A couple of years ago, I adopted a senior cat from the pound. I took him to the veterinarian, who told me that he was in the early stages of kidney failure and would need frequent blood work and urinalyses done. I was devastated and felt myself starting to mourn.
I did not have pet insurance and found that the frequent vet visits were not only traumatizing my cat but my wallet as well. When the vet recently refused to renew my cat’s prescription without a panel of tests that would run me $538, I decided to call other vets for a quote.
What I found out about my veterinarian shocked me.
My veterinarian was overcharging me and running unnecessary tests.
The first thing I did was call a friend who volunteers for a pet rescue organization for veterinarian referrals. I called the vets she recommended, and got quotes for the specific tests that my vet wanted to charge me $538 for. Twice a year. Plus bloodwork every 6 weeks.
One would charge $302, the other $284. I went with the one that charged $284, not just because of the savings, but because it was considerably closer, which is important when your cat is terrified of riding in the car.
When I arrived at the vet, my poor, scared cat had vomited in the carrier. This is how much he hates the veterinarian. But this new vet was different.
The new veterinarian took the time to go through my paperwork and explain the labs to me.
He said that while my cat was in the early stages of “kidney failure,” kidney disease is very slow to develop. It can take years. In the past two years, my cat’s lab work had barely changed. No significant drop in numbers. So for two years, I was prematurely mourning his imminent demise when he was doing fine. My previous vet had me believing that if I didn’t bring my cat in every 6 weeks for blood work that I was a bad “cat mother” and he could take a turn for the worse. (At least that was the implication.)
My cat was being over-tested.
The new veterinarian looked at all the pages and pages of lab work I had done on my cat and was horrified and disgusted. He couldn’t believe how much blood and urine was taken from this poor cat when the results were “statistically the same.” I asked why he thought the previous vet had demanded so many tests. His opinion: “For the money.”
This is extremely disturbing to me. Not only because I had dropped thousands of dollars at that vet’s office, but because it’s a fact that senior cats are often dumped at the pound because their owners simply cannot afford the vet bills.
Some of the lab work I was doing was not only unnecessary, but redundant.
This new vet explained to me that it was unnecessary to test both blood and urine. A blood test will reveal if there is a problem with the kidneys, so there is no reason to test the urine as well. How would I have known that?
I have been giving medicine that may be unnecessary and ineffective.
I have been giving my cat shots that run me about $350 for a 1 ml. bottle. I started out giving the shots every 2 weeks, but now am down to every 8 weeks. My previous vet swore these shots were helping but this vet said that this particular medicine helps “marginally at best.” I am going to continue to use up the bottle (even though my cat hates getting shots!) and see if I notice a difference once I stop.
The new vet’s recommendation?
I should bring my cat in for a check-up and “senior panel” blood work once or twice a year. Because he is an older cat, every six months is recommended, but a year is okay as well. Otherwise, only if there is a problem. (Definitely if he stops eating – that is always a red flag.) Since we did not run a urinalysis, the bill was even lower – it came out to $204. That’s $334 less than if I had gone to my old vet. And unlike my old veterinarian, I was not charged a “hazardous waste fee” for cleaning the poor cat and wiping down the carrier. The prescription was renewed and when the lab work came back the next day, I was informed that the numbers were actually better.
In addition to the savings, I got something that made me even happier.
I got the gift of realizing that my cat is not facing imminent death – he is doing fine! There is no cure for kidney disease. It is gradual in its progression and is common with old age. But it is nothing for me to worry about now. I feel like I can enjoy his company without thinking he’s old and going to die soon. And he is SO grateful that I won’t be shoving him in the carrier, taking him for a terrifying ride in the car only to be poked and prodded every 6 weeks.
What to do if you think your veterinarian is overcharging you.
- Ask for a breakdown of every charge and the name of every test or procedure that is being done or recommended.
- Call around to other local vets for rates.
- Research pet rescue organizations in your area and call or email them for vet recommendations. They tend to work with a lot of vets and while they can’t get you a discount, they know which ones are reasonable and honest.
- Don’t blindly trust authority – trust your gut. My instincts told me that my cat hated all these trips to the vet and since he was asymptomatic, I found myself questioning the reason behind them.
- According to Consumer Reports, “If your pet faces a major health problem, ask your vet these questions before making any decisions: What are the treatment options? What are the immediate and long-term costs of each? What’s the prognosis for recovery? What will the pet’s post-treatment quality of life be like?”
How high are your vet bills?