The Rising Cost of Pet Care (and what to do about it)

It is commonly said that everything that rises must come down. Unfortunately, that maxim does not seem to apply to the cost of living. This includes the ballooning rates of veterinarian care.

A recent commentary from the Santa Fe New Mexican relayed fresh statistics on the cost of pet healthcare. These included:

According to a 2011 report by the American Pet Products Association, the cost of routine and surgical vet visits has risen 47 percent for dogs and 73 percent for cats over the past decade.
Pet owners spent about $8 billion on veterinarian care in 2000; by 2013, that figure climbed to more than $14 billion.

The article states that the chief reason was the rise in veterinarian salaries:

According to the Veterinary Medical Association, the mean annual professional income of private practice veterinarians rose from around $60,000 in 1995 to over $120,000 in 2009.

The author explains the reasons for the spike in incomes:

As Veterinary Advantage Magazine explained, between 1965 and 1995, veterinary fees lagged behind inflation. At the same time, student debt for vets grew exponentially. And pet owners began to turn to online pharmacies for medicine.

Furthermore on this issue, the article quotes Rob Foley, co-author of The Angry Vet Blog:

When a veterinarian loses revenue through pharmacy sale losses, they must make up this income by raising other costs like exam fees or diagnostics. The money simply has to come from somewhere.

Perhaps just as ominous, many pet owners aren’t even taking their animals to the clinic. As Human Society President Wayne Pacell was quoted in a Washington Post article:

An estimated 23 million pets in the United States are in homes where the caretakers live at or below the poverty line, and that typically leaves the animals without access to veterinary care. Close to 80 percent of their pets have never seen a veterinarian.

It should be mentioned that this is not close to an epidemic as of yet, as our primary research reveals that in general pet owners are investing in their pets:

More than $55.7 billion was spent on pet products in the U.S. during 2013, and it’s estimated more than $58.5 billion will be spent in 2014. U.S. pet owners spent $27 billion on animal medication and visits to the vet in 2013.

(Our infographic at the end of this post details more information on the amount spent on pets annually.)

It’s no stretch to say that veterinarians are finally gaining appropriate wages, and our primary research shows they work very hard (with 28% working over 50 hours a week and 43% working between 40 to 50 hours a week). But beyond veterinarian costs and product inflation, are there remedies to keeping pet healthcare costs manageable?

Here are some solutions:

Pet Insurance: According to our studies, the majority of surveyed veterinarians report that less than half of their patients are covered by an insurance plan. As an article in Every Day states, pet insurance is a competent cost saving tool for serious pet issues, although it’s not as effective for routine care at veterinarian clinics.

Nonprofit Organizations: Several groups like PAWS (which qSample has supported) offer such treatments as spaying, neutering or vaccines at a fraction of a cost. Others offer reduced pet care to low-income individuals. These solutions are all a matter of a little research depending on the city or town.

Holistic Pet Care: As we’ve presented, holistic pet care is growing in the country. The attitude of preventative care that is a cornerstone of holistic medicine can lower the risk of sickness in animals, thereby potentially decreasing veterinarian visits. It may seem exotic, but holistic medicine for humans was once considered exotic, and it’s now a $34 billion annual industry.

Pet Credit: Organizations like Care Credit offer credit lines for veterinarian pet visits. Their interest rates may be on the high side, though. Beyond that, there are veterinarians that provide a payment plan for their patients. Again, it’s all a matter of asking questions such as in the case of nonprofit organizations.

Go to a Veterinarian: These may seem counterintuitive, but the reality is that preventative care (such as offered by holistic medicine) can go a long way in averting large medical bills in the future.

In the end, it’s important to understand it will never be an easy journey navigating the seas of healthcare costs (for either humans or their pets). However, good knowledge and the right research can make oceans of difference on the wallet. This certainly applies to pets in a culture that sees the esteem of them going up without the possibility of ever going down.

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