Why is the Cost of Veterinary Care Increasing?

By: NATALIA PATTERSON

This December, just a few days after Christmas, my dog had gotten sick. We were at my grandparents’ house, and we had been spending a lot of time outdoors with our dog, but when she started acting tired and was reluctant to go anywhere, we knew something was wrong. Luckily, my grandparents knew some veterinarians around the area, and we found one that was open. That vet visit cost us over $500, even though it only included a check-up and X-ray, which did not show exactly what the problem was, and antibiotics for our dog to take to see if they helped her. This seemed like an excessive amount, and, as previous owners of various animals, more than we had ever paid for a check-up of this sort.

Indeed, the cost of veterinary care is rising. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), between the years of 2001 and 2019, the amount of money spent on veterinary care grew almost 85%, and is still rising. The estimated amount spent on vet care in 2020 is $30.2 billion, compared to $29.3 billion in 2019. In fact, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that the total spendings on healthcare for pets between 1996 and 2012 rose 60%, while spendings on healthcare for humans rose only about 50%. What is causing this increase?

A reason why these prices are growing is because the demand for veterinary care is increasing rapidly. One cause of this is that pets are being adopted more often than before. This may have been caused by the pandemic – a study conducted by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) showed a 35% increase of pet adoptions in the months of March through June compared to the same months in the previous year. In addition, people are beginning to realize the health benefits of owning a pet. A 2016 survey conducted by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) showed that 71% of pet owners are aware that pets improve both physical and mental health, and 88% of pet owners know that pets can reduce stress. Also, people are starting to develop stronger family-like bonds towards their animals. As a result, when an animal gets sick, an owner is more likely to seek emergency care for their beloved pet.

Another reason why vet care is so expensive is because the expenses of attending veterinary school are also very great. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the average debt for veterinary school graduates in 2016 was $143,757.82. According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), this price is increasing. At UC Davis, the tuition increased 2.6% between the years of 2016 and 2020. Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA, estimates that it takes about 20-25 years to pay off the debt caused by this high cost. This may be the reason why veterinarians charge so much for their work. So, while it is unfortunate that some people cannot afford veterinary care for their pets, these high prices may be necessary for veterinarians to pay off their debts.

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