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Veterinary Costs New Insights

The veterinary costs detailed inside the latest Nationwide Purdue Veterinary Price Index show interesting drops and increases in what people pay for veterinary care for their pets -- particularly in the immediate aftermath of The Great Recession as well as in the most recent couple of years. My general sense is that my experience overall has been different as a Dog Mom in Colorado, where the recession wasn't particularly bad, with costs going up and up. However, one point about veterinary costs at primary care / general veterinary hospitals versus at specialty veterinary hospitals rings true. Eerily true.

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Veterinary Costs - General Practice vs. Specialty Practice Prices

I often hear people balk at perceived higher veterinary costs for seeing a veterinary specialist versus seeing a primary care or general practice veterinarian. Yes, it can be more expensive for certain things -- especially in an emergency situation.

In the last year, Clover had numerous complete blood counts (CBC). Some were drawn at our main practice and others through the specialist. After pulling the invoices, I see how the following observation from the latest veterinary costs price index data is true.

"Specialists started at much higher price point, fell further than general practitioners during the recession, and are now much closer in price." - Source: DVM360

  • Veterinary costs of CBC at our main hospital = $115
  • Veterinary costs of CBC at the specialty hospital = $114.50

Sure, the examination by the specialist that goes with the CBC typically costs more than the primary care veterinarian often charges us. However, the test itself is virtually the same cost. The same test. Same reference lab. All the same. 

Veterinary Costs & Overall Value of the Experience

So as we continue to monitor Clover's mystery neutropenia, it's good to look at the differences in cost. We should also look at management and overall experience for both of us. In other words, if something essentially costs the same, then the decision is less about money and more about other elements. I ask myself, "What makes the veterinary experience more valuable, productive, and progressive?"

Another reason to stick with the specialist: The hospital keeps Clover's pet insurance paperwork on file and automatically submits claims for me. All I have to do is ask the front desk staff at check-out to add Clover's invoice to the insurance log. 

I still PAY UP FRONT, but I usually have the 80% reimbursement from the pet insurance company before my credit card bill is due. I'll have to check. We may not be over our annual deductible yet, so I might not get help with our next bill. But, it is nice not have to have to wrangle the paperwork myself. 

veterinary costs - border collie with daffodil flowers blooming

More Neutrophil News Soon

We go again Saturday (April 17) to see the specialist about Clover's neutropenia issues which started back in February 2017. In December at our last check, her values were *finally* back in the normal reference range. Still LOW normal, but normal-ish.

As you can see from the photo above, Clover continues to feel fine. Other than a few quirks:

  • I found her hiding in the back bathroom on March 12 for some unknown reason. Something must have scared her. 
  • She seemed a little restless on March 14 and again March 16.
  • Also, Clover did have a couple of days of mystery barfing (March 30 and April 1), where she threw up 3 times in quick succession, then was fine.

I will share all that with the specialist at our appointment Saturday. We'll draw a CBC and maybe other tests if the specialist thinks it wise.

We hope to see even better neutrophil numbers in the lab work. Fingers crossed!

So, How Do You Decide General Veterinarian or Specialist?

At one point last year (2017), I did ask the specialist if we could do the CBC tests at our main hospital and just send her the results. She pointed out that meant our main veterinarian would be "managing" the case.

Makes sense right? The veterinarian (specialist or otherwise) who regularly examines the dog, who regularly decides what tests to run (or not), who decides if treatment is necessary, is really the one in charge of the medical case -- along with me of course. 

So, for now, we're sticking with the specialist. 

Our main veterinarian kept the case at her hospital for a couple of months, and when Clover's numbers did not improve / continued to fall, she sent us to see the specialist. 

If Clover's numbers do continue to improve over time, then we may go back to having our general veterinarian monitor things.

Let me know in the comments what criteria you use to decide which veterinarian / hospital will manage your dog's case.


Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Houston Petting Zoo - May 26, 2018

I really like this blog regarding Veterinary Costs. Such an amazing content shared by you. Thanks for sharing. Keep Blogging.

Lisa - May 24, 2018

I as well always go to a specialist, if my Happy has anything serious. If it’s just an itch or something similiar, I’ll stick with the vet, but as soo as it gets worst, I’ll choose a well-known specialist in my are. I just feel much better, when I knwo Happy is in good hands and this is what specialists are for.

mau biet thu tan co dien binh tan - May 22, 2018

I’ve heard AVMA estimates that animal caretakers have to spend around $227 per dog and $378 per household dogs as some owner may have more than one dogs. Similarly for a cat, $90/cat and $191 per household cats

    Roxanne Hawn - May 22, 2018

    I think those numbers are WAY low … at least for the kind of dog families I know.

Mark Young - May 2, 2018

My dachshund was just recently diagnosed with epilepsy. He is still very young so I have no idea how much the his medical bills will add up over his life. Thanks for shining light on this topic, if you encourage one person to prepare for unforeseen medical cost you will have done a great service.
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Maruf Abdullah - May 1, 2018

I’ve heard AVMA estimates that animal caretakers have to spend around $227 per dog and $378 per household dogs as some owner may have more than one dogs. Similarly for a cat, $90/cat and $191 per household cats. Sometimes insurance may also vary the cost I think. As we have human medical insurance, pet owners should purchase pet insurance as well and I believe it’ll savvy for them to minimize costs.

Shadow & Ducky's Mom - April 12, 2018

Hi Roxanne! Here in Greenville SC we have Upstate Veterinary Specialists and the ER Vet in the same building. And, our primary care vet is accredited by AAHA. He’s probably one of the most expensive vets in the area, but he’s also – IMHO – the most compassionate, knowledgeable vet in town. I’ve been taking our pets (first our two parakeets, then my poodle, Kissy) to him for 20+ years. The only time I take the girls to the ER vet is when Doc is unavailable. And the last time we went to the specialist was for Callie’s first TPLO surgery and follow-ups. Cost is a little high at both, but to me the most important things are my trust & faith in the vet and my dogs’ comfort levels with him.

    Shadow & Ducky's Mom - April 12, 2018

    Whoops, that should be Callie’s *second* TPLO surgery and follow-ups.

    Roxanne Hawn - April 12, 2018

    Agree! It really matters to me that there is a good working relationship, with our main veterinarian and with specialist. In an emergency, it helps overall to know the quality of the hospital, even if you don’t know the particular ER vet.

Julianne Burkhardt - April 12, 2018

Where I live in Montana we really don’t have specialty hospitals other than perhaps one that has a CT scan machine and does complex orthopedic surgery. This particular hospital in Great Falls MT is very good. However we have the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital about 6 hours away. I did take one of my dogs there a few years ago for evaluation of a condition no one locally could figure out. My experience was fantastic. We were there for 3 days. Everything was very efficient. We had a 4th year student assigned to us and were able to spend a lot of time with the internal medicine specialist who happened to be the doc in charge of the small animal service. He was also available by email after we left for my questions and our main veterinarian’s. Cost of the whole thing which included a CT scan and several biopsies etc. . .was surprisingly reasonable. If I am ever in that situation I would certainly go back but I like the Great Falls practice too.

    Roxanne Hawn - April 12, 2018

    Oh, that’s interesting, Julianne, that you don’t have many specialty hospitals nearby. I’m glad you have the option of going to WSU. That’s quite a DRIVE, and the extra cost of hotels and such isn’t easy, I’m sure.

Scott - April 12, 2018

Our 10 year old Shih Tzu also has undefined neutropenia and has been on prednisone for a couple of months.

We are in a suburb of Orlando, and I can tell you the specialist practice here charges significantly more than our local vet for the same tests. In addition, they misdiagnosed him with Lymphoma, and thank G-d we decided to get a second opinion at the U of Florida Vet School.

My advice – if you’re dog is diagnosed with an immune disorder, take him to the nearest Vet School you can (ours is a 90 minute drive each way). From the exams to the staff to the diagnosis, they have been incredible – and they work with our local vet on his care. For example, we’ve had to get several CBC’s and these are done at our local vet, who sends the results to UF.

Although many people swear by the specialist here, we will never go back. They were very expensive compared to UF and our local vet, and in my opinion jumped to the highest cost diagnosis for the $.

I realize folks in rural locations may not have a University vet school in practical range, but even if you have to drive and spend the night it may be worth it. There is no comparison based on our experience.

    Roxanne Hawn - April 12, 2018

    Scott – I’m so sorry to hear about what’s going on with your dog. We have a long-standing relationship with this particular specialty hospital that’s relatively close to us (about a 45-minute drive) from our rural mountain home. We’ve used them for many things with many dogs for more than 20 years. I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with various doctors there. I’ve only had to trek all the way to the veterinary teaching hospital at Colorado State University (in Fort Collins) once for a behavior consult that I really couldn’t get locally. I do have friends who swear by going straight to the vet school when they need a specialist. My sense is that clients don’t get nearly the 1-on-1 attention because of all the rules and protocols at the school. We’re very lucky that there are MANY good specialty hospitals in the Denver area. Maybe more so than most communities. I’m glad you went for a second opinion and that things seem to be going okay with your case. I know, though, that long-term steroids is no picnic either. Thanks for your input.

    When we did the bone marrow biopsy last year at our specialty hospital, they sent the sample to a big-time dog bone marrow expert pathologist at a vet school in Michigan … so we did get that level of input when we needed it.

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