Play nice with local low-cost veterinary clinics


They're popping up everywhere, they mean well, and they can't give clients what you do.

Just when you thought the local economy was improving, you pick up the paper and read, "Low-cost spay-neuter clinic opening soon." (If this hasn't happened to you yet, it's probably just a matter of time.) Surely this clinic will target the shelter animal population, you think.

Dr. Melody Heath

But maybe not. Some of your clients, even your "good" clients, will sneak there and later nonchalantly remark that Buster was neutered elsewhere. Others will boast that they've found a way to save a buck.

A select few may ask your opinion. When that happens, try not to sigh and roll your eyes. Resist the urge to blurt out, "You get what you pay for." The new clinic probably uses the same high-quality techniques, equipment, and medications that you do. The veterinarians are likely compassionate, top-notch surgeons who chose to go into a sector of our profession that's less lucrative. Be careful not to let your competitive nature affect your veterinarian-client relationship.


Be knowledgeable enough to answer a few questions: Does the low-cost clinic screen by income, breed, or geographic location? Does the clinic offer a feral-cat package? Do the doctors spay or neuter species other than dogs and cats? Is a veterinarian available for follow-up care after surgeries? If not, will the clinic reimburse clients for complications directly related to surgery? You will inevitably treat some of these patients for postsurgical complications—not because these clinics have higher complication rates but simply because of the large number of procedures they perform.

Clients will also ask why your fees are so much higher. Prepare detailed surgical estimates so clients can see the true value of your services. Then explain how these clinics, whether nonprofits or privately owned for-profits, operate with low-cost, high-volume business plans. They have less overhead, less equipment to buy and maintain, and staff members who don't need extensive training. Plus, nonprofit clinics typically collect service fees and have the added advantage of receiving donations, proceeds from fundraisers, grants from private foundations, and various tax breaks—all of which allow them to offer lower fees.


Some of your clients would never spay or neuter their pets without low-cost clinics. So make sure their pets are up to date on vaccines, heartworm preventive, and ectoparasite control before they use the clinic down the road. Yes, many spay-neuter clinics offer services and retail items at prices you can't compete with. But you can educate clients about the importance of thorough medical exams, preanesthetic lab work, multimodal pain management, and reliable follow-up care. Then remember, clients will carry your attitude and words with them to the spay-neuter clinic. You can benefit your practice by having an amicable, professional relationship with the staff of the discount clinic.

If you're still bothered by the new clinic, remember that thousands of pets are killed daily simply because there aren't enough homes for them. Euthanasia is not an acceptable means of population control, and spay-neuter clinics fill a need in your community. They won't solve the overpopulation problem, but they get us closer to finding a solution.

Dr. Melody Heath is an associate veterinarian and freelance writer in Hickory, N.C. Please post comments at or e-mail

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