Is there a doctor ... er, veterinarian ... in the house?
May 24, 2015 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I've got a female rat that needs to be spayed. My vet office gave me an estimate of $560. This seems way higher than I would expect (and I'm no stranger to vet bills, having taken care of many rats over the years -- but I've never done a spay). Is this a reasonable estimate, or is something wrong here?

I rescued a sweet little rat from a not-great situation. Due to unusual anatomy, she was of questionable gender as a youngster, but now is looking definitely female (confirmed by my vet -- who also wasn't sure of the gender when she was younger). My other rats are boys. Fortunately I've kept her separated from my other rats bcs of other health issues that have now been resolved. I'd like to keep her, but this requires spaying so I don't end up with a gazillion little baby rats.

Vet office gave me an estimate of $560, which is way more than I would expect. I've kept rats for years and have gone through tumor removals, neutering, etc and I typically drop $200-300 for a surgery, although I've never done a spay.

Most of the cost is going for anesthesia (isoflurane) and drugs (buprenorphine, meloxicam, etc). I do a lot of rodent surgeries myself as a scientist and have a good idea of what these chemicals cost; while I expect some markup, the vet seems to be charging like an order of magnitude more.

So if you're a vet, vet tech, or rat owner who's gone through this, I'd appreciate any info as to whether this sounds exorbitant or typical. I've already dropped a few hundred on this charming little girl but I don't exactly have loads of money. There's one other vet office in the area that treats "exotics" (anything other than a cat or dog), so maybe I should call them for an estimate too? Thanks in advance for any advice!
posted by phoenix_rising to Pets & Animals (14 answers total)
Call me crazy, but when I worked in a rat lab some of my colleagues spayed rats as part of their research. Do you have any coworkers who could do it for you for the cost of materials?
posted by telegraph at 11:55 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I lived in Australia at the time I had pet rats. My local vet charged $A120 to spay females & neuter males. This was 5 years ago. On the whole I've found vet prices in the US to usually be way cheaper than in Australia, so the cost you were quoted is very surprising. I have found though that vets in the US seem to either like to do "exotic" animals or not, this price might represent more their lack of interest in getting the job. I'd try the other vet for an estimate.
posted by wwax at 12:08 PM on May 24, 2015

Response by poster: telegraph: In theory yeah, I could probably find a colleague who knows how to do it. But in practice, using research materials for non-research purposes is an ethical no-no.
posted by phoenix_rising at 12:22 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My experience is that vets who don't do a lot of rodent work charge a crap ton for the hassle of doing it, and also that they frequently find it intimidating. Is this your usual rodent vet? I would definitely contact the exotics vet and ask for a quote if it were me.

Personally, I can definitely see not wanting to get a coworker to do the surgery with work materials--you wouldn't want to contaminate them or introduce potential diseases that could get into your rodent colony at work. That said, the anesthesia equipment is the only thing I can see that would require materials that are particularly specialized which you couldn't buy on your own--at least, this is coming from someone who generally does dissections on rodents using mustache trimming scissors and forceps. You could grab a restaurant tray and wipe it down with bleach and ethanol prior to the surgery if you needed a work space, for example. Would it be possible to purchase the materials to do the surgery and have someone who knows how to do it in the lab actually do it, without using materials intended and purchased for research?
posted by sciatrix at 12:35 PM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

How much to neuter the boys?
posted by feste at 2:40 PM on May 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

IANAV, but I would guess that most of the anesthesia cost is for a skilled person to monitor the situation while the doc does the invasive surgery, not for the "materials." The margin between anesthetized and dead is probably pretty slim with an animal that size. That said, you might get a better rate from the "exotics" vet, if this sort of thing is more routine over there.
posted by baseballpajamas at 2:44 PM on May 24, 2015

It's probably too early, but my city and a couple others are using "rat birth control" (google ContraPest) to try controlling the rat population. The idea being, I assume, that you set out a bunch of tasty rat food laced with whatever this chemical is, the rats eat it, and the females are sterilized fairly quickly and safely (where "safely" includes any predators that might eat those rats). That's if the claims are to be believed.
So like I said, probably not helpful for your current situation, but if someone comes across this question in future -- there may be chemical sterilization available.
(Actually, I see from your profile page that you're in Chicago or thereabouts. That's one of the cities trying it, which might make it easier to get your hands on some.)
posted by uosuaq at 4:35 PM on May 24, 2015

Response by poster: Hey all, thanks for the answers so far! This vet place does treat exotics specifically, so that's not the issue.

Sciatrix, yeah I probably could find a colleague who knows how to do this particular surgery, but getting my own materials would be pretty difficult I think, and even bringing the rat into the lab (to use the isoflurane vaporizer) is probably against the rules. (An alternative would be to use an injectible anesthetic like ketamine, but it's a controlled substance.)

Feste, neutering is probably less expensive but I've got 3 males, so cost of neuter x 3 is probably not much cheaper. :(

Baseballpajamas, interesting point, although in my experience it's very easy for the surgeon themselves to monitor rats under isoflurane -- for surgeries in lab, we always do our own monitoring and it's pretty straightforward. But I don't know how the vet does it; you could be right.

There are a couple other exotic vets in the area so I'll call around for comparison, and probably also ask my current vet if the estimate was perhaps in error -- mistakes happen. Thanks again everyone for your input!
posted by phoenix_rising at 4:38 PM on May 24, 2015

Response by poster: uosuaq: wow that's interesting, hadn't heard about that. Thanks!

(Ok, no more thread-sitting, sorry mods!)
posted by phoenix_rising at 4:40 PM on May 24, 2015

Due to unusual anatomy, she was of questionable gender

This may be contributing to the bill.

I've seen anywhere from $200-$450 for a rat spay, which may or may not include examination, blood work, and pain medications. Your geographic location is also a factor.

Most of the cost is going for anesthesia (isoflurane) and drugs (buprenorphine, meloxicam, etc).

As with many other professions that require years of dedicated training, the materials may be cheap, but the expertise costs extra.
posted by Seppaku at 5:03 PM on May 24, 2015

How old is she? I would factor the risk of surgery and cost for the benefit of her lifespan remaining over choosing not to spay her and keeping her separate or with a female companion rat in another cage. We got different quotes too for neutering and the second cheapest and the one we went with was a vet who treated rats quite often and liked them, not a specialist or someone who almost never did rats. Call around for more quotes first. I would pay for a vet to do a spaying over a colleague doing a neutering which is much simpler though, it's just not worth the risk.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:55 PM on May 24, 2015

My friend said she got hers done for $50. I didn't believe her but the Idaho Humane Society has female rat spay for $50 and male rat neuter for $40. That still seems rather cheap - it's probably subsidized. This thread on a pet rat forum has the 2012 prices as $75 - $300 in a remote locale. Your vet's price definitely seems quite inflated.
posted by barnone at 6:56 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're in the city listed in your profile, this thread recommends Dr. Kuhle at the Arlington Heights Animal Hospital. Even if those prices have gone up, it'll still be cheaper than your current quoted price.
posted by barnone at 7:03 AM on May 25, 2015

Response by poster: (Just in case anyone is still reading this...)
Thanks all for your input. After some shopping around, I decided on Arlington Heights -- they're fairly close to me and charge $200 for a spay. So my little girl will get to join the boys soon! :)
posted by phoenix_rising at 3:15 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

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