“TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS?! I’m not paying until I see what those charges are for!” Sound familiar? As a pet owner, you have definitely faced a few hefty bills for your beloved furry child. If you didn’t lash out at the technician as they read your bill total, you were at least caught off guard by the amount. By far, the most common theme I saw during my days as a veterinary technician was that pet owners (in general) do not understand the financial responsibilities of owning a pet nor the exorbitant debt that their veterinarian owes for their education. Those two hundred dollars will barely pay back one day out of four years of your veterinarian’s education.
In order to be a better pet owner, you must first understand a few things commonly misunderstood about the veterinary profession. On average, a veterinarian graduates with a doctorate degree after four years with approximately $150,000 in debt. Yes, that’s a lot of George Washingtons! This does not include any undergraduate loans or the people that spent several more years specializing in a specific field of veterinary medicine. Now we’re talking $200,000 - $300,000 worth of debt. Did that make you think twice about the reasons your vet bill is so high? Most veterinarians live very frugally – driving older cars, coupon clipping and living well beneath their means every single day. Some drown in their debt, unable to pay it back.
Tuition for veterinary school continues to rise while the starting salary continues to fall. Next time you hear someone tell you that a veterinarian makes “big bucks” you might want to tell them to think again. The starting salary out of school these days is around $45,000. If you think that might be a pretty decent amount, add up the monthly payment they must make on the extreme loan debt that has accrued interest at about 7% since they began school 4 years ago. Ouch. The numbers will show you that the average veterinarian can barely float above water for quite a long time as the average loan payback takes 30 years or more.
Now, this article is supposed to be giving you, the pet owner, advice on being a better pet owner. My best advice is to find a young veterinarian attending school and give them a scholarship! As I am about to enter my first year of school this fall, I’ve already spent countless hours worrying about money instead of my dream. Instead of being excited over the thousands of animals I will get to help over the course of my career, I’m struggling to figure out how I’m going to afford school let alone a family, home or even a life at all once I graduate. The debt incurred by a veterinarian is no joke so scholarships would mean a brighter future for many pets, including your own. At the very least, understand that your veterinary bill is what it is for a good reason.
There are three other basic recommendations that I would give to all pet owners. First, do not get a pet if you cannot afford the cost. Second, DO get a pet if you can afford the cost. Third, respect your pets and take care of them every day. These may seem to be simple or even common sense recommendations, but ask yourself if you’ve followed all three of them to perfection. Could you really afford a $2,000 unexpected surgery on your Labrador Retriever’s torn ACL? On the other hand, do you have only one cat but have plentiful resources to rescue another in need of a home? Have you made sure to treat your pet with not only general respect, but also getting them prompt medical care, proper socialization and exercise?
All-in-all, there are endless ways for you to become a better pet owner. When getting down to the core of things though, it all starts with future veterinarians that need the help of pet owners to afford their education. Humans must help other humans in order to help the animals.