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Busting the Myth of Expensive Vet Care

By Colleen Williams
May 7, 2018 • 5 min. read
veterinarian with tan dog

This post originally appeared on, written by Dr. Melissa Magnuson

Veterinary care is medical care, and it is no different from human health care but is considerably less costly. Here are some myths about veterinary medicine that clients have told me:

Myth 1: Veterinarians are not REAL doctors.

Just like human medical doctors, veterinarians (aka veterinary medical doctors) have the same amount of schooling to become a doctor, but veterinarians learn about 10 or more species where human doctors learn about one. Veterinary doctors also have to be radiologists, ophthalmologists, dentists, surgeons, psychiatrists, and even grief counselors. Veterinary doctors have extensive medical and surgical training—so they are REAL doctors.

Myth 2: Veterinarians make a lot of money, that’s why it costs so much.

The average veterinarian salary out of vet school is $75,000 per year (compare this to human medical doctors whose starting salary is estimated at $160,000). Specialty veterinarians usually make $120,000 where specialty human medical doctors make $285,000 to $485,000 per year.  Additionally, both vets and human doctors incur the same amount of financial debt to become a doctor, typically around $200,000, which they are required to pay (or in the case of loans, pay back).

Myth 3: Veterinary hospitals just want to make money, they don’t care about the pet.

The field of veterinary medicine is filled with animal-loving individuals who care deeply about your pets. The most difficult part of the job is when clients cannot financially afford medical care for their pets. The cost to run a veterinary hospital is high (payroll, equipment, insurance, inventory, labs, leases, loans, rent, mortgages, continuing education to remain current in the veterinary field, etc.), and we still feel very fortunate to work in a business that helps animals. A pet can be considered a “luxury item” that is also alive —it has to be cared for regularly and it costs to care for them.

Myth 4: Lab tests are not necessary, that is how veterinarians make money.

Lab tests are necessary, and also recommended for pets that appear normal because pets cannot tell us how they feel. The tests often reveal what is wrong and how it must be treated. Most lab tests are sent out, which costs the veterinary hospital money. In order to run those tests, the veterinary hospital has to pay the lab first; if the lab doesn’t get the money, the test won’t be run.

Myth 5: Physical examinations are not necessary, veterinarians should just prescribe medication.

The physical examination is the most important part of a veterinary appointment (combined with the client history and answers to our questions). Physical exam findings note such things as heart rate and the quality of the heart sounds, respiration rate, the feel of the pulses, lymph nodes, abdomen, and even checking the color of the gums. These findings give veterinarians a lot of information to care for your pet properly. Some medicines would be detrimental without the physical exam.

Myth 6: Veterinarians overcharge for medicine; I can get it so much cheaper online or at my own pharmacy.

Veterinarians purchase medicine directly from pharmaceutical companies and then sell it to the client; they are not expired and are quality controlled. There are complications with purchasing outside a vet:

  • Many online pharmacies buy from third party resellers overseas and sometimes are not selling the same drug that is approved by the FDA in the United States. Oversea products have different regulations.
  • Human pharmacists are NOT trained in animal medicine, only human medicine, so they are unaware of drug substitutions that should never be made. For example—many liquid medications for humans contain xylitol, a toxic substance to cats and dogs that would never be used in veterinary medicine.  Medication dispensed from a human pharmacy could also potentially be underdosed or overdosed for animals.

Myth 7: It costs me more to take my pet to the vet than to go to my own doctor.

Many people with their own health insurance do not see the full cost of human healthcare because they only pay the co-pay or meet a deductible. While pet health insurance doesn’t work the same as human health insurance (the main difference being that you have to pay the vet up front before treatment), it still will reimburse the pet parent a portion of the vet bill. Depending on what plan you have, you could save up to 90% on vet bills! If you do not have pet health insurance, you will be responsible for the full cost of your pet’s healthcare.

Myth 8: My pet is fine, he/she doesn’t need to go to the vet annually.

Pets age much faster than humans and examining pets every year allows the opportunity to discover issues early. There have been many occasions where illness was caught from an annual examination and lab tests in pets that outwardly appeared healthy to their owners. Pet parents may not always notice gradual changes in their pets, and early detection allows the pet to have a much better (and less expensive) chance for a living a healthy life.

So, how does a pet parent make pet health care less expensive?

Start with the basics like nutrition: feed your pet a good quality, minimally processed food… It’s true that what you put in your pet affects how your pet feels. Keep your pet at a healthy weight and exercise your pet regularly. You’ll want to see your veterinarian at least once a year for a wellness examination. Remember: preventing disease is much more affordable than treating disease.

When you visit the vet, always ask for a treatment plan to go over costs before you proceed with diagnostic tests, treatments and medications. Discuss the care your pet is receiving and ask questions so you fully understand charges and why the items are recommended. Ask your veterinarian if it is possible to split up certain preventative care items/treatments among multiple visits to help with finances.

To help with the inevitable expense of pet health, especially as a pet ages, consider enrolling in pet insurance while your dog or cat is young. While pet insurance doesn’t cover preventative care (such as wellness exams), they do cover accidents and illnesses that are unexpected, saving you thousands of dollars on major medical issues. With pet insurance you can save up to 90% on vet bills and give your pet the best medical care.


About Dr. Magnuson

Dr. Melissa Magnuson is a native of southern Minnesota, where she grew up on a small pig and cattle farm. Ever since she can remember, she’s wanted to be a veterinarian and fulfill her lifelong passion of helping animals. With a degree in biology and philosophy from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, she went on to work on a master’s degree at Southern Mississippi University. From there, she completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota in 1998.

Her internship in small animal medicine, surgery, and emergency medicine brought Dr. Magnuson to the east coast. She has a special interest in surgery, emergency medicine, and avian and exotic animal care. Because she absolutely LOVES veterinary medicine, she never feels like she’s at work, but feels very lucky to have found her passion.

Dr. Magnuson is married to her best friend, Andy, with whom she has three beautiful daughters. Her pets include four dogs, three cats, a bird, a bearded dragon, and a guinea pig. In her spare time, she enjoys being with her family outdoors, biking, hiking, swimming, and reading.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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