Dr James Haberfield from the Unusual Pet Vets Peninsula writes honestly about the cost of exotic veterinary care and the impact that some client actions can have on the people who work in the veterinary profession.

My View of the Profession

I want to preface this article by saying I am one of those annoying people who genuinely likes going to work. I enjoy the challenge of never really knowing what the day will bring, and I love the unique range of species we get to treat and care for each day. We have many amazing clients, and I love being able to help them and be there for them when their pet is unwell.

However, like any job, I can’t pretend that it is all positive. For this article, I’ve chosen to cover a few of the negative aspects of working in the veterinary profession as I think it’s important that you as a pet owner know about the people who care for your feathered, furred, scaly or slimy family members.

Dr James and Rabbit

As aforementioned, I do love my job however, we are often faced with tough days. We have days that involve euthanising pets that we could save if the owners could afford the care they need, we have days where despite our absolute best efforts patients still don’t make it, and we have days where we get abused by clients for charging them to treat their pet.

Luckily these clients are only a small minority, and I am getting better at not taking their actions personally. Unfortunately, many vets and vet nurses don’t learn to develop this tolerance until it is too late, with many leaving the profession in their first few years.

Some clients are not aware of the stress undertaken by staff in our profession. The veterinary industry has one of the highest rates of mental illness and suicide. I have lost several colleagues to suicide and know many that have left the profession entirely.

There are a lot of reasons why this occurs, but one contributing factor is some of our clients and the way they treat us at times. In any given day, we could be verbally abused, or a client will leave a negative review that is often not in context to the situation at hand. There have even been instances where a pet owner will argue that their pet’s life isn’t worth a consultation fee. It is this type of behaviour where many of the issues facing the veterinary profession start.

The next point I want to cover involves why we charge what we do. Trust me when I say that no one wants to become a vet or vet nurse for the money, we all do it because of our love for animals. We are a caring bunch that have spent years and years studying with many of us having expensive university loans to pay.

Despite this, we are often abused for being ‘money-hungry’ when people can’t afford the treatment we have recommended. We are frequently asked to compromise on the level of care we can provide for pets so that the owner can save a few dollars. Not only is this frustrating for us, but it also compromises the chances of the pet having a good outcome and recovering.

Believe it or not, we regularly get asked why we can’t just treat pets for free. What many people don’t think of is that when we are asked to treat pets for ‘free’ the owner is essentially asking us to pay for their pet’s treatment out of our own pocket.

Like any business, a vet business has staff, rent, bills, a lot of expensive equipment to pay for not to mention the many other costs associated with running a small business. Each of our staff has families to support and bills to pay. No one would expect a plumber to fix a leaking tap for free, so why do we get asked to treat their pet for free?

Dr James and Rat

Another commonly asked question is why do we charge what we do for a consultation when our patients are often ‘worth’ less than that. The classic line is “I could buy another 10 rabbits/chickens/guinea pigs/rats for that”. The reality is that most vets have 15-minute consultations however we (like most exotic vets) run 30-minute consultations as we want to have enough time to give your pet the care and attention it deserves.

A human general practitioner may charge less per consultation, but they are seeing six patients an hour, and Medicare is paying their wage. Whereas we see a maximum of two patients per hour, and our service is not government-subsidised. Lawyers who often have spent less time at university often charge thousands of dollars per hour. There are less than 100 vets working in exotic-only practices in Australia; considering our level of expertise, are we not justified to charge for it?


Lastly, I would like to draw a comparison to the costs of human medicine vs veterinary medicine. A friend of mine recently had a colonoscopy performed under general anaesthesia; the actual total bill came to $3200. However, he was only out of pocket $140 once the Medicare rebates were factored in.

To put this into perspective, I performed a very similar procedure on a patient the other day, and the total cost to the client was $390, just over 10% of the cost of the same procedure if it was performed on a human. In the human medical world, we are very lucky to have access to Medicare, but it doesn’t help the veterinary profession, it just hides the true cost of the medical care we provide to our patients.

If there’s one thing that I ask of you, it’s to please think of the themes in this article and discuss them with people you know. The next time someone feels like complaining on social media about their vet, or leaving a defamatory, negative review or abusing them for charging what they should, remember what impact this has on the veterinary professional.

The people who display this behaviour truly don’t understand the negative effect their actions can have on veterinarians and vet nurses. It is an emotive industry, and while we consider our client’s emotions through the interactions we have, we ask that our emotions also be considered.

There is nothing that brings us more joy than to care for your family pets. We do what we do because we love it, but it’s not always easy. To all of the pet owners who already understand this, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. It’s clients like you who make going to work every day such a pleasure.