The cost of pet care: What’s behind those big vet bills?

By June 4, 2013 Uncategorized


            By Alex Ballingall             Posted with permission from Toronto Star


Ask veterinarians what they charge for their services, and you’ll get a litany of qualifiers before a firm figure comes up.

They’re not necessarily hedging: While the cost of care for your kitty or pooch can be vary dramatically depending on where you go, some pricier veterinarians say people need to know exactly what they’re paying for.

Essentially, they say, their costs are higher because they’re providing superior service.

“The list of what happens from start to finish is exceptional, and the care that people put into it, the love and attention,” said Dr. Hazel Eaglesome, a veterinarian at the  Blue Cross Animal Hospital on Danforth Ave. “We’re providing fully stocked hospitals for our patients.”

One regular procedure that seems expensive is spaying and neutering. Toronto Animal Services offers discounted procedures for cats that are hundreds of dollars lower than some clinics. They don’t do the same for dogs, because “we do not have a homeless dog problem in Toronto,” says spokesperson Tammy Robbinson.

Robbinson says city prices — $40 for a cat neuter, $60 for a spay — are “cost-recovery,” meaning that the city doesn’t turn a profit for providing the service. She adds “the city does not offer pre-anesthetic blood work,” which tests the health of a pet before surgery, while many veterinary clinics do.

Dr. Bernie Caplan, who practices at the  Annex Animal Hospital, said veterinary services offered at other clinics – which can be hundreds of dollars cheaper – don’t compare. “We’re not just ripping people off,” he said, describing how animals at his clinic are supervised during procedures by accredited veterinary technicians, and that all outgoing patients receive painkillers to take home. Not all clinics do that, he said.

“Pain medication is not an option. It’s not going to be an option in my place,” said Caplan. “That’s why I’m a veterinarian, to prevent your pet from being in pain.”

Both Caplan and Eaglesome added that overhead at higher-end veterinary clinics is higher than others, with their paid technicians and staff, monitoring devices, X-ray machines and the like. To give an idea of what goes into the care they offer, here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to pay for three common procedures for dogs and cats at reputable veterinary clinics.

Prices are general estimates provided by Caplan, Eaglesome and Dr. Scott Bainbridge at the  Dundas West Animal Hospital.


Spay for Cat: $300 to $400; Dog: $400 to $600

Neuter for Cat: $250 to $300; Dog: $330 to $420

What this includes:

  • Anesthetics (injectable and half-hour gas)
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Hospitalization charge
  • Painkillers
  • Heating pad and blankets
  • Heart, breathing, body temperature monitoring
  • Cost for surgery
  • Cost for presence of registered technician

Teeth cleaning

Cat: $395 to $475; Dog: $395 to $550

What this includes:

  • Anesthetics (injected, then half-hour gas)
  • Scaling and polishing
  • Hospitalization
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Heart, breathing, body temperature monitoring
  • Dental exam fee
  • X-rays (sometimes)
  • Cost for presence of registered technician
  • Heating pad and blankets

Systotomy (to remove bladder stones)

Cat/Dog (more common for cats): $1,300 to $1,700

What this includes:

  • Anesthetics (injected, 40 to 90 minutes on gas)
  • Hospitalization
  • Heart, breathing, body temperature monitoring
  • Cost for presence of registered technician
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Heating pad and blankets
  • Post-op lab work (analysis of stones, urine, blood)
  • Surgery fee
  • Antibiotics
  • Pain killers

Bothersome breeds

All dogs and cats need proper care to be healthy. But some breeds are sicklier than others.

Bull dogs often suffer from breathing problems, an unfortunate result of the scrunched shape of their face. Pinched nostrils can sometimes be corrected with surgery, but often the breathing issues are incorrigible.

Golden retrievers are prone to hip dysplasia, where the ball and socket joints of their hind legs aren’t properly formed. The condition can lead to stiffness and pain, and sometimes warrants surgery.

Bernese Mountain dogs are frequently stricken with malignant histiocytosis, a genetic cancer that turns up in the breed. The cancer of the lungs and lymph nodes may affect up to a quarter of the breed, according to a 2006 study.

Scottish Fold cats have crumpled little ears that can sometimes prove problematic. The genetic trait is linked to  phposteochondrodysplasia, a condition linked to bone and cartilage deformities, which can cause joint pain.

Maine Coon cats are sometimes afflicted with a hereditary heart problem, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can clot the blood and cause paralysis in the hind legs and heart failure.

Lifetime costs

Dog: The life expectancy of a dog varies by breed, but in North America and Europe, you can expect your dog to keep kicking for 13 years. Based on  Ontario Veterinary Medical Association calculations, owning a 40-pound dog for 13 years will cost more than $28,700. The estimate takes into account annual vaccines, veterinary bills, food and pet insurance costs.

Cat: Like dogs, cats’ life spans vary. According to the  ASPCA, the average house cat lives for 13 to 17 years. Using OVMA’s calculations, a 10-pound cat that lives to 15-years-old will cost more than $24,000 in vet bills, food and other costs.

Sources: Ontario Veterinary Medical Association,, ASPCA, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare



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