When pricing complex cases, consult national averages

It’s easy to compare prices among local competitors for common, straightforward services like preventive care exams or spay/neuter surgeries. But most veterinary visits involve a combination of services that can make it impossible to make fair comparisons.

Take a 25-pound cocker spaniel with otitis externa in the left ear, examined and treated as a day patient. A case like this combines fees for:

  • Examination
  • Preanesthetic lab tests
  • Sedation
  • Ear swab/cytology
  • Ear cleaning
  • Antibiotic injection
  • Pain medication
  • Hospitalization (day charge)
  • Culture and sensitivity
  • Antibiotics (one-week supply)
  • Pain management (three-day supply)
  • Medical waste disposal

What do you charge? How can you tell whether your fees are fair?

Antitrust regulations prohibit publishing local comparisons – and such comparisons are of limited value anyway. National averages, tailored to your type of practice rather than your zip code, give a more useful benchmark to judge whether your fees are fair.

AAHA’s biannual report, Veterinary Free Reference, specializes in tough cases like this. Based on a biannual nationwide survey, the Veterinary Fee Reference reports more than a thousand fees for all types of simple and complex services.

The report slices and dices the data to show national averages for 16 different types of practices. It also sorts by number of doctors and key location indicators like urban or affluent. In all, the book contains more than 100,000 useful comparisons for fee-setting.

So, what do practices of your type charge for our cocker spaniel’s diagnosis and treatment for otitis externa?

From the ninth (2015) edition of Veterinary Fee Reference, all the following are national averages:

  • Overall: $420 average
  • 1-doctor practices: $383
  • Suburban practices: $448
  • Areas with national median household income ($53,657*): $436

*Median household income based on US Census Bureau data.

Veterinary Reference Fee reports more than 1,000 fees charged by US veterinary practices, broken down by various number of doctors, status as AAHA members or accredited practices, various metropolitan area (urban, suburban, second city, town, or rural); and median area household income in increments of $10,000.