for those who say that we have lower prices because we care and other vets don’t, please realize that other veterinarians have higher prices because they have higher overheads, not because they care any less for their patients. We have made a decision to do high volume veterinary care, which is why we can offer reduced pricing. This is not an easy thing to do – we are often overwhelmed physically, emotionally, and financially but this is a decision I made. This business model is not for everyone, and not being able to do this does not mean someone doesn’t care. When your veterinarian charges more than we do, think about their overhead expenses and the care your pet receives prior to making a judgment on their love for animals.

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