Why Is Veterinary Care Expensive?

Written on January 08, 2019 by Staff Veterinarian

It is highly likely that you have been to a specialist, urgent care or emergency room at some point in your life. Hopefully, you had good insurance for those visits. Human medicine is without a doubt an insurance-driven industry, and with over 90% of Americans holding some type of insurance (Census 2017), it is likely you may not see a full itemized bill from the hospital as much of your bill is covered by your insurance. Those of us with insurance may take for granted the burden-free feeling of being able to get an x-ray or have surgery with little debt. However, even in human medicine, insurance companies can restrict networks, or hospitals can refuse to perform more expensive procedures on the uninsured.


Luka having a small mass removed at Bulger via laser.

Veterinary medicine, although very similar to human medicine in its highly educated medical staff and state-of-the-art medical equipment, does not have the same insurance umbrella that human medicine benefits from. Pet insurance has gained great awareness over the past 15 years triggering more insurance companies to offer pet insurance and new companies being created. This increase and ease of accessing pet insurance keeps monthly premiums low and competitive for us, the consumer.

The idea of a $20-$40/month premium is much easier to swallow than a $5000 emergency surgery. So why don’t more people have pet insurance? Some may not know much about it, others may have difficulty paying the monthly premiums, but throughout the veterinary community doctors and technicians are trying to educate their clients more on this benefit. There are so many insurance companies to compare and you can pick the right plan, with the right price tag, for you and your pet.

Why does veterinary care seem expensive?

The truth is, it’s not. When you compare averages of prices for diagnostics, surgical procedures, or emergency visits in the veterinary world, the cost is aligned with human hospitals if not much cheaper. It is not unusual to see the same CT scan in a veterinary specialty hospital that would be at your own specialist’s office, or similar surgical instruments, medications, and anesthesia. It would be amiss to not consider the similar schooling a veterinarian and a human doctor complete. Veterinarians and human medical doctors obtain a 4-year undergraduate degree, 4 years of medical school, and usually either an internship or in some cases, if they pursue getting boarded in a specialty, a 2+ year residency and exam. Considering this, veterinarians still make a great deal less on average than a human doctor.

estimate medical cost chart-01

So, why does it seem so expensive? Because without pet insurance, we are paying in full for diagnostics, procedures, surgeries, treatments, and medical expertise. And these bills can hit us at an unplanned, emotion, traumatic, or financially difficult time in our lives. Your number one goal in an emergency situation is to save your pet, and the veterinary team’s number one goal is to save your pet. Many hospitals have payment plan options like Care Credit or Wells Fargo, but without any insurance or a pet savings account, the burden of debt feels like a betrayal during a distressing time.

Veterinary teams care deeply about your pet

This is a difficult subject for many veterinary professionals as most despise talking about money and just want to treat every pet with limitless resources. To provide the advance care with state-of-the-art equipment, payment does have to be made and pet insurance seems to be the answer for more and more pet owners. Veterinary teams will always provide care to stabilize and make patients comfortable while further diagnostics, treatments, and options are being discussed.


Luka having a CT done at Mass Vet (2017)


Luka and his amazing Neurology team at Mass Vet (2017)

I too was late to the pet insurance game and as such, my dog Luka now has pre-existing conditions in the eyes of insurance companies. After Luka started having seizures, we went to Mass Vet to see Dr. Silver in the Neurology department for a diagnosis and treatment. Even though I couldn’t afford an MRI at the time, Dr. Silver and the team worked with me on a different diagnostic approach that worked for me. Maybe it wasn’t the fastest or best diagnostic plan, but I had limitations and was grateful for the options. In the end, we got a diagnosis and found a treatment that worked.

Three years later Luka is insured and doing great, but he is on a twice daily seizure medication forever that will never be covered by insurance. Since that time however, he had a CT scan and a couple hospital visits for minor and various reasons, all which were covered by his insurance. I pay $34 a month for my almost 9-year-old pup to be covered, and it is worth every penny for the comfort of knowing I don’t need to choose a treatment plan or hospital based on cost. I want what is best for my dog and that includes the same standard of care, expertise, and equipment that I would want for anyone in my family.


Veterinary care, like human medical care, is not going to go down in price as the years pass. So, to find a solution you first need to look at your own finances and future outlook. The solution may be different for everyone.

  • Pet Insurance
    • There are many companies out there offering low monthly premiums
    • Getting pet insurance when your pet is young is more economical
  • Your own pet savings account
    • Start a savings account at your bank
    • Have funds auto deposited every month
    • Have at least $5000

Or perhaps you have the comfortable means to pay for unexpected veterinary bills. The bottom line is veterinary care has a price tag and if we didn’t pay for care, it is highly unlikely these hospitals we rely on would be able to maintain such extraordinary medical technology or employees. Your primary care veterinarian and specialty hospital are on your team. Work with them and through your situation with honesty, and they will be honest with you for best approaches to financial hardships and treatment options.



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Why you should buy pet insurance- even for your young, healthy pet

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