Cost of extending life: Stop-treatment points edge higher, DVM survey says


National Report - $1,451: It's the price most clients will stop treatment of a sick or injured animal, veterinarians report.

NATIONAL REPORT — $1,451: It's the price most clients will stop treatment of a sick or injured animal, veterinarians report.

Over the last three years, the average has been on the incline, up 34 percent since 2003, according to an exclusive DVM Newsmagazine survey (Methodology). The escalating price could be reflective of a sign of our times, the growing importance of the human-animal bond and a profession that is steadily becoming more accepting of a third-party payment system to extend life.

While the result may be considered high in some areas, Dr. Victoria Young, a Caldwell, Idaho practitioner in a six-doctor practice, sums it up this way: "You have some clients that price would be totally reasonable, but then you have the other side," which is any cost for veterinary care is just too high.

Table 1 Average dollar amount most clients would stop treatment

In an attempt to quantify an average stop-treatment point, DVM Newsmagazine sought to gain insight into the human-animal bond, the growing sophistication of veterinary medical delivery and veterinarian opinions about client attitudes regarding pet care.

Male and female veterinarians were united in their comparative estimates too. Female DVMs averaged $1,432, and male veterinarians averaged $1,479. Major differences show up when cross-tabulated with a practice's gross revenues. Smaller grossing practices have smaller stop-treatment estimate price points. For a practice grossing $250,000-$499,999, the average was $1,069, while practices in the $1-million to $1.249-million category averaged $1,254. Practices grossing more than $1.25 million shot up to $1,718.

Table 2 DVMs perception of client timing for euthanasia

The decision to euthanize is most frequently left up to clients according to 75 percent of respondents, the other 25-percent of cases are initiated by the doctor's recommendation, the survey reports. Three-quarters of veterinarians report their clients' decisions to euthanize are "about right." About 17 percent of cases were considered "too soon", and the other 9 percent were "not soon enough."

Veterinarians were asked to estimate how heavily costs weighed on a client's decision to continue treatment of a sick or injured animal.

Table 3 Who talks to clients about euthanasia?

In 2006, veterinarians report that in about 38 percent of cases, cost limited treatment, another 32 percent report that cost influenced his or her decisions to treat and 41 percent of respondents cite that cost was not a factor at all (multiple answers were allowed).

While cost remains a barrier to extended care since veterinary services are primarily based on discretionary income, 76 percent of responding veterinarians say they would like to see wider use of pet health insurance. Eighty six percent of associate veterinarians like pet health insurance as a payment option when compared to 72 percent of owners.

Table 4 Veterinarians would like to see wider use of pet insurance

Practice owners were also a little less likely to actively recommend it.

Veterinarians report they euthanize an average of 6.6 dogs and 5.4 cats each month. About 40 percent say they are approached several times a year to euthanize healthy animals. Another 40 percent are asked to put down a healthy animal yearly or less.

When asked to check reasons for requests to euthanize healthy animals, behavior-related problems were named by 90 percent of the respondents. Moving, change in family status (death or divorce), allergies and the costs associated with pet ownership were all cited far less frequently.

Table 5 Percent of practices that actively recommend pet health insurance to clients

About 58 percent of veterinarians say they take on the role of discussing euthanasia with clients. About 42 percent of respondents say it is a shared responsibility for both doctors and technicians.


CLEVELAND — Every three years, DVM Newsmagazine conducts a national State of the Veterinary Profession survey among veterinarians in companion animal practice. The results will appear in subsequent DVM Newsmagazine editorial articles.

The results were obtained from two DVM Newsmagazine surveys e-mailed randomly to mixed and small animal veterinarians from an Advanstar Communications subscriber list. Advanstar Communications Research Services administered the surveys.

The surveys intended to:

  • Document the economic issues facing veterinarians,

  • Identify trends within the delivery of veterinary services today and in the future,

  • Evaluate the relationship between veterinarians and their clients,

  • Benchmark similar survey results conducted in 1997, 2000 and 2003.

To encourage participation, both groups were offered the chance to win one of 60 pre-paid Visa Gift Cards worth $25 from DVM Newsmagazine. One reminder e-mail invitation was sent to all individuals who had not responded to the initial invitation. Both surveys were in the field from April 6 to May 4, and they have a 95-percent confidence level.

Practice Management Survey

The Practice Management Survey yielded 625 responses, representing a 13-percent response rate.

Men and women responded in almost equal numbers; 53 percent of respondents graduated before 1990, and 47 percent graduated since 1990 (see chart).

Practice Management Survey

Small animal exclusive practitioners constituted about 83 percent in the Practice Management Survey; 11 percent are predominantly small animal veterinarians, and just 6 percent are in mixed practices.

Fifty percent of survey respondents are owners; 34.3 percent are associate veterinarians; 9.5 percent are partners, and 5.6 percent are either relief, part-time or other veterinarians.

Almost 25 percent of respondents are from the Northeast, 19 percent from the Midwest, 36 percent from the Southeast, and 20 percent are from the West.

Staffing, Career and Salary Survey

The Staffing, Career and Salary Survey netted 564 responses, composing a 12-percent response rate.

Men and women responded in almost equal numbers; 51 percent of respondents graduated before 1990, and 49 percent graduated in 1990 or later (see chart).

Staffing, Career and Salary Survey

Exclusive small animal veterinarians make up 79 percent of respondents; 12 percent are predominantly small animal, and more than 9 percent perform mixed animal care.

Fifty percent of survey respondents are owners; 40.6 percent are associates; 5.7 percent are partners, and 3.7 percent are other practitioners.

About 13.5 percent of respondents are from the Northeast; 27.5 percent are from the Midwest; 23 percent responded from the Southeast, and 36 percent are from the West.

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