Warning! Dr. Cheapvet
Could Be Hazardous to Your Pet's Health
Does your vet brag
about low, low prices? Imply that "other" vets are greedy
while their only motive is love for animals? Boast that they don't do
Be warned: While
you're praising your vet for saving you money, your pets could be paying
the ultimate price.
It sounds too good to be true,
doesn't it? A vet who provides competent, ethical medical care,
is the nicest person on earth, doesn't recommend all those
"unnecessary" tests, and comes out the generous,
saintly hero who isn't like all those "greedy" vets.
Clients love him. After all, a person like that must love
animals because they sure don't care about money, right?
If the wonderful Dr. Cheapvet sounds
unbelievable, that's because he might very well be. While animal
guardians think they're savvy enough to be wary of a vet who might
overcharge -- and some certainly do -- it never occurs to most of us
that a vet could put your pet's health and life at risk in order to be
known as an "honest" vet. But make no mistake -- it
Thoroughly check out your
vet--especially if he or she is known for "low" prices
If you're a guardian who would do
anything for your pet -- almost every animal survey indicates that there
are an awful lot of us out here -- and you have a history of pulling out
all the stops to make sure your pets get everything they need, be sure
you thoroughly check out your vet for a history of complaints,
investigations, or disciplinary actions. Dr. Cheapvet may be in more
trouble than you know, but that's nothing compared to the trouble your
pet could be in.
Dr. CheapVets prey on clients' fears
of getting "ripped off"
How does Dr. Cheapvet pull it off?
Simple. When you think about it, it's downright brilliant -- if you're
the trusting type. Dr. Cheapvet plays on the innate fear of pet owners
who believe that every vet is out to rip them off at an emotionally
vulnerable time. Just look at some vet bills to see those costs racked
up in the four and five figures, and you are a prime target for a vet
who could quickly identify your outrage and exploit it for his own
Dr. Cheapvet can spot a mark a mile
away. The cost of veterinary care is ridiculous, right? Your friends
balk at their vet bills. People gripe about mysterious tests and vague
charges. You go into debt to give Fido and Fifi the best. And for what?
All vets are rich and greedy and will take you for every cent, right? Of
Enter Dr. Cheapvet. He feels
The worst Dr. Cheapvets are notoriously
good actors. They shake their heads and commiserate about all those vets
who take advantage of the poor, hapless pet guardian who wouldn't know
they're getting rooked without the wonderful Dr. Cheapvet to enlighten
them. You listen in rapt attention! You can hardly believe it! A vet who
truly loves animals! A vet who doesn't care about the almighty dollar! A
vet who isn't out to take your life savings! A vet you can trust!
A vet, in short, who is not like all
those other vets.
If you ever find yourself around a vet
who is "not like all those other vets," you need to grab your
pet and your car keys and head for the nearest second opinion as soon as
possible. While you might be tempted to be duly impressed that you've
found an "honest" vet, your problems may have just begun. In
fact, if a vet is bragging about not being like those other vets, you
and your pet may be at real risk.
Your vet better be like all
those other vets.
The statutes of the Veterinary Practice
Act that govern the practice of vets in all 50 states were written to guarantee
that vets are supposed to be more or less alike, meaning, no vet can
treat based on a whim or worse, a personal philosophy that he feels
entitled to implement no matter how much it deviates from the standard
of care. Vets will certainly have differences of opinion, but they
cannot, by law, administer treatment that differs substantially from
what any other vet in the same or similar community would do for the
same animal in the same or similar condition. (If you suspect your vet
has violated the professional standard of humane care, see How
to File a Complaint Against A Veterinarian.)
Make sure you're comparing
more than just cost.
That's why second and third
opinions are paramount. Dr. Cheapvet may have lured you in with
the implied promise of standard of care at bargain basement
costs, but it's up to you to be informed enough to know there's
a possibility that standard of care may be at risk--which means
your pet is at risk. As a layperson, it's highly unlikely that
you have any idea what the standard of care is anyway. And who
knows? Dr. Cheapvet might just like it that way. When choosing a
second opinion, look for one who has no connection to the first
vet. And be especially careful when dealing with a sole
practitioner -- there may not be any other vets around for good
reason. Dr. Cheapvets may not want their practices under too
much scrutiny from colleagues who might not agree with their
peculiar form of bargain-basement medicine.
When is a Dr. Cheapvet okay?
To be fair, there may be
competent, dedicated, and ethical vets who, for whatever reason,
consistently choose not to charge what the going rate is.
Perhaps they don't need the money. Perhaps they inherited it,
invested it, won it, or married it. They may have no expertise
or interest in complicated or chronic cases and refer patients
to specialists when the need arises. But here's what you need to
watch out for: Is your pet being cared for competently with
proper monitoring, testing, accurate diagnoses, record keeping,
and informed consent? Or is Dr. Cheapvet throwing all that by
the wayside because they tell themselves they're not charging
you enough for you to have any "complaints." Think
When is a Dr. Cheapvet NOT
Some of the worst Dr. Cheapvets could
be charging less simply because they feed off the hero worship of
ignorant, trusting people who equate "cheap" with
"honest," running around town spreading the word about how
"great" this vet is when they have NO clue whether their pets
are receiving proper testing, monitoring, treatments, and records.
Dr. Cheapvet could be raking in the
bucks in other ways that you know nothing about.
Like surgery, for example,
typically the most expensive thing on the menu. Dr. Cheapvet
could be doing an inordinate amount of surgeries or receiving
tons of surgical referrals from his friends and colleagues,
while yawning over "boring" routine patients who don't
provide the adrenaline rush of cutting into flesh. Some vets
might even avoid long term chronic care cases because they are
labor and time-intensive (like IV fluids that require consistent
patient monitoring) and don't bring in the fast revenue of
assembly line hack medicine where quantity supersedes quality.
And sometimes it's simply because some Dr. Cheapvets just don't
give a damn. They've gotten away with their laissez-faire
attitude because they have perfected a routine that allows them
to do the minimum amount of work in exchange for the maximum
amount of ego food.
The only thing worse than a
Dr. Cheapvet is a lazy Dr. Cheapvet.
So before you run and recommend
that "wonderful" cheap doctor to all your friends,
waxing poetic about how he doesn't charge thousands and
thousands of dollars like all the other moneygrubbers that Dr.
Cheapvets are sure to bash (as if they are bringing you into
some private "club" where you trust Dr. Cheapvet
because he's "protecting" you from the real con
artists)--make sure you know what you're talking about. Dr.
Cheapvets LOVE ignorant, trusting clients who don't do their
Should you listen to friends'
Not if they include the words,
"Oh, they are so nice and so cheap!" Actually, you don't know
if they are either one of those things. But worse than that, you don't
know if your friends' companions are receiving standard of care because
they haven't done their homework and are simply believing whatever Dr.
Cheapvet tells them. Do your own research, independent of any
emotion or "feel good" anecdotes from people who might not
care about your pet if they are helping out their Cheapvet friend.. Then
you can decide if your friends are choosing a Dr. Cheapvet because he or
she really is good or simply because they are cheap--and
Referrals from friends are fine, but be
wary of any friend who tells you that all vets are alike--the only
difference being cost. By law, vets are supposed to provide more or less
the same treatment for the same animal with the same condition within
the same or similar community--this is the definition of standard of
care--but we as consumers have no way of enforcing those laws and
veterinary boards dismiss complaints against vets more often than not.
So what can you do to make
sure your pet is getting proper standard of care at fair prices?
- FIRST, DO YOUR HOMEWORK --
online and off. Check out every aspect of the vet's
professional life. Does he or she have a history of professional
problems, complaints, investigations, and/or disciplinary
actions? The cheapest vet on earth is worthless if they have
been under a cloud of suspicion, no matter what the outcome. Dr.
Cheapvet may have had to lower his prices considerably because
of bad publicity. Check court files, including small claims
court, for hints of veterinary malpractice claims or other legal
entanglements. Dr. Cheapvet may have needed to downshift
his prices in a hurry to boost his "good guy" image.
After all, nobody can resist a bargain and if a vet is cheap
enough, owners might happily overlook a checkered past to save a
- Compare prices. Call
around to at least three different practices to ask about costs
for specific procedures. If your pet is already
hospitalized or in a care setting, make sure you get cost
breakdowns of each procedure, including injections, tests,
medications, surgery, etc.
- Don't wait until your pet is in
critical condition. Get regular routine care to familiarize yourself
with how much your vet costs and if he or she is in line with other
vets' prices -- extremes on either end could indicate a problem. Once
you are in an emergency situation you are vulnerable in either
extreme--an overcharging vet taking advantage of you, or a Dr.
Cheapvet who may manipulate you into euthanasia. A Cheapvet can
also do such inferior work or use "quick fixes" (like
juicing a dying animal on steroids) that you'll end up spending
more at an ethical vet trying to fix the substandard care given
by a cheapskate.
- Get second and third
opinions -- yes, it bears repeating and they are absolutely
essential with geriatric animals, those with chronic conditions,
or a pet who needs surgery. You need to distance yourself
from "liking" your vet or caring what he or she thinks
of you. Do what is best for your pet, not what is best for the
vet. Believe me, Dr. Cheapvet is taking care of himself FIRST,
no matter his "saintly" image.
- Watch for any signs of
manipulation (and some of them are EXTREMELY subtle), so take along
a friend who can witness what is being said and done to you and your pet
at a vulnerable time.
- Watch your own "poormouthing"
talk. Some vets are masters at zeroing in on your weak points in
order to justify doing whatever they want to your pet and patting
themselves on the back later for doing you a "favor" even if
"making things easier on you" meant killing your pet. Did you just lose your job?
Do you have a lot of unexpected medical bills? Did your kid get into trouble at school? Are you worried about money?
IRRELEVANT. Be careful how much personal financial information you give
to vets who may act as if they want what you want. You don't really
know what they want. But guess what? THEY know. And your pet may
suffer as a result.
- Some Dr. Cheapvets blatantly brag
about how they are saving their clients money by not running any
unnecessary tests. How do you know they're unnecessary? Because the
wonderful Dr. Cheapvet says so? Get another opinion, fast. Your pet
could need any number of tests and treatments that you know NOTHING
about. Make sure that when Dr. Cheapvet brags about how he's saving you
money that your pet is also being properly tested and diagnosed. Don't
just automatically gush with gratitude at a vet who may be very
practiced at controlling patient outcome through insufficient testing,
monitoring, and treatment while you have no clue what is really going
- ALWAYS get copies of all
test results AND copies of your pet's records after every visit.
Records are a big part of what you pay a veterinarian
for--not just cutesy-poo baby talk or shooting the breeze about
the state of our society don'tcha know, or any other BS that
some of these people engage in in order to deflect you from the
issue at hand--namely your pet's health.
- This goes double If a vet
is doing in-house testing of any kind -- GET COPIES OF THE
RESULTS. Dr. Cheapvet could be bragging that his latest
gizmo or gadget is more economical than sending it out to some
"greedy" lab. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but like
any other test result, you should get copies of it. Lab work is
part of the entire patient record that you are paying for, no
matter where it's coming from. Once, again--get copies of your
pet's medical record including the written and/or computerized
chart after every visit. If and when something should go
wrong, the first line of defense for the vet will be tampering
with patient records. If you get copies at each visit, it will
make it harder for them to start rewriting your pet's medical
- Finally, never, ever, ever EVER
equate "cheap" with "honest." They can be
synonymous, but not always, and how would you know anyway? Although it
may be a tremendous sacrifice to pay those vet bills, veterinary care
may not be the best place to cut corners. Trusting Dr. Cheapvet could be
the biggest mistake you make in the life of your pet. Once your beloved
companion is gone, no amount of money will bring him or her back.
Graphic: N Kamil Money,
memory of Suki the Cat, victim of Edward Nichols, Crestway Animal Clinic.