There are plenty of reasons to investigate how much consumers spend on their pets’ veterinary care. My favorite reason? To determine whether pets' needs are being adequately met.

A study published in the recent JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) suggests that the divide between the haves and have-nots in the world of pets is yawning ever wider.

In a paper titled, “An examination of US consumer pet-related and veterinary service expenditures, 1980–2005,” three Michigan State researchers concluded the following:

1-Overall veterinary spending rose substantially between 1980-2005.

2- During that time there’s been a rising proportion of pet-owning households that don’t spend anything on veterinary services. (As in, the pets saw no vets…at all.)

3-But households that DO spend money on veterinary services increased their spending more than enough to make up for households that spend zero bucks on vet care.

4-Households that spend nothing were characterized primarily by their non-white, lower income, lower education status.

In their words,

“Because the probability of veterinary service expenditures was strongly related to household income, caution is suggested in planning provision of veterinary services when incomes are constrained. Among households with pet-related expenditures, the decreasing percentage of households with veterinary service expenditures suggests a growing proportion of pet owners who are not having their veterinary service needs met. Because non-white households were less likely to purchase veterinary services, the veterinary profession cannot afford to delay efforts to enhance diversity and cultural competence.”

None of this surprises me too much. After all, it mirrors what’s happening at all levels of US society. Fast forward from 2005 (the end date of this study) to mid-2008 and the trend is likely to have become more pronounced (if only temporarily, due to the economic downturn).

This study finds me asking myself the following questions:

1-Are most veterinary hospitals pricing themselves out of the ballpark for those who would seek veterinary services for their pets but cannot find responsible, affordable providers?

2-We’re constantly urged to increase our standards and price our services accordingly, but is this uniformly good public policy?

3-What does the profession need to do—specifically—to address this issue?

Now it’s your turn. Have at it.