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Posted on 06-24-2015

As you probably know, many locations such as pet stores of all sizes, feed or tack stores and other locations provide vaccinations, heartworm testing, microchipping and the like at reduced cost.  Similarly, there are locations, usually at least a basic veterinary facility, that offer heavily discounted spay and neuter surgeries.  In this economy, we are all struggling.  We understand the temptation, and sometimes the necessity, of seeking out these alternatives in order to care for your dog and cat.  We want you to spay, neuter and vaccinate your pets.  We support your dedication to your pet’s care and well being.  But unfortunately, these services, while they may be less expensive, come at a cost that can actually be quite detrimental to your dog or cat.

Please understand that we are not mounting any sort of attack against these services per se.  Please do not assume that we are primarily concerned that these services decrease our business.  We are, however, deeply concerned that you are well informed about the pros and cons of using such services before you make that decision.

The cost issue affects most pet owners, especially in the current economy.  But when we examined the fees for a vaccination clinic that we observed today, we found that most of the vaccines were within $1-$2 of our fee.  Additionally, these clinics frequently offer several vaccinations that we do not routinely recommend.  Among these are coronavirus, leptospirosis, Lyme (unless your pet travels to a Lyme endemic area), and the canine influenza vaccine.  These vaccines are not recommended as core vaccinations at our hospital as well as many veterinary clinics and hospitals. There are a variety of reasons these vaccinations are not considered part of the core series.

Over- vaccination has been a widely recognized and established concern in veterinary medicine for at least a decade.  Any vaccination can cause an allergic reaction, and these can be very severe.  Your dog or cat could develop a vaccine allergy at any time in life.  Reactions to the leptospirosis vaccine are fairly frequent.  Additionally, the variants that are currently vaccinated against do not represent the variants that  typically cause illness.  Coronavirus is not considered a current health concern in this area.  Lyme disease is also extremely infrequent in this area, and adequate, safe flea and tick control is a better approach to prevention in this environment.  The canine influenza vaccine, much like the human vaccine, is subject to the propensity for influenza to mutate often, and the research done in humans to make it more effective is not done for dogs.  There is very solid evidence in humans that over-vaccination contributes to a variety of health concerns, and there are still efforts being made to disprove that cancer is not one of these concerns.  So, given the risk of allergic or adverse reaction to any vaccine, as well as the lack of evidence that the above vaccines are appropriate for Southern California, and adding to that the serious concerns regarding over vaccination in dogs and cats- offering them, especially in the setting of a vaccine clinic, is just not medically appropriate.

It is very important that the veterinarian overseeing your dog or cat’s health care ask you extensive questions regarding your pet’s medical history and need for certain vaccinations. A thorough physical examination may reveal issues that might cause a change in the recommendations about vaccinations or reveal a health problem that should be cared for before vaccinations are administered.  Veterinary hospitals are  equipped to deal immediately with any acute adverse reactions.  Common treatment for allergic reactions can include IV fluids, injectable medications and hospitalization.  This level of care is typically not included in the discounted setting.  Additionally, an annual, and sometimes biannual exam is very important for your pet.  This is not included in the cost of discounted vaccines either, and so health problems can easily be missed.  You will have to determine if the risk is worth saving a few dollars.

Spay and neuter clinics provide these surgeries at a discount, which can be significant.  But are you aware of what you don’t pay for, and therefore don’t receive? Without a medical background, it’s difficult for you to compare an estimate of fees for spay or neuter. Even with an explanation of all services included in the plan, it can be a challenge to compare fees.  Pre-anesthetic blood tests to assess you pet’s ability to have a safer anesthetic experience is very important.  We do allow that owners can, at times, not afford this, and we can then explain the risks and will help you to offer your pet the best care possible.  An intravenous catheter and IV fluids during surgery are important for your pet’s safety during anesthesia and recovery. Close monitoring of your pet during anesthesia– including blood pressure, body temperature, oxygen and CO2 levels as well as ECG are important to be able to assess your pet’s condition under anesthesia. And nothing takes the place of an experienced anesthestic assistant to monitor your pet visually as well as keeping track of all monitoring parameters.

A client today informed me that the least expensive spay surgery she found was within $100.00 of our total cost.  But, if she wanted any pain medication at all for her dogs, that the additional fee was $90.00.  Can you imagine having abdominal surgery with no pain management at all?  This sort of pricing is anathema to our beliefs, and those of most veterinarians.  I can tell you from experience in working at such low cost facilities that a thorough history, physical exam, proper pain management and sometimes good surgical skills are what you don’t get in some low cost situations.  These clinics are high volume.  Some do not use individually sterilized instruments.  Please be aware of these things when you make your choices.

There are, if few and far between, facilities that offer discounted spay and neuter surgeries and do a proper job of them. They are not the cheapest that you will find.  You will have to dig deep to find them.  You also may not find out the truth until a problem arises. As a long time ER vet, I have seen plenty of evidence for this as well.

The take home message is this- you DO get what you pay for.  If you are searching for a cost effective way to obtain even basic health care such as this for your dog or cat, please stop by to speak with us about our fees and what we offer for them.  We know that it is important to be cautious with money.  We know that sometimes foregoing ideal care- such as blood tests, or choosing alternate methods of pain management can be the only choice.  But we would much rather try to help you find a way to obtain this care with us, and know that you got top of the line health care.  You may spend a few more dollars, but what you will buy with that is priceless on behalf of your pet.

We are happy to answer any questions you may have, and to help clarify your needs for your beloved pets.

–Kim Luce, DVM

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