Have you ever taken your animal to the veterinarian for something routine like shots, dewormer, and their annual exam and then gotten a bill for a couple hundred? If you have a pet I should imagine you probably have. Caring for an animal can cost a lot of money, but just what makes the bill so high? Today I’ll be sharing 4 major reasons that veterinary medicine is expensive.
Veterinarians go to school for a very long time. In Canada, veterinary colleges do not admit students directly from secondary school so before even starting college, a prospective vet will complete at least 2 years of an undergraduate degree, and because veterinary school is highly competitive, its not uncommon to complete a bachelors or even a masters degree before being admitted. Then, the successful applicant gets to enjoy/endure 4 years of grueling veterinary college which, let’s be clear, is a form of medical school. Veterinary programs such as those found at Ontario Veterinary College, while renowned for their excellency, are not easy. After all that school you graduate with a considerable amount of student debt, assuming you weren’t rich to start with. According to an article by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) in 2019, the average student debt of a newly graduated vet is around 65 thousand dollars!
2. Startup and Equipment Costs
If a veterinarian is running their own practice, they are running a business. They must pay for machinery, medications, specialty foods, as well as the utilities and building associated expenses.
Things like X-ray machines, ultrasound, and surgical monitoring equipment are very expensive, in the range of tens of thousands. Add to that the costs for office equipment, accounting, and other business basics and it gets up there. In a 2011 article from Veterinary Practice News, it was estimated the start up cost of a clinic is around a million dollars, which has likely gone up in recent years. Assuming most veterinarians, especially those fresh out of college and riddled with student debt don’t have a couple million kicking around to start with, it is reasonable to assume most vets will have some pretty major loans to pay off on a regular basis.
3. Cost of Staff
A veterinary practice generally consists of one or more veterinarians, a handful of veterinary technicians and assistants, receptionists, and a maybe a couple of vet-student hopefuls there to gain experience. With the exception of students who are typically volunteers, the staff all must be paid, and minimum wage usually doesn’t cut it.
Veterinarians and veterinary technicians go to school and are subject to licensing. As such, their education should be considered when it comes to pay in whatever way the clinic chooses to handle it. A veterinary technician is generally paid between 16-21 CAD hourly according to a research article published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal in 2017. The same study, which looked at wages across Canada for non-veterinarian staff found veterinary receptionists made between 13-18 dollars per hour (mind you the minimum wage has since increased and differs between provinces).
Another study from the same author published in 2015 found the median annual salary of veterinarians working in government, industry (in a clinic/practical setting), and academia to be $87 555- $128 000 with the highest salaries belonging to those working in academia.
Additionally the employer usually takes some responsibility for the employees benefit plans and licensing fees.
4. Food and Meds!
Most people who’ve worked at a veterinary clinic in Canada are probably familiar with selling a litany of different medications and specialty pet foods with brands such as Royal Canin and Hill’s being on the tip of the tongue. Preventative medications like flea and tick protection, heartworm prevention, and dewormer are frequently sold. Regular medications that cycle in and out of clinics regularly include drugs for pain, heart conditions, and inflammation such as various brands of meloxicam, Fortekor, gabapentin and so many others. All these drugs must be regularly stocked in the clinic and paid for in advance of client purchases. Other more emergency or in-clinic use drugs must also be regularly stocked at the clinic’s expense. Some veterinary drugs can cost hundreds of dollars for just a tiny bottle!
Does it feel like the cost of your pet’s meds are constantly increasing? That’s because they are. There’s a whole structure of licensing fees behind veterinary drugs in addition to the cost of producing them, that ultimately force veterinarians to raise prices as suppliers need to charge more. According to the Companion Animal Health Institute, Health Canada will be increasing licensing fees significantly by 2027. This alone will drive up prices in the veterinary profession.
In my experience, if you feel your veterinarian is charging a lot for their services, it’s probably not because they want to. Most veterinarians genuinely care about their clients and patients, but to keep the clinic doors open they have to be able to pay the bills. There are many factors which contribute to rising vet bills, but usually a greedy veterinarian isn’t one of them.
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- Doherty, Chris. Non-DVM wages and trends across Canada. Can. Vet. J. 2017. 58 (7): 753-755.
- Doherty, Chris. The economics of veterinarians in government, industry, and academe. Can. Vet. J. 2015. 56 (11): 1193-1196
- Fee Increases for Veterinary Medications. Webpage. CAHI-ICSA. Accessed Nov. 2021. https://www.cahi-icsa.ca/service-fees
- Tiffany, Lynn. Mobile Vets Are Driven To Succeed. Webpage. Veterinary Practice News. June 9, 2011. Accessed Nov. 2021. https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/mobile-vets-are-driven-to-succeed/
- THE TRUE COST OF CREDIT: STUDENT DEBT AND REPAYMENT. Webpage. CVMA. Jan 23/2019. Accessed Nov. 2021. https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/news-events/news/true-cost-of-credit-student-debt-repayment