Help understanding vet costs
September 9, 2016 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I had a very bad experience at my usual vet and had to take my cat to the emergency vet... can experienced people help me understand how much these things should cost?

I'll try not to rant too much about my old vet who I think almost killed my cat...

I took my cat in who had been vomitting/not eating/lethargic and they gave her anti-nausea/antibiotics/held her during the day for $300. The next day she was worse and acting very strangely, drinking nonstop from the sink and even getting in the shower with me while it was running. I called the vet and he said it's fine without really listening then tried to sell me new food when SHE WASN'T EATING.

A day later (last night), I convinced myself to take her to the emergency vet and she has kidney failure. They're holding her for 2 days to add IV fluid and check her kidney levels daily for $2,000.

I feel like I'm just getting hosed by all of these people. What can I expect for a normal treatment of fluid + antibiotics? $300 seemed very steep when the vet did nothing more than a 2 minute exam and an antibiotic injection. (I should've bailed on him awhile ago, but somehow he has good reviews.)

The emergency vet explained the options well, and did bloodwork which showed the kidney failure. They said they might need to hold her for extra days at $1,000 per day... is this reasonable? In reviewing all the stuff they're doing it is essentially just fluids, watching and the daily bloodwork.
posted by OnTheLastCastle to Pets & Animals (21 answers total)
I also boarded the cats with this same vet Thursday Aug 25 - Tuesday Aug 30 and then she got sick two days later on Thursday Sep 1, but I figure I have no way to question the vet. I asked if anything was going around their facility and they said no.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:35 AM on September 9, 2016

Sorry to hear about your sweet kitty's troubles.

When our late cat was being taken care of by our vet last summer (boarding and cancer treatment), the bills were easily running $1000 a day. We live in Manhattan, though, so I'm not sure if that has anything to do with it. Our pet insurance picked up about 90% of the costs.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:40 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do not know how much those specific treatments should cost, but I can say that the emergency vet in my town is _much_ more expensive that our regular vet.

Treatment for a bleeding wound on my cat ran about $400 at the emergency vet. Another recurrence of the same thing at our regular vet was about $100.

Similar with a different problem for our other cat, emergency vet was several hundred dollars more than the regular vet.

Ours is focused almost solely on after-hours emergency care, though, so the boarding prices are much higher, but you wouldn't expect an animal to be there for more than an overnight observation, maybe your vet is the same way, thus the high prices?
posted by madajb at 11:44 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had a very similar thing happen with my cat. She had to stay in the ER at Tufts in Grafton, MA for like ten days and it ended up costing us over $2000.00. Vet ERs are very, very costly.
posted by bondcliff at 11:45 AM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your experience is similar to mine when I took my dog to the emergency vet. To put it charitably, it seems that they do whatever they can to keep your pet alive, and wait for you to tell them when you want to stop - ultimately as the owner, it is up to you to decide to what lengths you will go to save your pet. To put it another way, yeah, you'll totally get hosed, just like I did. I paid $1600 for about 12 hours in care, and that was after putting my foot down about not letting them bring in the cardiologist (for a dog who could barely breathe on her own, come on).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:47 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your cat mostly just needs IV fluids, you can give them at home - ask the emergency vet about it. My roommate's vet had her give the first round with their supervision, then sold her a large bag of saline (5 days worth, maybe?) and some needles for ~$40. They had an instructional handout with pictures, this was clearly something the vet saw often.
posted by momus_window at 11:52 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Our sweet Hercule Purrr-ot, may he rest in a peace consisting entirely of unlimited food and head skritches, spent about 36 hours as an inpatient due to life-threatening anemia. We were trying to keep him alive long enough to determine if his anemia was from a treatable source. (It wasn't, poor booger. Vaccinate your kitties against FeLV!)

Between the oxygen kennel and the vital sign monitoring and the blood tests and the transfusion and the biohazard disposal fees and the tech fees etc. etc. etc., it cost us about $2500. We're in the Bay Area, so that's probably on the expensive side, but in general, yeah, inpatient care for animals is pricey.
posted by jesourie at 12:00 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure about emergency vet rates, but my wife took a cat with similar symptoms to the regular vet yesterday and paid about $300, but that included an x-ray and bloodwork along with the exam, fluids, and anti-emetic shot.
posted by songs about trains at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2016

I don't think the costs you cited in your question are out of the norm. We had our cat hospitalized for 3 days and it was about $1000 a day. Our other cat needed emergency care and surgery (from a feline dental surgeon, so, maybe a bit more expensive), and that was about the same. Thankfully, these were not in the same year. Emergency vets are very expensive.
posted by onecircleaday at 12:15 PM on September 9, 2016

And yeah, I'd switch vets. What you described reminded me of our first kitty in her last stages of kidney disease and eventual failure.

I called the vet and he said it's fine without really listening then tried to sell me new food when SHE WASN'T EATING.

Your vet is either really busy, really insensitive, or both. I can see why you're so upset and I wouldn't go back, personally.
posted by onecircleaday at 12:18 PM on September 9, 2016

I'd get a new regular vet ASAP. Not because the charges seem high, but because they didn't do a great job with diagnosis and the food sell response to your call the next day when you asked about very alarming behavior was really inexcusable. I wouldn't be able to trust them again.

The emergency vet charges are also normal. They cost a lot. My emergency vet hospital is very good about this and at every step, they review the options, what each option costs, and what their advice is about the options. It's very transparent and I never felt railroaded. Kidney failure is fairly common in older cats. Depending on how your cat is doing once she's stabilized, you could expect to go home with a new diet and a bag of saline and IV set-up to administer fluids yourself at home. One cat I used to cat-sit lived with kidney failure for years before departing the world at age 22. Of course, YMMV and I wish you and kitty the best. It's so hard when they're sick.
posted by quince at 12:21 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

The costs you cite seem within the norm to me. I do think that if you want to fight it, you may have a case to get the regular vet to waive or discount your bill if they overlooked a condition they shouldn't have. But I don't know whether that's the case, or whether this is just the kind of thing a responsible vet could still miss easily.

Regardless, you should switch vets, because you're uncomfortable with this one and that's all the reason you need.
posted by Stacey at 12:23 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

our experience is similar to mine when I took my dog to the emergency vet. To put it charitably, it seems that they do whatever they can to keep your pet alive, and wait for you to tell them when you want to stop - ultimately as the owner, it is up to you to decide to what lengths you will go to save your pet.

My experience with a suddenly sick cat was also similar to yours, so the costs aren't out of the norm. But I do want to say that at one point during the ordeal, the emergency vet felt that the only option was a very expensive surgery, and the way that she proposed that surgery to me made me think to ask: "If this were your cat, would you recommend this?" At which point she had no problem in telling me "no," saving me thousands of dollars (and my cat the stress of the surgery). I do honestly think that the emergency vets don't want to be the first ones to tell a pet owner that "this is hopeless."

So, I think you should make it clear with the emergency vet before you incur any more costs that you want to understand what the prognosis is for your kitty, and trust the answer you get. If the emergency vet says that this course of treatment is likely to help your cat recover to a long and happy life, I think it's reasonable to also ask about ways that you can lower the cost. For example, I have friends whose dog had some [condition] that would require him getting IV fluids on the regular. Their vet took the time to show them how to administer the fluids and monitor the dog at home. This saved them money that allowed them to keep the dog happy and healthy for years.

If your emergency vet won't work with you, see what you can do about transferring your cat to a different (non-emergency) facility.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:36 PM on September 9, 2016

I'm going to nth that emergency vets are very expensive--when one of my late elder kitties decided that it would be a good idea to hemorrhage all over the floor on a Sunday, it cost $250 for a single visit, as opposed to the $30 my regular vet would charge.

The same cat also spent the last year of her life with kidney failure, and subcutaneous fluids improved her comfort immensely.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:42 PM on September 9, 2016

When my dog had HGE we paid $1000 for one stay over night & it sounds like it was similar sorts of treatment, lots of IV fluids, continual monitoring tests & 24 supervision. So the costs seem fair to me. What you are paying for there is a nurse all night & day & the vet to be on call as needed if not actually in the treatments. Animals in a normal vets overnight usually get no over night supervision at all.

Most emergency vets work to transfer the animals to your normal vet as soon as possible, they are a bit like ER's only there for the emergency part once the animal is stabilized they can be moved. You may want to talk to them about that. Also don't be afraid to talk about money with your vet/vet nurses/receptionist they are used to it & are usually very good at helping you work out payment plans or other cheaper options.
posted by wwax at 12:54 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

nthing that the costs don't sound out of line for emergency vet care. My cat had to stay overnight in a veterinary ER a couple of times and it easily ran us over $1k/day. As others have said, if the main thing that your cat needs for ongoing care is IV fluids, it's SUPER easy to do at home. My cat didn't mind getting the fluids at all because he got to sit on a lap and get head skritches the whole time.

After you sort out the emergency and get your cat home, I'd ditch the regular vet and find a new one.
posted by bedhead at 1:03 PM on September 9, 2016

CareCredit, if you can find a vet that takes it. (Assuming you're in the US and qualify.)

CareCredit saved my bank account when I had huge vet bills.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:25 PM on September 9, 2016

Thank you all for the excellent answers.

I already paid for the two days, but not the third (or more) day(s) at the emergency vet. I'll be hearing tonight how her numbers are looking and I plan to go in tomorrow night when they do the test again. I will probably take her home at that point and if she needs to go to another vet, I have investigated a few that seem promising.

The emergency vet was very kind and went over all of the options in detail even holding off an ultrasound that was $400-500 so I didn't feel taken advantage of but wanted opinions.

Very rude of me not not post a photo of Deedee ruling from her perch. Normal photo!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:34 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'd be more worried about your regular vet's misdiagnosis than the prices you're being charged, which don't seem ridiculous. Emergency vets charge by the service just like any other vet, but what you're really paying for is for those services to be available pretty much immediately, 24/7. It's inherently inefficient, and you pay for the inefficiency.
posted by jon1270 at 3:08 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Adding on to Jon1270's comment: The other thing you're paying for at the emergency vet is (usually) more skilled diagnosis and care. Most emergency vet practices, at least in cities, are staffed by vets who chose to do additional residencies beyond vet school, in specialties such as trauma, oncology, cardiology, orthopedics, and internal medicine. Some of these places are specialty-only practices that you'd take your pet to when your regular vet makes a referral to just such a specialist. Lots of these specialty-only practices also serve as 24-hour emergency clinics, for the very reason that they are staffed by board-certified specialists ready to do surgery, etc.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:26 AM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

My cat spent the night at the emergency vet three weeks ago with a fever of unknown etiology vs. possible pancreatitis. He had x-rays and an ultrasound and bloodwork and IV fluids and was there just under 24 hours, and it came to over $1200 with someone to check on him and see about his breathing and temperature pretty often. Seems reasonable to me.
posted by dilettante at 9:00 AM on September 10, 2016

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