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The true cost of pet ownership: unexpected expenses and a lifetime of care
Helping clients understand and manage the financials of owning a pet
Content sponsored by CareCredit
Nearly half of pet parents in the United States underestimate the lifetime cost of care for their 4-legged companions.1 That means millions of households are financially unprepared for the true cost of pet ownership. How can veterinary professionals help bridge that knowledge gap to reduce the stress of unexpected expenses on clients and ensure patients receive the care they deserve?
In the latest dvm360® Vet Perspective video series, Adam Christman, DVM, MBA, and Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA, discussed the results and significance of the Lifetime of Care study.
Cost of treatment anxiety
The Lifetime of Care study was conducted on behalf of Synchrony, the organization behind CareCredit and Pets Best pet health insurance. It is based on findings from a nationwide survey of 1200 pet owners and 100 veterinarians in the United States on spending that includes spaying/neutering, vaccinations, supplies, food, and insurance. The survey found that dog owners spend as much as $55,132 during a pet’s lifetime and cat owners as much as $45,790.1
Perhaps the most significant finding with respect to the veterinarian-client relationship was the fact that 1 in 3 pet-owning households will face an unexpected pet expense that will cause them financial worry.1 Furthermore, the study found that certain price thresholds caused stress in many clients.1 Weinstein explained: “[When] we’re talking to [pet owners] about a treatment plan…if 25% of the people surveyed saw a cost of $250, they would have anxiety [about their ability to pay] because it was outside what they expected in terms of cost of care. An even more significant number to me is 46% [had anxiety] at $500, which means [half] of people you’re talking to…will have a little uncertainty about their ability to pay for their pet’s care at a $500 level.”
Why it matters: the role of veterinary professionals
Recognizing the problem—client underestimation of pet care costs and the stress caused by unexpected expenditures—is only the first step. If pet owners cannot afford care or opt out of treatments because they cannot accept the price tag, pets will lack optimal care and practices will have less business. Veterinary professionals and staff are uniquely positioned to educate clients about the lifetime cost of care for pets and the tools to cope with expenses, helping ensure those pets get the appropriate care. Moreover, pet owners want their vet to speak directly to them about the cost of care over their pet’s lifetime, including payment options.2
Weinstein explained the importance of the veterinary team doing their homework on the various forms of third-party financial assistance, such as the CareCredit credit card and pet health insurance: “As a veterinarian, it is my responsibility to help vet…those companies and find out which ones are best for my clients. I should be advocating for different pet health insurance companies. When I was in practice, we insured my staff members’ pets, which gave [my staff] a full understanding of how pet health insurance worked so they could advocate it with…clients.” He added that he has used multiple forms of pet insurance in his life as a pet owner to be better equipped for those conversations with clients.
How should the team have those conversations with clients? Weinstein believes they shouldn’t start in the exam room. Rather, they should begin before the first appointment. He said information on financial policies and plans can be communicated to a new client in a series of emails, on the clinic’s website, over the phone, or virtually. “In a veterinary hospital, your clients are only going to absorb about 20% of what you say,” said Weinstein.
How to get started
Weinstein provided a step-by-step guide on how to implement his advice. “Step 1: Send [clients] some information ahead of time. Step 2: At the end of the visit or before they go into the room, ask whether they’d like some additional information about CareCredit or pet health insurance. Step 3: Before they leave, ask whether they would like the team to follow up.” He continued, “I think…great questions on a new client form would be ‘Is your pet insured? With which company? Do you have CareCredit?’ And then finally, ‘Would you like more information about CareCredit or pet health insurance to help with cost of care for your pet?’” With these tips, practices would be well on their way to providing clients with financial peace of mind, Weinstein said.
- Pet - Lifetime of Care Study; August 2021. www.petlifetimeofcare.com
- Communicating with clients: using the right language to improve care. American Veterinary Medical Association. Accessed June 20, 2022. www.avma.org/resources-tools/practice-management/communicating-clients-using-right-language-improve-care#takeaways
- ASPCA pandemic pet ownership survey. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. May 26, 2021. Accessed June 20, 2022. https://aspca.app.box.com/s/v4t7yrwalwk39mf71a857ivqoxnv2x3d