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The True Cost of Caring for Fido

best_of_fall_2015-01Accepting a posting from one province to another has its challenges, including finding a new veterinarian for four-legged family members. The differing costs of veterinary fees from province to province, even clinic to clinic can leave pet owners frustrated and confused.

Fees-for-service are actually a reflection of many legitimate factors. If you find yourself questioning a veterinary fee consider if operational costs, the complexity of the case, or if customized care may be the reason you are paying more, or perhaps less, than you bargained for.

Operational Costs

Operational costs can vary from one province to another and from one clinic to another. A variance in operational costs may have an impact on the cost of fees-for-service from one veterinarian to another.

“Thirty-five years ago when I started my hospital mortgages were low, I had half the equipment, and my medical team were not certified the way they are today. I also wasn’t open twenty-four hours,” said Dr. Jean Gauvin, M.V. past-president, Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association.  “Fees reflect the cost of doing business.”

Pet owners demand the most up-to-date health care for pets because their animals are considered members of the family. Modern veterinary clinics and hospitals are sophisticated, and animals benefit from services like ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, and other modern technical medical interventions. The cost for this medical equipment, its upkeep and operation is high.

Just as in the human medical field veterinarians commit to meeting a standard of care. From province to province and clinic to clinic operational costs are impacted by employee wages.

“Theoretically, if I go into surgery I have to meet a certain standard of care, or I am compromising the health and possible the life of my patient. That is why I hire certified animal health technicians. Some of these technicians have gone to school for four years to obtain their certification. I have to pay them accordingly. This impacts the bottom line of my operational costs,” said Dr. Gauvin.

Front office administrative staff are also part of the veterinarian’s team. They are skilled and qualified in the use of veterinary clinic computer systems, records management, and a variety of animal-care skills used to efficiently operate a clinic. They too must be compensated for their training and expertise.

The cost of living also varies a great deal from one province to another and from urban to rural environments. This variance is reflected in fees-for-services as well. Mortgage payments, rent and insurance costs factor into fees charged to pet owners for veterinary services rendered.

Complexity of Cases

Dr. Gauvin sees small animals at his Quebec clinic.

“If someone brings a bunny with gastrointestinal issues into my veterinary clinic I will ask them many questions about their pet, then I will conduct a thorough physical examination of the bunny,” said Dr. Gauvin.

In case number one, the bunny is a healthy weight and has no other presenting issues. However, when asking the family questions, Dr. Gauvin discovers the bunny has been fed sweets.

Bunnies love sweets, but should not be fed any because sweets give bunnies gastric issues. The family is directed to stop feeding the bunny that food and bring the patient back if the problem does not clear up.

In case number two a bunny presents the same problem, but upon examination Dr. Gauvin finds the bunny has lost muscle mass and is underweight. He recommends further tests to determine the cause of the illness. Each test is ordered for a particular reason, and each test costs money.

At first glance, it appears that two bunnies presented the same problem and one cost a lot more to treat than the other one. If the owners of the first bunny speak to the owners of the second bunny, they may not understand the complexity of the second case or the differences in the recommendations made by the veterinarian.

However, this is not a reflection of differing veterinary costs from province to province or even clinic to clinic, but a lack of understanding of the differing complexities of one case compared to another.

Customized Care

Finally, it is the role of the veterinary medical team to customize care. With animals as with people, there is no one answer that applies to every patient and a good veterinarian will customize the care of the pet.

According to Dr. Gauvin a beagle living on the twenty-sixth floor of an apartment building that rarely interacts with other animals and is never off-leash going to have a totally different experience at the vet’s office than a beagle who roams free on a farm and goes hunting with it’s owner every weekend in the deep woods.

One may be recommended extra shots, flea and tick protection, and heart worm medication and the other may not.

“Establish a connection with your vet, ask questions of the medical team and do your best to answer all of their questions. Above all, if you have a question about the cost of recommended services ask the veterinarian or a member of the team for an explanation. Communication is the key to optimal pet health care,” said Dr. Gauvin.

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•Prices in the chart do not include tax.

•Cat services quoted are for indoor cats. Outdoor cats will require additional shots.

•Dog spaying and neutering prices quoted are for a 20-30lb dog.

•Ask if additional shots are recommended in your location. Lyme disease is prevalent in some areas and shots are highly recommended.

•Ask about package prices for puppies and kittens. Some vets offer packages that include all shots and visits for the first 6 months or the first year.

•Low cost clinics are offered in some locations offering a discount for shots, spaying and neutering on specific days each month.

New Vet? Ask Questions!

  • Hours of operation
  • Types of emergency services
  • Number of veterinarians and support staff
  • Do they keep computerized records
  • Do they sell Fido’s favourite food
  • Do they stock Fido’s current medications

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