Myth 11: All Vets Charge The Same

Updated October 8, 2023

This article aims to save pets lives and improve owners’ awareness of their rights. While I believe it  is a discussion we need to have, it includes topics which may be upsetting to some. It in no way is intended to be read as criticism of the business practices of any veterinarian and is not referring to any specific surgery, clinic or hospital. At the end is a series of recommendations for what to do when faced with the need to make a quick decision.

Click here for a newer discussion from 2021 on vet prices.

Over the past five years or so I have seen an increase in clients being unable to afford veterinary care. These stories are told to me much later and by then it is too late to to help. The situation usually results from a sudden need for an expensive procedure, and often results in either taking on debt,  or tragically, surrendering their pet or even euthanasia. Although some procedures are always going to cost more than some owners can afford, these cases have been remarkable because the fees required were significantly higher than at their usual vet, and they did not realise this.

We as vets tend to avoid talking about our fees. After all, we didn’t become vets to get rich, and we are often embarrassed to have to charge for what we do. But vet practices are expensive to equip and maintain, and vets and nurses need a wage. Without adequate fees we can’t be here.

Vet Fees Are Not The Same

However, the thing we don’t like to mention is that those fees vary widely between vets. And clients need to understand this if we want more pets to receive treatment. That’s why I feel we need to talk about our fees and your rights as pet owners.

So by how much do vets differ? Honestly I do not know but I regularly hear of cost estimates and actual bills in excess of double the fees many other vets would have charged for a similar procedure. But of course it is impossible to say if the procedures are truly the same and therefore comparisons are at best unreliable.

Some of the differences will be due to different opinions on what is necessary to be done or included in the procedures. Despite our similar aims, we often arrive at the solution from different approaches, based on our varied learning and experience. But it is also important to remember that vets can and do have the right to choose the fee structure that best suits their practice. Every practice will have different costs, overheads and wage structures, and it is very difficult to accuse these vets of overcharging.

How Vet Bills Have Changed

It seems to me that fee structures now broadly fall into two camps. I would estimate that it is still the majority of vets who charge fees which are roughly the same as 20 years ago (once adjusted for inflation). There seems to be a smaller group who charge significantly more, often both by added services and by higher base fees. These higher fees are usually not evident in the areas such as vaccination, desexing, microchips or consultations, but instead are usually on anaesthetic, dental, diagnostic and surgery fees for example. Of course, fee structure does not necessarily reflect service quality.

I am not writing this to promote our practice as somehow cheaper and indeed I do not think we are especially cheap. I am acutely aware that our fees are higher than some pet owners can afford, and we do our best for these clients. We try to treat animals to the best available standards regardless of any discussion about fees. Furthermore, if there is a treatment we consider is likely to give a better outcome we will offer it, including referral to other vets.

It is also important to mention that in many cases, at any vet, it is OK for costs to be a part of the decision as to how to treat. Read here about the five different cost options to treat one dog’s illness.

If You Can’t Afford Vet Fees

So what should you do if you are in the position of being at a vet and unable to afford the estimated fees? You may feel you have no choice but most of the time you do have real rights and choices. Here are some tips:

  1. As long as your pet can be safely transported you can ask to transfer your pet to a clinic of your choice. You will likely need to do this yourself, but even if they have an intravenous drip this can be temporarily plugged, and wounds or fractured legs can be dressed and immobilised.
  2. If you intend to stay, it is your right to ask for a realistic estimate of costs and to be kept updated as these costs increase. Most vets these days offer finance schemes such as VetPay.
  3. If unsure what to do, call your usual vet for advice. Most vets would gladly offer their support even if it is just to reassure you that you are in the best place.
  4. If the vets or nurses seem concerned about your pet being treated if you leave, they may mention calling the RSPCA. Even if this occurs, once the RSPCA discover you have only transferred your pet to another clinic they will be perfectly satisfied.
  5. If calling another vet it is very difficult to compare prices as so much is unknown. A good tip is to ask what the last procedure of a similar type ended up costing. This may not be exactly what your pet’s work will cost but it should give a ballpark estimate.
  6. Once your pet is transferred the second vets can easily request a full treatment history from the first vet. Indeed, vets are required to do this and will always send the file quickly when asked. Many times, you can also ask for a printed copy for yourself.

I hope you find this information will help you in these stressful times. In no way do I want to put you off using some of the excellent vet services available in Adelaide. For many people, cost is not a major concern and they find the services are exactly what they want. And its always worth mentioning that costs of equivalent work in humans are usually still much higher. It’s just that there are many other pet owners whom I fear when faced with unaffordable fees will decide to surrender or euthanase their pet, and either not have pets again or avoid veterinary care altogether.

The final and best advice I can give is to avoid at all costs leaving problems to the last minute. Many complex and expensive cases start out as ‘perhaps it’s just something he ate’ and can often be avoided with prompt attention. Researching a second vet in case your preferred vet is unavailable is also a good idea. See our emergency vet page for example. A good pet insurance policy for your beloved pet is another sensible way to prepare for the unforeseen.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

9 Replies to “Myth 11: All Vets Charge The Same”

  1. There’s actually no reasonable excuse for why vets overcharge. If it’s a supply and demand situation, you can always take part of the payment. If it were about animals, most vets would offer payment plans to assist the animal immediately and worry about payment afterwards. I’ve been quoted between 275-545 to desex my dog, how can the prices be so drastically different? I was charged $800 at Walkerville vet when all they done was give my puppy some IV water and some food, took her bloods? Absolutely pathetic industry and I’ve been able to treat my dogs epilepsy naturally as the medication the vet put her on, wasn’t helping and caused more issues than helped – is this another way to get more money out of pet owners? Keep our animals sick so we keep paying? Thankfully, I’ve been able to do most things through researching and speaking with different vets on, online platforms who offer help for F R E E. As a child I wanted to be a vet to help sick animals, I see adults are in it for other reasons. There’s no excuse for these prices, NOT ONE.

    1. Hi Ataahua. You raise a good point about payment plans. The reason they are not offered is that the rate of non-payment and bad debt is too high. Most vets will offer them informally to clients they know well, but making them available to all is not practical. All we can offer is services like ZipPay.
      Regarding our fees, the services you described do not add up to $800. I can’t access your file without your real name, but I calculate $413.70 at 2020 prices even allowing for 24 hours in hospital and a higher cost blood test, plus consultation fee of $69.90 (see also our price list).
      Regarding the use of natural therapies, please read our guide to the treatment of seizures in dogs. You are very fortunate if they are working for you, as this is not the common experience.
      Lastly, regarding your views on the veterinary profession, I only wish you got to know some of us personally. You would then see that nothing is further from the truth. There aren’t many people who would continue doing any job if it was how you described.

  2. I think it is disgusting how vets say it’s not about the money. I have never seen a poor vet. It should be about the animals welfare. I have lost so much respect for the industry. How many pets are suffering because people cannot afford to get their pets the health care they need. My 23 year old cat has stopped eating and his back legs are not working anymore. Rang my local vet to have him euthanased but because I don’t get paid for two more days they would not help. So my cat now has to suffer for a couple more days. Shame on the industry. Just greed and not thinking of the animals welfare at all. How often is this happening.

    1. Hi Sharyn. I’m sure you can find a vet who will perform this necessary service, especially if it’s an emergency. It won’t cost the vets much if you can offer to take your cat home afterwards. Just like the article says: 1) try several vets, and 2) credit is more likely from vets with which you already have a good relationship.

  3. I am trying to be understanding to the hidden costs and overheads of vets, but we have an old German Shepherd who has got great comfort from a product called lexicom, but it is expensive at the vet we attend. I can buy the identical product from an online pharmacy. I have no problem accepting the vet needs to keep stock etc and smaller quantities could mean higher price, but why is it reasonable that they charge $30 to write a script. Just like my doctor, i am paying the consultation fee for them to check the dog, but if they pick up their pen and write on a piece of paper that costs and extra $30. I will ring around vets tomorrow and see if all Adelaide vets are the same. Online the pharmacy suggests that some vets will charge and they suggest 10 to 15 dollars. It is more about me understanding why or am i just being taken advantage of. I am in a situation where the dog may just have to suffer in the future because a vet needs to be paid to write.

    1. Hi Craig. This is a common problem. As I said in the article, vets have a right to charge what they feel is appropriate for services but you also have a right to search for a better price if you prefer. You may feel that paying $30 every 6 months is worth it to avoid changing vets if you value their service generally. A new vet will need to see your pet before prescribing.

      All vets will need to see an animal at least every 6 months to be able to keep prescribing. Read our prescribing guidelines here.

      Vets have trouble explaining charging just for services but this is essentially what vets always do- charge for their knowledge and experience. Prescribing is not as easy as it looks and it’s easy to make a terrible mistake if a vet isn’t careful.

      Hope this helps.

  4. Have just read your interesting article and do realise veterinary products etc are expensive as are wages BUT I would like to mention the cost my son was charged for having his dobermans pad stitched which I regard as way over the top as well as a minimum duty of care while he was in their care. After having his pad stitched, he was to stay overnight at the surgery and be collected in the morning. The following morning my son received a call from the vet for him to go back to muzzle his dog as during the night he had pulled his collar off and got at the stitches so needed doing again! The dog was in an awful state of fear, pain and anxiety. My son was shocked to see blood splattered up the walls and all over the cage but hesitently placed the muzzle on his dog once more. Surely the dog should have been given a relaxant for his overnight stay (unmanned surgery) and his collar put on properly so he would not have pulled it off. TOTAL COST for a few stitches in a pad $975 with no apology or ownership of any negligence. This poor dog is never likely to trust a veterinary practise ever again, totally terrorized because of one negligent vet. Needless to say, his paw didnt heal very well until I bought some items from a health food store!! Very disgruntled dog owners.

    1. A lot of the possible solutions to your son’s dog’s problems with his vet can be found in the article. I especially stress that you have the right to ask for a reasonably accurate estimate of costs before a procedure is undertaken, and the right to seek a second opinion. There are also normal consumer rights protections which may have applied in your son’s case. Have you thought of asking for a meeting with the practice manager? Vets generally are trying to do their best and will probably try to help if you explain your grievances.

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