YOUR MONEY: PET EXPENSES A dog's life, on a budget * With a little bit of discipline, pet owners can keep their vet costs on a short leash
Home Edition, Business, Page C-1 Business Desk 35 inches; 1400 words Type of Material: Infobox
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For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday, April 15, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Veterinary fees: An article in the Business Section on Sunday about the rising cost of veterinary medicine misspelled the last name of American Veterinary Medical Assn. marketing director Jim Flanigan as Flannagan. --- END OF CORRECTION ---
By David Colker, Times Staff Writer
Veterinarian Gregory Hammer laughed as he recalled the average price his clients paid for an office visit in 1973, when he started out in rural Kansas.
"It was $6," said Hammer, now president of the American Veterinary Medical Assn.
Good luck getting so much as a torn nail clipped for that these days.
Americans spent more than $10 billion on veterinary care last year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn.
A single visit to a vet cost an average of $135 for a dog owner as of 2006, the last time the veterinary group took a survey of those costs. That's up 83% from 10 years earlier. And the price is probably a good bit higher in Southern California, where vet fees are steeper than in most of the country.
Inflation played a major role -- the costs of office space, staff salaries, equipment and supplies have all shot up.
Pet owners are demanding -- and have become accustomed to -- a higher level of care. "Years ago if an animal had a serious cancer," Hammer said, "someone would say to put him to sleep. Now they want to be referred to an oncologist."
But one of the biggest contributors to higher consumer costs was a comprehensive veterinary market study issued in 1999 by consulting firm KPMG International.
It found that the profession -- long stuck in attitudes personified by folksy James Herriot books such as "All Things Bright and Beautiful" -- was charging too little. And worse, veterinarians were giving away care for free.
"Opportunities abound," the executive summary of the study stated, but vets were held back by "inefficient structures, inappropriate business practices and attitudes."
Many professionals in the field, faced with stagnating incomes, took heed.