The final bill
NATIONAL REPORT — A Syracuse, N.Y., television station opted to air a report critical of area veterinarians for charging owners to stay in the room during the euthanasia.
While the end of life is one of the most sensitive subjects veterinarians encounter, the balance between service and compassion is often a tightrope.
Charging clients who want to be present for their pet's final moments a little more isn't unheard of, says Dr. Dani McVety, owner of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice and In-Home Euthanasia in Lutz, Fla. In fact, McVety estimates at least half of all veterinary practices charge more when clients are present during euthanasia. But the key is in the way the fees are communicated, she says."I have heard of this before. I see their point; I really do," McVety says in regard to practices that vocalize a charge for the pet owner to be present during a euthanasia procedure. "I completely understand where they're coming from. At the same time, I do kind of think it's a little bit sad that the client has to think they have to pay more money to be with their animal. They perceive that the procedure will be different with them there than without them there. I think it's a very dangerous thing for veterinarians to allow that perception."
Euthanasia is quicker without the owner present, McVety admits, and veterinarians are not out of line when it comes to expecting to be compensated for their time. But most practices will mask additional fees, mostly in the form of an intravenous catheter charge of $50 or $100 that is mandatory if the owner wants to remain in the room, rather than telling them they are being charged extra to stay with their pet.
"The communication is so important with the families and letting them know exactly what's going on," McVety says. "When I go and talk with veterinarians about how to make the euthanasia a little bit better, I highly recommend for them to not break down that payment."
Susan Wright, an office manager for True Blue Veterinary Health Center—a practice near the New York practice called out by the local media report on euthanasia fees—says her practice doesn't add room charges for regular clients and charges a single fee for the whole euthanasia procedure.
"We do not charge an office call, per say, when a regular client comes to the hospital," Wright says. "If we have a patient who we haven't seen for awhile or a non-client, we do a quality of life exam to make sure the animal should be euthanized."
But whether the exam is charged, Wright says all euthanasia clients simply pay a single fee for the euthanasia procedure plus additional charges depending on how they want the animal's remains to be handled.
"We feel it's important to let the client know we're there for them, and it's not about the money, really," Wright says. "Obviously we have to pay for our supplies and the doctor's time is all factored in, but it's not a time that we have to make money."
McVety says she recommends charging a single fee for euthanasia, like True Blue, but adds that the fee still needs to reflect the time and resources the procedure puts on the veterinary practice.
"Let's charge appropriately for what we're doing. It's an emotional thing," McVety says. "But these clients have so much to deal with, let it be one fee."
According to the 2011 edition of the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) Veterinary Fee Reference, average total costs to euthanize a 30-pound dog ranged from $76.64 if the owner was not present to $80.87 if the owner was present. Regardless of whether the client was present, the average charge for preanesthetic sedatives was about $35, while IV catheter and placement was about $42. The average euthanasia charge ranged from $56 to $58.