Dec 082003
 
Authors: Taylour Nelson

The United States is a nation with close to 143 million cats and

dogs, according to Consumer Reports.

This means a large amount of money is spent on the health and

well-being of those four-legged creatures every year.

New technologies and treatment options for injured or sick

animals have hiked up the costs of taking care of a pet.

Veterinary drugs can treat everything from separation anxiety to

cancer and diabetes. These drugs can cost up to $16 a day and

sometimes are prescribed to an animal every day for the rest of its

life.

“The cost of veterinary medicine is skyrocketing,” said Dr. Joe

Clark, a veterinarian in Alpine Veterinary Hospital of Greeley.

At CSU, the veterinarian program has been rated among the best

in the nation and the technology at its teaching hospital reflects

that title.

“At the heart of the hospital is an imaging suite, including

MRI, CT Scan and fluoroscopy that is unmatched in veterinary

medicine and a clinical pathology laboratory that ensures fast,

accurate test results for our clinicians,” said David Lee, director

of the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at CSU.

But for college students, the cost of saving their pets and

getting the best medical care possible may be too much of an

expense.

Brianne Cranston, a junior human development and family studies

major, saw the reality of expensive veterinary care when she rushed

her cat, Campbell, to the emergency room at CSU’s veterinary

teaching hospital in October.

Campbell had been vomiting and unable to eat for several days,

so she took the cat to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital on a

Sunday, which is considered an emergency, as it is not the

hospital’s regular hours.

The technicians took radiographs of the cat’s abdominal region

because they were suspicious something was blocking his stomach

lining, Cranston said.

“I paid $90 to bring him in on a Sunday and $112 to do the

radiographs,” Cranston said.

The total bill was more than $200 for a day of tests.

The veterinarian who oversaw the process then told Cranston the

radiographs showed some type of blockage and to be sure, they

wanted to do some exploratory surgery to look for a “possible

gastric foreign object,” she said.

“They were 90 percent sure something was blocking it and they

said they were worried (Campbell) would get worse if he didn’t have

surgery,” Cranston said. “They also said it was possible there was

nothing there at all.”

The veterinarian told Cranston the surgery would cost between

$1,800 and $2,200.

Cranston has a part-time job but says it barely pays her bills,

let alone a surgery to save her sick cat.

She decided to go for a second opinion at a smaller clinic run

by two veterinarians, a father and daughter, in Greeley. Clark, a

1957 graduate of CSU’s veterinarian program, and his daughter Dr.

Liz Clark told Cranston they would use surgery as a last resort,

and the cost would not be more than $1,000.

Cranston agreed and Campbell was in the hospital for four days.

The cat had radiographs, fluids, antibiotics, anesthesia and a

common surgery to clear out its large intestine. The total bill was

$744 and after being on antibiotics, Campbell was back to

normal.

“Costs are so variable in medicine, there are no absolutes,” Joe

Clark said.

Had Campbell swallowed a linear foreign object, such as a button

with a piece of string that wrapped around the intestine, the

surgery would have been more intensive and probably would have cost

more money, he said.

“The doctor at CSU could have seen the radiographs through a

surgeon’s eyes, and proceeded that way,” Joe Clark said. “If you

ask three veterinarians, you can get five opinions on the same

problem.”

Still, the cost of paying for a sick pet is getting higher every

year, with each practice setting its own prices for its work.

In the July 2003 issue, Consumer Reports stated that spending on

veterinary services climbed to $18.2 billion in 2001, up almost

three times the amount in 1997.

Most people are surprised by the cost of their pet’s medical

bills.

“A common comment I hear from clients is, ‘I don’t even pay that

much for my kids,'” said CSU’s Lee.

At CSU, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital is a non-profit

organization, which means the fees are based on the actual cost of

the services.

“We don’t have a profit margin so fees are not inflated nor do

we have the ability or desire to try to compete with local

practices since our cost structure is far different from theirs,”

Lee said.

Even so, the cost of similar services and antibiotics at a

large, well-known veterinary medical center like CSU can be more

expensive than a smaller veterinary medical facility because of the

extensive care and equipment used on the animal.

“The Veterinary Teaching Hospital has a commitment to provide

the highest quality services possible,” Lee said. “We believe our

fees reflect the excellent value given the unique resources

available to every patient that walks in our door.”

Five ways to prevent high vet costs:

-Get a cat. They have fewer health problems and genetic

disorders.

-Exercise your pet and don’t overfeed it.

-Buy a mutt. They are less likely to have a genetic disorder due

to inbreeding.

-Keep your pet on a leash or fenced when outside to avoid

getting hit by a car.

-Use flea and tick medicine.

From: Consumer Reports, July 2003.

Factors that are considered in determining fees:

-The experience, reputation and skill of the veterinarian and

staff performing the services.

-The time required to perform the services.

-Practice location and demographics.

-Cost, quality and quantity of products used (this includes

diagnostic tests, anesthesia monitoring, medications, etc.)

From: The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)

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