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Costs of veterinary care continue to rise

February 25, 2008
By Laura Mead
ESCANABA — Veterinary costs continue to rise — by 9 percent a year according to the New York Times. But local veterinary clinics say what you are paying for are more treatment options and better care for your pet.

Holly Thomma, office manager at Escanaba Veterinary Clinic, attributes the rise in veterinary costs to the advances in medicine and technology in the field.

“I think (vet costs) are rising for the same reason the cost of human health care is rising: there is constant research, technological updates and advances in medicine that need to be paid for.”

Dr. Sue Laskaska, of Bay Veterinary Clinic, said, while costs have gone up, the quality of care has gone up as well.

Laskaska said pet care is constantly improving. Like with human medicine, Laskaska said universities and referral specialty clinics are always researching and performing new procedures and updating their technology, and these advances eventually reach local, rural hospitals and clinics, once they become affordable.

Laskaska said what she generally finds is that once her clinic can offer a new service, clients want it.

“Clients come to expect and demand these new procedures for their pets,” she said.

And it’s no wonder pet care costs are rising when one considers that the same life-saving procedures performed on humans are now, and more often, being done on pets.

While smaller clinics in rural areas — like those in our area — do not offer the more high-tech procedures, both Thomma and Laskaska said if a client requests them, they may refer the owner to a larger hospital or clinic nearby such as Fox Valley Animal Referral Center in Appleton.

Cheryl Kemmer, a client at the Escanaba Veterinary Clinic, said she has taken her pet to Appleton a couple of times for eye surgeries.

“They have whole clinics devoted just to eye surgery for animals,” she said.

Thomma said smaller clinics like where she works would not be able to afford the equipment necessary to perform the more high-tech procedures.

“There’s just not enough of a market here locally for us to be able to afford to offer those procedures,” she said. “If we did have the technology and equipment needed to perform those procedures, who knows how much we’d have to charge to offset the cost.”

While Laskaska said she will refer patients to larger animal hospitals, she said she takes careful consideration before doing so in order to make sure what is being done is the best thing for the pet — especially in high-risk cases.

“If a client really wants a certain procedure done on their pet, that is their decision and we, of course, cannot deny them,” she said.

“What I do is if a pet is having health problems I present all the options but have a frank dialogue with the client to make sure they understand that no procedure is going to make their pet two years old again.”

Laskaska said a common misconception is if a smaller hospital or clinic has the equipment and technology to perform a procedure, they must know how to perform it properly.

“With things like pet ultra sounds and laser surgery I caution people that the learning curve for knowing how to do these things is high. This is why we are very fortunate to have a referral facility of a good caliber.”

With the rise in vet costs, it seems inevitable the day would arrive when pet health insurance would be available.

Laskaska said she has a number of clients who have pet health insurance, and Thomma said knows of about five.

Laskaska said she would advise clients looking into insurance to read the policies carefully.

“Virtually every pet insurance will exclude any pre-existing medical conditions with your pet,” she said. “The best time to get insurance is when your pet is very young.”

Laskaska said, for example, if a client gets insurance for their pet after the animal has already developed allergies, the insurance company most often will not cover the cost of those allergy medications because it is a pre-existing condition.

Also, unlike human health insurance, pet health insurance is done through reimbursement, said Thomma.

“Basically, we do the procedure or whatever needs to be done and the client pays us. Then they fill out the necessary paperwork to send to the insurance company and the insurance company then reimburses them.”

Because of the fact that it is reimbursed insurance, Lasksaska pointed out that it still doesn’t help those who cannot afford to pay the bill up front.

While vet costs may be rising, Laskaska pointed out the cost of a procedure done on a pet is still a fraction of what it costs to have the same procedure done on a human.

However, in a faltering economy, will treatment for a pet become a dispensable cost?

“Veterinary medicine falls into discretionary income,” said Laskaska.

“People have to buy food, pay for heating... They don’t have to take their pet to the vet. What I’ve generally found is if people can afford to treat their pet they will. But if the economy reaches a point when more and more people can’t afford vet costs, then who knows.”

Fact Box

At a glance

Things to remember if you’re
considering pet health insurance:

• Read the policy carefully. Most insurance companies will not insure pre-existing conditions such as allergies.

• If you are going to get pet health insurance it’s best to get it when your pet is very young.

• Vet clinics do not bill insurance companies directly, which means clients have to pay the vet and are reimbursed later.



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