Have you ever wondered why some places offer surgeries, such as spay or neuter, for under $100 and other places you feel like you’re paying an arm and a leg? There are several reasons why there is such a difference in pricing which is important to understand when choosing where to have the procedure for your pet.
Low cost clinics are able to offer extremely affordable prices compared to full service hospitals. It does not mean low cost provides substandard care and it doesn’t mean full service are over charging to profit. Understanding the differences between the two can help put in perspective why pricing is so different. They might be performing the “same” surgery, but the overall process and procedures are not the same.
Low cost clinics exist to help keep the pet population under control by offering services to spay and neuter at affordable pricing. They are a great option for many scenarios like foster pets, shelter animals, the financially distressed, etc.
One of the main differences between low cost and full service is pre-anesthetic bloodwork. Pre-anesthetic bloodwork is done prior to surgery to check liver and kidney values because these organs process the anesthesia. The bloodwork can also reveal underlying medical issues that may cause complications during surgery. Unlike full service, low cost clinics don’t typically require this bloodwork because it’s one way to cut down costs and they are usually working on young healthy pets. These patients don’t usually have underlying issues but there are always exceptions. Without bloodwork, the risks of surgery and post-op increase due to the vet staff being unaware of any possible health threats.
Full service hospitals typically place IV (intravenous) catheters in order to administer fluids throughout the surgery. Fluids not only assist with blood pressure stability but it also helps deliver blood flow to organs. When there are blood pressure issues during surgery, it causes a decreased blood flow to vital organs causing them to possibly fail which may not be seen for days after the surgery. In low cost clinics, they do not typically use IV catheters and fluids. This is another factor that changes the price of the procedure.
There are several devices that are used in full service surgeries that constantly monitor CO2 levels, blood pressure, body temperature, and the heart. All of which are important to be within normal limits while under anesthesia. Low cost clinics do not routinely monitor these vitals, not because they don’t value your pet’s health, but there are several costs involved. There are costs to having these devices and trained/certified staff present that are able to operate them and manage any complications that may arise from abnormal vitals.
Low cost clinics perform numerous surgeries a day, sometimes as many as 50. Typically these clinics operate under a very limited staff as many of the vets and staff work at other hospitals too. When it comes to surgeries, the recovery time following the surgery is when the pet is most at risk, which applies to any patient in any hospital. In a full service hospital there is a staff member monitoring the pet at all times in case of any complications while recovering from anesthesia. With the high volume of surgeries and the limited staff in a low cost clinic, there is not only multitasking but there is not someone available to sit with every patient from start to finish. So if any difficulty arises, it could go unnoticed for a short period of time. Of course this is never intentional, it strictly is because of the limited staff and more staff members mean more costs in order to pay their employees.
There are some cases where low cost clinics are not the best option and they will probably tell you that themselves. Pets that are senior, brachycephalic (flat/smooshed face), obese, in heat, pregnant, aggressive, or a history of medical issues are considered high risk patients and would benefit better from a full service hospital. Low cost clinics are not typically set up for emergency situations which is why high risk patients are not recommended.
A majority of the time pets recover great with no complications, but it’s always important to understand why the costs are different and what services are offered. This applies to full service hospitals as well, never assume the services your pet is receiving for the higher cost. Always ask. Complications can’t be foreseen regardless of the care, effort, and preparation because there are risks no matter where you choose to have your pet’s surgery. The risks simply increase when these points discussed are unknown.
Low cost clinics are great. Full service hospitals are great. But understanding your pet’s health and medical services available is even better!
By Adriene Buisch, Charm City Veterinary Hospital