The Business End of Pet Health Care

What’s right & wrong on the discussion of money.


Two weeks ago our cat Walter was real sick and was in the animal hospital for 5 days. Each day, the veterinarian talked to us about how he was doing. He also told us how much we were spending on Walter. In fact when we left Walter for treatment at the beginning, the clinic wanted a deposit. I know they do good work there, but why do they have to talk about money so much? Did they think we might abandon Walter and they wouldn’t get paid?


Dr. Nichol:

You raise a legitimate point that is uncomfortable not only for pet owners but for the staffs of animal hospitals as well. The real question is: Where does business end and medicine, caring, and healing begin? Isn’t it clear when a family really loves their pet? I will try to ease your mind.


First remember that doctors of veterinary medicine and the staffs that make our work possible really love pets and their families. Becoming a veterinarian requires the same length of schooling as human medicine. Yet the hospital that cared so much for Walter when he was sick was an independent business responsible for a substantial payroll, the costs of expensive medical and surgical equipment as well as a complete inventory of drugs and supplies. And while the major hospitals that care for people have the same kinds of expenses, they also have third party payers like insurance companies and the government. But your pet’s expenses are the responsibility of his owner’s alone.


Now here’s the hard part: Some people do abandon their pets at animal hospitals. They bring them in for treatment with the best of intentions. They state clearly that they will cover the costs. But too often the costs are left unpaid. Whose problem is it? It’s really everyone’s problem. Aside from causing a strain on the business of the animal hospital, it raises the cost to all  to cover expenses not paid for by those who are irresponsible.


I would ask this of loving pet owners: Try to recognize how much animal health care providers care for your pets and for the bond you feel for them. Know that our hospital is like any business-it can only continue its work if it shows a profit. We want to be there for Walter tomorrow too.  Try not to be offended if we want you to know what your pet’s treatment is costing. Keeping you fully informed is part of our job.