Companion Animal

I truly believe a good dog is a human’s best and truest friend—and I also believe a good veterinarian is your dog’s best friend. As much as you love your dog there can come a time when all your love cannot save your ailing or injured friend; only a trained and savvy veterinarian can do that.

I’ve dealt with hundreds of veterinarians in my animal-filled life, and the average Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine (DVM) is a patient, animal loving, smart, and kind person. Most truly love animals. Almost all put up with, on a regular basis, unreasonable pet owners whose behavior you can’t even fathom—not to mention the pet owner’s “fur babies” who might want nothing more than to sink their fangs into the good doctor’s flesh.

On social media or anywhere two or more pet owners gather, the cost of veterinarian care is a subject for heated debate. Pet owners often seem to think that because the patients are pets somehow, the veterinarian should make exception where payment is concerned “for the love of the animal”; in other words, not charge a fair fee. Veterinarians wanting to meet their expenses will have unfair accusations hurled at them such as “you would rather see the animal die than treat it for free” or “you don’t love animals!” It rarely occurs to these pet owners that pet ownership costs money, and it is the responsibility of the pet owner to make sure they have the financial resources to take on a pet before getting one. There is an old and very true saying: “There is no such thing as a free pet.” High-class or alley-bred, they all have to eat and have medical care at some point. Emergencies happen, and veterinarians know this; the average veterinarian will, once you become an established client, be willing to risk letting you run up a tab and make payments. They see that you come in regularly, take great care of your pet(s) and establish mutual trust. In this case, on that awful night when your pet gets hit by a car or other emergency, your veterinarian has a history with you and won’t hesitate to treat the pet and possibly allow you to make payments. (Please don’t abuse this kindness by running up a huge balance.)

It isn’t fair to expect a veterinarian to be any different from any other professional who has to pay off years of schooling, maintain a business location, carry expensive insurance, and periodically buy and upgrade very expensive machinery such as x-ray and ultrasound machines. Most practices employ a variety of help from those who work to keep the clinic a clean and healthy location and receptionists to veterinarian assistants and the higher-paid veterinarian technician. As much as they love animals, a veterinarian cannot afford to only “work because they love animals.”

Having said that, I have more times than I like to remember seen veterinarians (mostly those in urban areas) suggest unnecessary procedures and charge appalling fees. This past week a close friend took her dachshund to a vet clinic in Olympia. The dog had bad breath, and since she doesn’t feed raw bones (which scrape tartar build up off teeth), she thought it could be either time for a cleaning or perhaps the animal had an abscess. The vet looked in the dog’s mouth and stated it had an abscess and the tooth needed to come out. Cost for a single molar extraction? $900. Ridiculous!

The problem is that in an age where United States citizens can’t afford medications or surgical procedures, the chances are very high that a pet will go without necessary care—too often resulting in real suffering or even death. This can be very upsetting to both parties: the veterinarian who knows a pet needs a certain treatment to be comfortable but must make a living and an owner who feels the cost is excessive and is unable to pay.

Pet health insurance can be very helpful to pet owners. There are so many different plans and prices, there is literally something for everybody and their pet. Next week we look at some specific pet insurance plans, what they offer, and how they can help.