Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Cost of Animal Health

In the UK, we are blessed (or cursed depending on how you look at it) with a National Health Service. As a result, the humans rarely have any idea what it costs for them to see the doctor or spend a night in hospital. It comes as a bit of a shock when they come to the vet's and are asked to pay sometimes hundreds of pounds for treatment. There are three aspects of the price of veterinary medicine that I'd like to discuss:
(1) Getting an Estimate
(2) Insurance
(3) Prevention is Cheaper than Cure

(1) Before you even make your appointment you can get an idea of what it is going to cost you. Receptionists are used to people phoning up to find out the cost of a consultation (remember to ask how long the time-slot is -- a vet who does 20 minute consults may not be twice as expensive as one who does 10 minute ones so you may get more for your money). They will also give you an idea of costs for routine procedures like neutering and dental work. Once you have seen the vet and s/he has told you what is wrong and what needs to happen to fix it, it is a good idea to ask for an estimate. This gives you an idea of what kind of money you will be expected to hand over at the end of treatment and may help you make decisions as to which procedures to accept or decline. The estimate may be verbal or written. I prefer to give written estimates (I print out a copy for my clients to take home with them) so if there is a discrepancy at the end we can explain why it is different. If I do give a verbal estimate, I always make a note in the record. This reminds me to let the client know if the treatment is going to exceed what I initially thought. If your vet gives you a verbal estimate, I suggest you write it down yourself and make sure you have heard him correctly (50 rather than 15 for example). Please also realise that an estimate is only that. Once the vet is able to see the results of tests or the way your animal responds to treatment, the course of further treatment may change.

(2) I am always relieved when a client tells me they have insured their animal. I don't view this as a green light to spend lots of money on unnecessary tests, but rather as an equaliser. It allows me and the owners to do what is right for the individual patient rather than what the owner can afford (which may not be appropriate for the pet). Many people are sceptical of insurance companies, having found them unwilling to pay out for problems with their home or car. We have found them very accommodating so far and have had very few problems. For people who don't want their money to go to some large corporation, perhaps never to be seen again, I suggest opening a savings account just for the pet. I suggest finding out what the insurance premiums for your area are and saving that as a minimum amount. I do often suggest to clients who bring me new puppies/kittens for vaccination that they start a savings account, but take out insurance for the first couple years since this is when animals tend to be the most accident-prone and when the savings account will still be too small to cover the cost of a broken leg or retrieval of a swallowed toy.

(3) Please, please, please vaccinate your pets. If you decide you don't want them vaccinated, for whatever reason, at least bring them for an annual check up -- especially once they enter their geriatric years (over 8 years old for dogs and cats, over 5 for rabbits). Your vet can pick up subtle changes in your pet and can help curb problems before they become expensive. A toothbrush and tube of doggy toothpaste along with a demonstration of teeth brushing by the nurse is a lot cheaper than an anaesthetic for dental cleaning and extractions of rotten teeth. Kidney disease can be managed just with diet in the early stages, but may require multiple blood tests, blood pressure tests, fluids, tablets and hospital stays if not diagnosed until it is advanced.

Finally, when you are thinking of bringing a new pet into your home, please remember there is more than just the purchase price to factor in. A £2.00 hamster can ultimately cost £200-300 with the cage, food, toys and veterinary care.


At November 30, 2009 at 5:03:00 PM PST, Blogger Holly Carter said...

On the 29th of November 2009, the New York Times ran a story with the headline, "Forget Car Insurance, Does It Have Medicare?"
It tells the story of the lengths and expense a father would go through for his son's beloved pet.

At November 5, 2015 at 6:29:00 PM PST, Blogger Holly Carter said...

The eternal question - "Should I get pet insurance?" is still being asked daily.

Our local Seattle news station - King 5 - just ran a story featuring Melissa Yanik - a vet I have worked with and respect.

In our area there is only one insurance company that will insure exotic pets:
Nationwide which used to be VPI.
They will not be able to give you a quote on the website - you will need to call them to discuss your particular pet(s).


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