Why Do Spays Cost So Much?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Dec. 8, 2014

I used to work in a general veterinary practice in a wealthy part of Wyoming. Despite the fact that many of our clients arrived at the clinic driving cars worth more than my annual salary, the question “Why does a spay cost so much?” seemed to come up on a daily basis. I think the ready availability of spays through nonprofit organizations has skewed owner perception of the true cost of this surgery absent support via donations, tax-exempt status, and a focus on maximizing the number of surgeries performed.

It’s impossible to itemize the cost of everything that goes into a high quality dog spay, but I thought that an overview of what’s involved might provide some insight.

  • An examination by a veterinarian prior to anesthesia on the day of the surgery.
  • Laboratory tests prior to surgery. Exactly which tests should be run depends on your dog’s age, breed, and health history. For example, a six month old mixed breed dog who has never been sick a day in her life may only need a check of her hematocrit (red blood cell count), total blood protein level, and an Azostix (a quick and dirty check of kidney function) while a dog with an increased risk of disorders that make anesthesia and surgery riskier would require more extensive testing.
  • “Pre-meds.” Sedatives and pain relievers that help dogs to relax and can reduce the dose of anesthetics that are subsequently given.
  • Placement of an intravenous catheter after the site is shaved and prepped with antiseptics to prevent infection. Catheters allow multiple injections to be given with only one “stick,” the administration of intravenous fluids during surgery (more on why this is so important next week), and ensure access to the blood stream in case an emergency arises.
  • Administration of injectable anesthetics allowing the dog to be intubated (placement of a breathing tube into the trachea).
  • Administration of oxygen and inhalational anesthetics through the breathing tube throughout the procedure.
  • Shaving and multiple applications of antiseptic solutions to the surgical site to prevent infection.
  • The use of several monitoring devices (e.g., blood pressure, blood oxygenation, pulse and breathing rates, and temperature).
  • A specially designed room used only for surgery complete with all necessary equipment (oxygen delivery system, surgical lights and tables, etc.).
  • The use of special devices to hold the dog in the correct position and keep her warm.
  • Application of sterile drapes (newly sterilized ones for every surgery) that leave only a small area around the surgical site exposed.
  • Caps, masks, surgical hand scrub, and sterile gowns and gloves (new ones for every surgery) for the veterinarian and anyone else who might assist in the surgery.
  • A sterile equipment pack containing scalpel handles, needle holders, hemostats, a variety of clamps, absorbent gauze, etc. A new sterile pack should be used for every surgery.
  • Sterile, individually packaged scalpel blade(s).
  • Several different types of individually packaged, sterile absorbable sutures.
  • Sterile nonabsorbable sutures, tissue glue, or surgical staples to close the skin.
  • Close monitoring while the dog recovers from anesthesia in a warm and soft location.
  • Pain relievers to go home and clear instructions (both written and verbal) regarding what owners should be monitoring for during the postoperative period.
  • The veterinarian’s, veterinary technician’s, and support staff’s time/salaries.
  • Expenses to cover costs associated with the running of the veterinary practice (e.g., equipment purchases and maintenance, utilities, rent/mortgage payments, etc.)

Truth is, most veterinary clinics greatly undercharge for spaying dogs. They consider providing high quality spays a necessary part of patient care and are willing to take a loss on the procedure to avoid scaring clients away with the actual cost of the surgery.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Kachalkina Veronika / Shutterstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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