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Pet People

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why veterinary costs add up

Stacey asked me where my column can be found online. I was moved from the Living section to the Commnuity section, but my column online appears under the "Columnists" link on the main Web site page. This is this week's column, which appears every Wednesday, same day as Pets of the Week. By the way,looks like I'll be without Internet at home for A LONG TIME, so bear with me.

My mom pasted the hospital bill for my birth delivery in my baby book. The cost: $90. Today, the cost for a basic baby delivery averages a whopping $3,000, according to a coworker who's expecting.

The cost of veterinary care has risen over the decades as well. But the higher price tag doesn't mean your vet wants to buy a Jaguar or summer home in the Hamptons. If getting rich was their main motive, they'd be giving baby boomers Botox and face lifts. Vets are vets because they truly love animals.

And because I too love animals, I have a lot of them, which means I also have hefty bills. We've paid for such things as anal-gland surgery, a 3-day clinic stay for an intestinal blockage, eye surgery, x-rays and an EKG. I've also had visits for stitches, snakebites and seizures.

Costs rise for sound reasons, reasons that truly improve your pet's life and increase its lifespan.

Of course, I can speak only of my own vets at Southside Veterinary Clinic. Over the years they've gone above and beyond to provide excellent care to our four-legged family members.

I talked to Dr. Steve Hampton of Southside about today's prices. He said the most important thing a pet owner should do is to ask what's included with a quote.

For example, a spay surgery might cost $200 because recommended procedures include pre-op blood work and medication, IV fluids during the operation, use of a laser, a pain medication injection, pain meds for post-op recovery and a follow-up visit. These modern procedures save pet lives, and sometimes in the long run, save you money.

Take pre-op blood work. Just like for human surgery, a blood panel will reveal preexisting problems with cell count, liver or kidney function, or infection.

Kidney health is especially important, because three things occurring with all surgeries — medication, anesthesia and a lower blood pressure as the result of anesthesia — strain even healthy kidneys. If a problem is discovered during surgery instead of prior to, a pet can die or need more advanced — and costly — treatment.

IV fluids are recommended for the same reasons. Fluids help protect the kidneys, help maintain blood pressure, provide better circulation to vital organs and provide quick access to your pet's veins if it needs emergency drugs. Fluids also will help speed your pet's recovery from anesthesia.

Hampton said vets understand some people on a tight budget can't always afford all that's recommended, so they offer a low-cost option for surgeries like spays and neuters. The trade off in saving money is greater risk. Your pet will not get pre-op blood work, IV fluids, or pre- and post-surgery pain medication. Would you give up your morphine pump or pain killers after major surgery to save a few dollars? Pets can't verbalize pain, but they feel it just as keenly. Pain medication also helps reduce infection risk and quickens the return of your pet's appetite, something vital to recovery.

Another tool that hastens recovery is use of a laser. Since lasers are expensive, the surgery will cost more, but they're superior to traditional tools such as scalpels and scissors, because there's less bleeding, swelling and risk of infection. A laser also is more precise, preventing damage to surrounding organs and tissue, allowing pets to recover more quickly.

Modern veterinary medicine also offers other high-tech tools such as ultrasound. During a routine exam on my cat Tarzan, Hampton detected a slight heart murmur. Some cats are born with innocuous murmurs, while others can signal a serious heart condition. Hampton said he could do an EKG and/or ultrasound to further investigate. Tarzan underwent the EKG, which showed the problem wasn't serious, and I declined the ultrasound. But it's something I'll allow if future exams show a change.

So, before you assume your vet cares only about money, take the time to research procedures and today's veterinary standards. You might also want to consider pet insurance, which can save you money and is accepted by most pet doctors. And a good vet will always work with you on options for not only medical treatment, but payment as well. One thing you should never do is get more pets than you can afford, because besides surgeries and emergency care, pets require routine vaccines as well as heartworm, flea and tick preventative. Some owners skip these, thinking they're too expensive or unnecessary, but heartworm is common and treating it is expensive. If the condition is advanced it's untreatable and your pet will die. And if you don't spay and neuter, you're bringing more pets into a world where millions are euthanized because there aren't enough homes.

Of course, like me, you might have to deal with a spouse who gripes about how much the pets cost. Just tell them you can't put a price on love.

posted by Sandy at 1/23/2008 07:59:00 PM


Blogger Ginger said...

Once again, well said, Sandy. I think that pain meds should not be an option for dogs and cats after surgery regardless if it costs more. It goes with humane treatment.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 11:25:00 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Once again, well said, Sandy. I think that pain meds should not be an option for dogs and cats after surgery regardless if it costs more. It goes with humane treatment.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 11:25:00 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Sorry 'bout that. I got a bit heavy handed. Nobody needs to see my comments more than embarassing. If I were a dog I'd be cowering under the sofa.
By the way, I reccommend getting Pet Insurance esp. if you have a free spirited, trouble maker type doggy. It is great for dogs who get injured. If my big couch potatoe dog doesn't fall off the couch "we" should be OK. Right? You got me really thinking over here, Sandy. :0}

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 11:38:00 PM  
Blogger B said...

Don't worry Ginger--we have all stuttered on here at one time or another.
We have always taken our pets to ALL GODS CREATURES and to Dr. Ramey. SHE IS WONDERFUL! She's a common sense person, and she's not afraid to tell me the truth. Her cost have always been reasonable and as far as I can tell, the prices haven't changed much in the four years we have been with her. When we had to do the allergy test and the shot with Lucy, she offered to set up payment plans, etc. for us, as if was a whooping amount. They have to mix the serum special to meet the dogs needs, and it has to be ordered. Thank goodness we had a rainy day fund.
Also, Dr. Ramey has helped me not to be such a worry wart when things happen with the babies. On her advice, I bought a few books and a pet medical book. Her advice and these readings have helped me to realize that not all things are deadly.She's also not afraid to tell me I'm being stupid-LOL. But you all know what it's like to have those babies and something happen to one of them, be it small or huge.
I am very happy with the wonderful care we get for Lucy, Charlie, Hines, and Pearl. Hopefully, vet prices won't sky rocket like human health care has!

Thursday, January 24, 2008 7:46:00 AM  
Blogger Skeeter said...

I have mixed feelings about "Low Cost Spay and Neuter" programs. I know all pets should be spayed and neutered. But on the other hand, I think that if you need assistance with the cost of a medical procedure such as spay or neuter, then you do not have the means to properly take care of a pet! If it comes down to taking Fido to the doctor for regular check-ups or putting food on your table, I bet the person will pick the food! Low cost spays and neuter may keep the population lower but at what cost to the animal? Lack of pain medication with low cost??? I don’t think so!!! All the more reason for me to be mixed up in my head on that topic... Some one help me here…

Thursday, January 24, 2008 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

The cost of vet care or anything for that matter is dictated by the region you live in.

I rarely complained about the cost of vet care when we lived in CO. Since we have been in VA, I do nothing BUT complain about the cost. Our last vet visit was for Oscar's eye and it was $80. That was for the office visit($50) and a small tube of ointment ($30). Over the summer when we had the parasite issue, we spent over $300. That was just for one office visit and 4 bottles of meds. You can't tell me that isn't crazy.

When we were looking for a puppy before we got Hunter, I inquired about all the puppy shots and spay/neuter cost. Our vet said to be prepaired to spend close to $1K. THATS JUST NUTS! They charge a minimum of $550 for a spay or neuter, that's for a breed Mattie's size. I have never paid that much to have any of my dogs altered, not even Stella. Her spay cost me $80.

Now I can travel 20min. to WV where vet cost is cheaper but the vets are very "country" and I do not like how they practice. So in order to get quality vet care I pay the higher price and Bitch the entire time!

So why is it Ok to charge different prices for vet care based on where you live? Same goes for everything else we pay for. It should be a flat standard accross the board.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Sandy said...

Let me clarify on the low cost spay and neuter. They DO give a pain medication shot, it's just that they don't get after medication pills to take home. Now, for a neuter, this might be okay, as that's far simpler than a spay. And with a vet's advice, you can give asprin to a pet, but you have to check with your vet on the dose for the pet's weight.

And if people are truly poor, the Humane Society has a program to pay for the costs, minus a small copay.

What bothers me is people WITH the means who don't do things for their pets because they don't want to "waste" their money. I know people with nice houses, pools and members of the family who will pay for hair, nails and clothes out the wazoo, but won't put up a fence or keep pets outside. It's a sin!

Thursday, January 24, 2008 3:05:00 PM  

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Pet People

Sandy Britt, an animal welfare advocate and volunteer with Clarksville rescue organizations, takes care of three dogs: Zoe, Scooter and Peanut; two cats: Catfish and Tarzan; and one husband, Glen, and according to him she takes care of them in that order.

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