Finding high-quality care for your pet at a reasonable cost

Why vet prices vary from clinic to clinic

When you bring your pet to the veterinarian, you can end up spending hundreds of dollars in the blink of an eye.

Kimberly Gough said she found that out the hard way at a recent vet visit for her Chihuahua mix, Trixie. They were told Trixie needed her teeth cleaned, and several teeth pulled, so they didn't hesitate.

[WEB EXTRA: Getting a second opinion ]

"It ended up costing us a little over $800 and it was a shock," said Gough. "That was on top of the checkup fee, which was around $200."

Gough said she would do it all over again if she had to, but it left her wondering.

"She got really good care, I will say that. But I just don't know if I paid too much, and I don't know how to find out what's normal or not," said Gough.

"Certainly our clients can experience sticker shock," said Dr. John R. Bass, a retired veterinarian with more than 30 years of experience practicing in Central Florida. "But my experience has been that when we sit down, discuss and go over our diagnostic plan or treatment plan, they recognize pretty quickly that veterinary care is a good value. That's what we try to do, we try to give good value to our clients."

Bass said costs may seem high in comparison to what procedures cost years ago, but said that's all because of technology.

"I think you have to look at the progress that's been made in medicine in general, and certainly that means veterinary medicine, said Bass. " We've got technology available to us now that we never had before. We've got MRIs, we've got CAT scans, digital X-rays, ultrasounds. All of them allow us to do a better job. We've got medications that are new and improved and allow us to do a better job, we've got diagnostic procedures as far as lab work and other procedures that we never had before. Our clients demand it, and I'm sure our patients appreciate it and all that comes with a cost."

Local 6 called 16 veterinary clinics around Central Florida to check on pricing.

We found just for the office visit itself, prices ranged from $35 to $65. For teeth cleaning, clinics said they needed to check out the pup for an accurate quote, but said prices can range from $200 on up to $700, just to start.

For spaying a small dog, you could pay anywhere from $60 at a low-cost clinic to more than $410 at a private practice. We found the average price was $265. For neutering, the price ranges from $60 to $380 with an average of $237. Keep in mind, that's for a small dog-- larger dogs will cost you more.

Spaying and neutering cats tends to be a little less expensive than dogs. If you're thinking about declawing a cat, most clinics said a two-paw declaw is cheaper if done at the same time as a spay or neuter. If you choose to do the procedure by itself, we were quoted prices from $170 to $370.

But Bass warns against just calling around for a quote.

"One clinic may quote you the whole package and the other clinic may say just the surgery price," said Bass. "That doesn't tell you if it includes the anesthesia, the surgery, the pain medications afterwards."

More importantly, Bass said it's hard to say what you should pay, because vet pricing isn't regulated.

"Vets and vet clinics are small businesses, so with that, we are not allow to sit down amongst ourselves to set prices, compare prices, anything like that," said Bass. "I never knew precisely what the clinic down the road or across town or whatever was charging for various procedures. Each clinic, based on what their expenses are, based on what each vet is comfortable with as far as their level of practice, that's how they are going to set their fees."

That's why he said it's important to get an itemized estimate, especially if you feel like your vet is pushing for you to consider services or products you're unsure about.

"It's our job to recommend things that will help you keep your pet healthy. A lot of our work is of the preemptive nature, as far as lab work goes, and stuff like that, where we are starting to look for problems," said Bass. "It depends on the breed and what they're predisposed for. So as pets get older, it's probably going be a little more expensive to undergo a specialized procedure. We try to make our clients aware that in order to minimize the risk for whatever we want to do, we recommend this diagnostic procedure. But if you feel like you're being pushed on something, then ask for more explanation."

Gough said sometimes, she feels that's easier said than done.

"I think people are afraid. People judge you on how you treat your pet sometimes, so they think, oh, if you're not spending to take care of your pet, then you're not doing a good job," said Gough.

"You should never feel bad. First of all, recognize we are recommending to you what we feel is plan A. There's always a plan B, there's always a plan C, you should never feel bad if plan A doesn't work," said Bass.

That's where he said having a good relationship with your veterinarian is key.

"Then when you meet them, you can say, 'You know, I just can't do this right now. I know this is needed, but can you help me out? Can we find another way?'" said Bass.

Some vet clinics offer payment plans, if you just ask. Many vets also accept Care Credit, a credit card for health expenses, which can include those for your pet. Bass also said all of your pet's medical records are yours, which means you are free to get a second opinion anywhere you want. Just be aware you may need to pay for duplicate procedures if you choose to get a second opinion.

He said the bottom line is, you need to trust your instincts on your vet.

"If you're not comfortable, I'm not going to be comfortable with you, and the one that's going to suffer the most out of this is your pet," said Bass.

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