Why Your Vet Visit Costs So Much

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jun. 27, 2016

It’s a never-ending refrain, “Why does veterinary care cost so much?”

I get it. I’m not just a veterinarian but also an animal owner. Sure, I can take care of some of my own pets’ needs, but not all of them. Did I flinch at the $2,000 bill for treating my cat’s hyperthyroidism with radioactive iodine? You bet I did, but I didn’t complain because I recognize what a bargain veterinary care usually is.

The best way to avoid sticker shock is being prepared, so let’s take a look at what’s involved in a veterinary visit and the typical costs that you should expect.

The first thing to understand is that geography plays a big role. Imagine the cost of running a veterinary practice in New York City versus West Podunk. Rent, salaries, property taxes, property insurance, etc. would all be much higher in NYC, and those costs simply have to be passed on to clients if a veterinary practice is to remain a going concern. The best we can do here is look at averages and acknowledge that a lot of variability exists.

A veterinary visit should always start with a complete health history, physical exam, and the acquisition of some basic data, like body weight, body temperature, pulse rate, and respiratory rate. The cost of all of this should be included in the office visit/physical exam charges. This is the absolute minimum you need to be willing to pay to see a veterinarian.

At this point, the doctor can provide you with an estimate for recommended diagnostic testing and/or treatment. This is when you can start talking about options. Very often, there are several ways to approach veterinary care. When appropriate, the doctor should be able to give you an idea of the risks, benefits, and costs associated with gold standard, moderate, and minimalist care.

The American Kennel Club reports these estimates for routine veterinary care during a puppy’s first year of life.

Annual Physical Exam    $58

Vaccinations    $268

Heartworm Test and Prevention    $127

Flea and Tick Prevention    $190

Fecal Exam    $60

Dental Cleaning    $125

Spay or Neuter    $175

Some of these expenses will recur approximately annually (e.g., physical exam, parasite testing/prevention, possibly a dental cleaning), others less frequently (some vaccinations). The costs associated with routine veterinary care for a cat would be similar if the cat goes outside and perhaps slightly lower for an indoor-only individual.

Remember, talk to your veterinarian if finances are tight. Depending on your pet’s circumstances, it might be possible to avoid certain expenses, at least for a while. For example, I live in a part of the country where heartworm disease is infrequently diagnosed. Although it is not ideal, if an owner had kept their dog on heartworm prevention per my recommendations over the past year and needed to cut somewhere, I’d be willing to postpone a heartworm test.

To ensure that you can always provide your pets with the veterinary care they need, either routinely set aside money in a special pet care savings account or purchase a reputable pet health insurance policy. 

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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