Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages
dog parent basics

Veterinary costs in 2020

Know what different types of veterinary care might cost you

Updated May 17, 2020

Created By

Andy Bowen,

Most people don’t consider their dog or cat a major expense. But one in three pet owners spend between $800 to $1,500 each year on emergency veterinary treatment alone¹. Whether you’re an experienced pet parent or just getting started, this resource will help you plan for the unexpected, so you aren’t caught off guard.

Covered in this report

  • A ballpark idea of what routine, preventative, and emergency care for your pet might cost
  • Common breed-specific conditions to watch out for
  • Ways you can save money in the long-run

Basic office calls

The initial office call is either a routine checkup or a consultation based on your pet’s symptoms. The office call only covers the cost of setting an appointment and a physical examination of your cat or dog during regular business hours. 

the cost of veterinary office calls

type of care potential cost for dogs 🐩 potential cost for cats 🐈
Routine care (including the exam fee) $100-$300 $90-200
ER visit $100-200 $100-200
Specialist exam and consultation $100-$150 $100-$150
Hospitalization (1 to 5 days) $500-$4000 $500-$4000

Things to remember

  • Statistically speaking, cats are typically more affordable than dogs, but there are factors to consider, such as breed, age, and other health needs.
  • Some veterinary offices keep the office visit quote low, knowing that pet owners will eventually come in and spend more on treatment.
  • Routine care usually includes the consultation and extended exam. The only exception is if it’s a followup visit or the veterinarian is already aware of your pet’s history, in which case it would be cheaper (around $30-$40).

Annual checkups and preventive care

Much of the cost of checkups come from the type of visit, whether it’s a basic consultation, or also includes new vaccinations, or additional testing, all of which cost extra. Quotes may also differ according to the dog or cat breed.

Core and booster vaccinations

Veterinarians will determine a vaccine schedule, including core vaccinations and boosters. Boosters are given to kittens and puppies for 3 to 4 weeks until they are at least 16 weeks of age. However, not all vaccinations require boosters.

the cost of pet vaccinations

type of care average cost per dog 🐩 average cost per cat 🐈
Core vaccinations and initial check-up $60-$150 $80-100
Vaccine boosters (each booster requires 3-4 shots) $15-$30 per shot $18-$25 per shot

Things to remember

  • Local authorities may require specific vaccines and documentation of those shots. For example, some cities may require rabies shots every year or every three years.
  • The ASPCA highly recommends core vaccinations in preventing common pet diseases. Vaccines help your pet’s immune system resist the invasion of disease-carrying organisms through antigens, which stimulate the immune system and help fight real infection later on.

Core vaccines for dogs

  • Rabies
  • DHPP
    • Distemper
    • Hepatitis
    • Parvovirus
    • Parainfluenza

Core vaccines for cats

  • Rabies
  • FVRCP
    • Panleukopenia
    • Rhinotracheitis
    • Calicivirus
    • Feline Leukemia

Heartworm testing

Heartworm testing checks for parasitic worms, which can lead to heartworm disease. Protecting your pet requires a blood test to check antigen levels, as well as a Difil test, to check for the presence of microfilaria.

the cost of a heartworm test

dogs 🐩 $45-$50
cats 🐈 $45-$50

Fecal exams

Fecal exams focus on finding gastrointestinal parasites rather than those in the blood. A stool sample will be collected from your pet and analyzed under a microscope.

Common types of parasites found in dogs and cats

  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Giardia
  • Coccidia

the cost of fecal exams

dogs 🐩 $35-$50 for a fecal exam
cats 🐈 $25-$45 for a fecal exam

Dental cleaning

Veterinarians will point out visible evidence of gingivitis in a cat or dog’s mouth. Yearly cleaning can prevent gingivitis and bleeding gums.

the cost of dental cleanings

dogs 🐩 $500-$1,000
cats 🐈 $350-$600 for a cleaning

Geriatric screening and other tests

Dogs and cats over seven years of age may require geriatric screening, which is a more in-depth examination that includes blood work, a urine analysis, and X-rays

the cost of geriatric screenings

dogs 🐩 $100-$400
cats 🐈 $85-$200

Allergy testing

Pets can develop allergies just like their owners and may show symptoms, like sneezing, itching, or over-licking themselves. Veterinarians can detect allergy sensitivities with either a blood test or an intradermal skin test. Vets believe that skin tests have higher accuracy since a pet reacts to allergens directly.

the average cost of allergy testing

dogs 🐩 $200-$300
cats 🐈 $195-$250 for a skin test; $200-$300 for a blood test

Ear care

Ear infections in cats and dogs are indicated by symptoms of constant scratching, ear-rubbing, discharge from the ears, swelling or redness, head shaking, and odor. Testing can determine the type of ear infection, and whether it’s mites, bacteria, or a yeast infection.

the cost of ear exams + medication

dogs 🐩 $120-$150
cats 🐈 $120-$150

Flea control

Flea testing usually just involves visual inspection.

the cost of flea control medication

dogs 🐩 $10-$15 per month
cats 🐈 $10-$15 per month

Spay and neuter costs

Spay surgery prevents unwanted pregnancies, stray male attention, and even reduces the chance of breast cancer and uterine infections (pyometra). Neutering eliminates spraying, reduces prostate problems, testicular cancer, and can help temper behavior.

spay and neuter costs

type of clinic dogs 🐩 cats 🐈
Low-cost clinic Spay: $75-100; Neuter: $50-$75 Spay:$50-$75; Neuter: $200-$250
Standard clinic Spay: $300-400; Neuter: $200-$300 Spay: $45-$50; Neuter: $150-$200

Diagnostic testing (lab tests)

Diagnostic tests are essential, particularly lab tests, because the veterinarian needs a “baseline” check of a pet’s regular health to compare the results to changes later on.

the cost of laboratory testing

dogs 🐩 $200-$300
cats 🐈 $200-$300

The exam (or extended exam)

  • Pet is weighed on a scale
  • Temperature is taken
  • Eyes (Any signs of inflammation)
  • Nose (Congestion)
  • Mouth and teeth (Gum inflammation, tartar or breakage)
  • Ears (Drainage, mites or inflammation)
  • Heart and lungs (Murmurs or respiratory problems)
  • Fur, paws, feet (Damaged or broken limbs)
  • Backside, anus (Fleas or worms, bumps or lumps)

Other tests

  • Urinalysis. A urine test for detecting urinary tract infection as well as other metabolic problems indicated by the appearance of proteins, sugars or blood particles
  • Fecal matter. A stool sample tests for detecting parasites and worms.
  • Complete Blood Count. Evaluates red cells, white cells, and platelets, as well as parasites or other invasions (Detects anemia, infection, leukemia, heartworms)
  • Blood Chemistry Panel. Tests electrolytes, liver enzymes, glucose and protein levels, kidney values (Detects liver, kidney or gallbladder issues, endocrine diseases, and diabetes)

In-depth diagnostic testing

Testing for serious diseases might require diagnostic imaging services, like an ultrasound or radiograph/biopsy. Some vets also offer genetic testing for certain breeds to determine their predisposition to diseases.

the cost of diagnostic imaging

type of testing dogs 🐩 cats 🐈
X-rays $200-$400 $200-$400
Tumor biopsy $500-$2,000 $500-$2,000
Ultrasound $350-$600 $350-$600
Urine culture test $25-$100 $25-$100
DDC genetic testing $20-$80 $20-$80
MRI / PET $1,500-$2,500 $1,500-$2,500

Common medical conditions for dogs and cats

It may also help to consider each unique condition, according to the most common problems in cats and dogs, as well as problems genetically associated with common breeds.

10 common medical conditions for dogs 🐩

condition potential costs
Skin allergies $260 for testing; $150-$300 a year on vials and vaccines
Ear Infection $150
Non-cancerous skin mass $350
Upset stomach $400-$800 per year for prescription dog food; $800-$3,000 to treat an intestinal blockage
Skin infection $100-$200 for meds
Arthritis $300-$600 for chewable joint meds a year
Dental periodontitis disease $450-$1,500 per cleaning
Anal sacculitis, gland inflammation $100-$1,000
Bladder/urinary tract disease $100-$200 for testing; up to $275 for medication
Obesity $900 for diabetic dog medications; up to $2,000 to treat arthritis and ligament tears

10 common medical conditions for cats 🐈

condition potential costs
Bladder/urinary tract disease $515 for treatment
Dental periodontitis disease $300-$1,300 for treatment
Chronic kidney disease $650-$800 for treatment
Vomiting or upset stomach $400-$800 per year for prescription cat food
Intestinal viral infection $500-$900 for treatment and meds
Arthritis $300-$600 for chewable joint meds a year
Excessive thyroid hormones $450-$1,500 per cleaning
Skin allergies $100-$1,000 for testing and treatment
Diabetes $100-$200 for testing; up to $275 for medication
Valvular heart disease or murmur $900 for diabetic dog medications; up to $2,000 to treat arthritis and ligament tears

Breed-specific considerations

Different breeds have a proclivity to certain conditions. Knowing which of these genetic influences will help you plan and budget accordingly.

Dog breeds with a high risk of health problems 🐩

Know which conditions your pet might be prone to

breed risk level common condition(s)
Cocker Spaniels Very High Ear infections, heart disease, Cherry Eye, seizures, cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, liver disease
German Shepherd Very High Joint problems, skin allergies, progressive posterior paresis, pannus, cataracts, heart disease, spinal problems, arthritis
Bulldogs High Respiratory problems, hip dysplasia, internalized tail, Cherry Eye, shoulder luxation
Golden Retrievers High Skin allergies, cancer, hip and elbow dysplasia, heart disease, arthritis
Lab High Cranial cruciate ligament tear, skeletal dysplasia, muscular dystrophy, cancer, bone disorders, diabetes, arthritis
Rottweilers High Joint problems, bone disorders, arthritis, Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD), hip and elbow dysplasia
Siberian Husky High Autoimmune disorders, cataracts, hypothyroidism, hip dysplasia
Chihuahua Medium Collapsing Trachea
Poodles Medium Eye problems, progressive retinal atrophy, glaucoma

Cat breeds with a high risk of health problems 🐈

Know which conditions your pet might be prone to

breed risk level common condition(s)
Persian Very High Digestive disorders, respiratory disorders, kidney disease, vision problems, bladder stones, liver shunts, heart disease
Bengal High Heart disease, joint problems, vision problems
Rex High Heart disease, kneecap dislocation, baldness, umbilical hernia, hereditary myopathy
Siamese High Cancer, heart disease, dental disorders, vision problems
Abyssinian Medium Cataracts, dental disorders, hearing loss
Himalayan Medium Respiratory problems, kidney disease
Ragdoll Medium Hyperthyroidism, bladder stones, heart problems

Emergency vet visits

The cost of an ER visit varies wildly depending on the situation, but you can almost count on a bill of $500 or more.

the cost of your pet’s trip to the emergency room

condition potential cost
Visit fee $100-$200
Diagnostic testing $200-$4,000
Hospitalization $800-$1,500 per night

Dogs and the ER 🐩

The 5 most common reasons dogs go to the emergency room

  1. Trouble breathing (heart failure, toxins, cancer) radiographs
  2. Collapse or paralysis
  3. Seizures (epilepsy, brain tumors, low blood sugar or electrolyte imbalance)
  4. Vomiting or diarrhea (gastrointestinal problems, intestinal blockage, cancer)
  5. Choking (Lung problems, heart failure, bacteria or viruses)

Cats and the ER 🐈

The 5 most common reasons cats go to the emergency room

  1. Urinary blockage (Inflammation, cancer, blood clots)
  2. Pain (Spinal problem or blunt force trauma)
  3. Labor difficulty
  4. Allergic reactions (insect bites or vaccine allergy)
  5. Infection from an animal bite

Ways to save money on vet visits

Out-of-pocket costs for life-saving treatment can easily hit the $3,000 mark, especially if your pet has an ongoing condition that requires regular medication. Here are the most important things you can do to keep your pet healthy and prevent unexpected (and unnecessary) vet costs throughout your pet’s life.

Get the fundamentals right

The best thing you can do for your pet and your wallet is to focus on the basics of preventive care:

Buy high-quality food — A healthy diet is key. Talk with your vet about whether your pet has any special nutritional requirements.

Don’t skip wellness checks — Taking your pet to the vet before they’re sick is one of the best ways to make sure that you don’t spend tons of money at the ER later in life. Consider taking your pet for a wellness exam at least twice a year.

Exercise regularly — Walk your dog and play with your cat. Exercise and diet help prevent diabetes, obesity, and arthritis.

Keep your home free of toxins — Be mindful of potential toxins in your home, from cleaning supplies to food crumbs. Maintain your yard and clean the house regularly to reduce your risk of parasites.

Create an emergency budget

Prepare for the unexpected by creating a savings account exclusively for pet treatments. This way, your budget won’t be affected, and you won’t accrue any interest from credit card payments or a personal loan.

Shop around and compare vet prices

All vet clinics calculate their costs differently. Always shop around for a second and third opinion. You have a right to ask for a referral or even the contact number of another vet who can give a second opinion. It’s unlikely the vet is price gouging you, so they will have nothing to hide.

You can also ask for a written diagnosis rather than buying treatment in the office directly. Price compare medications from online stores, which don’t have to plan for store overhead and do frequently have much lower prices.

Pet insurance

👉 Pet insurance can save you thousands on emergency treatment, but unlike human health insurance, it doesn’t cover routine and preventative care.

the cost of pet insurance

pet average monthly premium for top providers* deductible average co-pay
Dogs 🐩 $42.45 $100-$250 <30% of the highest expense
Cats 🐈 $20.99 $100-$250 <30% of the highest expense

How pet insurance works

The main difference between human insurance and pet insurance treats is that the latter classifies your pet as property. This might not sound great (pets are family, after all), but it can be advantageous because you have complete freedom over the vets and policies you choose. There’s no such thing as an out-of-network vet. 

Another thing to remember is that most veterinary offices require payment upfront. On top of that, most pet insurance providers make you pay 100% out of pocket, then give you a refund afterward. You can ask your vet office if they will postpone payment until the insurance company pays their portion, and it’s a fifty-fifty shot, depending on how well the veterinary staff knows you and what the total expenses are.

A note on pre-existing conditions

Most pet insurance companies will not cover pre-existing conditions. 

Make sure the company clarifies what constitutes a pre-existing condition, and ask about what’s on your pet’s medical records since the insurance company will have access to them. Insurance companies typically require a vet checkup before providing coverage.

Waiting periods can range from 24 hours to 14 days, or even one year, depending on the type of medical condition covered.

Lastly, ask about maximum payouts, as these could be calculated per incident, or so many claims a year, or even a lifetime of the policy. The higher the premiums, the better the payouts, but premiums also rise with a pet’s advancing age.

The bottom line on pet insurance

The bottom line is that pet insurance is only worth it if you seek it out early on when a cat or dog is healthy and has been fully vaccinated and cared for most of its life. When a major disaster happens, you get the money back from the company — and on average, it’s more than the total of the premiums you paid over your pet’s lifetime.