How to pick the right vet for your pet, for the right price

WASHINGTON — Doing a little research could save you big bucks when choosing a veterinarian, according to a local consumer group.

Undercover shoppers for Washington Consumer’s Checkbook have found substantial price differences for numbers of services. For example, to spay a 7-month-old, 25-pound dog, there was a price difference of more than $740 between the highest and lowest prices quoted.

“Our shoppers were quoted prices ranging from $150 to — get this — $893,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor with “We shopped these vets for about a half dozen different services and, time and time again, found huge price differences from place to place.”

Another example: price quotes ranged between $111 and $871 for routine teeth cleaning of a 4-year-old, 65-pound dog.

What you pay is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of care your animal receives, according to Checkbook surveys of area subscribers to Consumers’ Checkbook and Consumer Reports.

“Vets that rate really highly are just as likely to have low prices as vets that didn’t rate very highly,” Brasler said.

Before deciding to stick with a veterinarian, recommends visiting the location and keeping these points in mind:

  • Do they listen?
  • Do they offer advice on prevention, care/self-help?
  • Do they spend enough time with you and your animal?
  • Are they asking a lot of questions to evaluate your pet’s needs?
  • Do the vet and staff appear to genuinely care about animals?

Choosing a veterinarian convenient to your home can also make appointments and emergency care more practical. Another aspect to consider is checking hours of operation and arrangements for care in case of an emergency, according to Checkbook.

Here are some of the questions Checkbook recommends you to ask:

  • Do they have veterinarians on call after hours? Most practices do.
  • In case of emergency off hours, will they open the office and come in to treat your animal?
  • Or, will they refer you to a 24-hour veterinary center and, if so, at what location?

Should you buy insurance for veterinary care?

Brasler said it depends on what camp you’re in and whether you’d pay nearly anything to save a pet or have limits.

“These plans aren’t going to cover 100 percent of the bills; you’re still going to be left paying a lot,” Bralser said. “The coverage isn’t really as good as usually advertised. You’re going to come out behind.”

On the one hand, if you have limits on what you’d pay to save a pet, then insurance might not be practical. On the other hand, insurance can provide some relief.

“If you have a really bad year in terms of vet costs, I think it does make sense to protect yourself against those big vet bills (with insurance), but only if you really don’t have any limits where you’d pay anything to save your pet,” Brasler said.

Through a special arrangement with the nonprofit Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, readers can have a look at Checkbook ratings and price comparisons for area veterinary practices for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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