Feline vs. Human Dental Fees

Spike after rehab but in quarantine.

About 2 years ago, my office staff found a tiny kitten huddled outside the front door to my office.  As it turns out, he was about 5 weeks old, but he weighed 1.3 pounds.  My staff suggested I should do something.  The poor little guy was huddled and shaking.  He was skin and bones.  When I approached him, he found the energy to run for cover in the bushes.  I grabbed a box and cornered him.  He hissed but couldn’t do much more.  I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and stuffed him in the box.  I put him in the staff break room.  At lunchtime, I ran out and got some “cat formula” and a dropper to feed him.  He wouldn’t take it from the dropper.  But, he would lick it off my finger.  Awwwwwww.  ;)

I feel compelled to point out that I’m NOT a “cat guy.”  :)  Keep reading… there’s a dental point to be made here.

Cats in the Cradle

My staff then reasoned that since I already had two cats at home (I protested to no avail), that I should take this cat home, too.  But, this kitten was in BAD shape.  He was covered in scabs.  His ears were so scabbed up, they were like stiff cardboard with no fur at all.  So, I took him to the vet on my way home.  The vet confirmed he was in bad shape, and with eyebrows raised, he asked me, “Do you want to save him?  He’s pretty rough.”  Yeah, I want to save him.

Spike and Queenie.

He had every worm known to infect cats.  He had mange.  He had fleas and other assorted arthropods making a home in his patches of fur.  The vet also confirmed the kitten was a male.  Given that the two cats at home we had adopted were females named “Queenie” and “Princess,” I made a command decision to give the new addition a strong masculine name – “Spike.”

Spike sitting on the couch.

Spike spent about 5 days and $600 worth of “rehabbing” at the vet.  Upon taking him home, he had to be quarantined from our other two cats for two WEEKS (in the guest bathroom).  Today, two years later, Spike rules the house.  He doesn’t miss any meals or treats and weighs in at 14 pounds.

So, what does this have to do with dentistry?  Yesterday, my wife took Spike for a regular check-up at the vet.  Today my wife asked me, “what do you charge for a cleaning and x-rays?”  Of course my curiosity was piqued.  She then explained that the vet suggested Spike needed to have his teeth cleaned, as he had tartar build-up.  At the vet’s office, she asked how much it would be.  The staff at the vet told her, “we’ll send you an estimate.”  An ESTIMATE?  For a dental cleaning?

Fees, fees, everywhere there’s fees.

Spike ADORES my daughter. They are nearly inseparable.

The reason my MBA-degreed wife asked me about my fees became apparent when the “estimate” arrived in the mail today.

OK… I know periodontal disease affects animals just as it does us.  And, I won’t argue the rationale behind veterinary dental prophylaxis.  But, the “estimate” for Spike’s “dental cleaning” was stunning.  When I looked at it, I asked my wife if the vet said anything about OTHER services beyond the “cleaning.”  Nope.  I’ll let the estimate speak for itself.

Spike’s dental “cleaning” estimate.

I’m aware that doing any dental treatment (even a “cleaning”) requires general anesthesia for an animal (especially a cat!).  But, a “full mouth series” on a cat?  For about $100?  How many films is that??  Heck, I think I charge about $120 for 18 films.  “Flap surgery” to extract a cat tooth?  It was never even mentioned to my wife that, at 2 years old, Spike needs a tooth removed already.  And, a “pre-surgical profile & CBC???”  Hmmm.  I’ve never done that for ANY of my patients before a prophy or even an extraction.

Bottom line… the estimate quoted $700 for what my wife was told was a “dental cleaning.”  Heck, that’s almost what most dentists get for four quadrants of scaling and root planing with local anesthesia.

Tell me again why I invested so much into dentistry.

Whenever I see fees like these for the vet or those of plumbers, auto mechanics, or even a hospital bill, I can’t help thinking about what we dentists charge for our services.  I consider the investment in our education and the MASSIVE investment and overhead incurred by building a dental office.  Our services are undervalued.  They’re undervalued not only by consumers at large, but even by our own profession.

There is no “insurance” plan to cover Spike’s veterinary care.  And, I’m not suggesting there should be.  While my practice is overwhelmingly filled with self-pay patients (only 8% have a benefits plan), I’m aware of most dental practices being largely insurance-based.  As such, fees are usually held down.

The cost of preventive dental services is a bit of a touchstone for consumers.  In other words, as consumers are frequently exposed to those particular fees, they are very aware of any changes.  By contrast, you can raise your fees for less frequent procedures (such as dentures, root canals, and even crowns) without them being noticed and compared.

I’m not really sure what my final point is here.  Perhaps it’s to suggest our fees are too low.  Dentistry is undervalued.  Underutilized.  Under-appreciated.  Your mileage may vary.  Draw your own conclusions, Dental Warriors, and share them here in the comments section.

PS… another point occurred to me.  My wife was told Spike needed a dental cleaning.  She wasn’t told about ANY other services.  There are two extractions listed in the “estimate.”  She didn’t know about that.  She wasn’t told about the x-rays, either.  Hopefully, all of us are better at communicating with our patients and don’t surprise them with itemized fee quotes or bills.

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14 Responses to Feline vs. Human Dental Fees

  1. Wow – that’s even more expensive than when my dog Lady got her teeth cleaned (she also has perio) and a tooth extracted. Must be Florida fees! LOL And we don’t actually know what the overhead is for the vet…….don’t we get upset when patients complain about our fees?

    I can understand the bloodwork, though, as the only way they can do the cleaning part is to put the animal to sleep. You probably don’t have to routinely do IV anesthesia for your prophy patients, right Mike? ;-)

    Of course, there IS “pet insurance” available to help cover these things, too, but I’ve never really considered it. Since Lady is going to need annual cleanings, though, to make sure her perio doesn’t progress, I might change my mind.

    Just offering a slightly different viewpoint, I guess. Yes, it’s not cheap, but how much you want to bet that some veterinarian has written a similar article about taking their kids for a dental check-up with no insurance?

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Actually, Chip, I’m not “complaining” about the vet’s fees. I’m simply comparing them to our HUMAN fees. Even when you take out the anesthesia, the dental fees alone are rather surprising – from a HUMAN dentist’s perspective. A “full mouth series” on a cat?? What’s that? Two occlusal films?

      My real point is one that I’ve made many times in my 24-year career (to date). That is that dentistry… human dentistry… is undervalued. And, this serves as a reminder. Thanks for chiming in!

      • Mike, in that case, we’re in 100% agreement – dentistry is WAY undervalued. And I didn’t actually mean to say you were complaining (thought I had actually edited that out before hitting “post comment” — oops).

        And yeah – how in the world can you take a FMX on a cat or dog? That seems kinda crazy. Don’t remember how much they charged me for Lady’s x-rays. Seems to me the entire visit came to $650 – bloodwork, SRP, extraction, and all. They only requested the bloodwork for Lady since she’s about 10 years old; for my other dog Starbucks, it wasn’t even suggested.

        • The Dental Warrior says:

          I can see an “FMX” on a dog. But, a cat’s mouth is quite small. So, I would imagine (and I could be wrong) that they take 2 occlusal films, and that’s it. I don’t see how you’d fit films intraorally (as we are familiar).

      • Liz says:

        An FMS on a cat typically involves 4 posterior PA’s and 2-4 anterior PA’s depending on the need. However, such a young cat shouldn’t need that many.

  2. You just made a payment on his new RV. They’re all the same! ; )

  3. MasterD says:

    Maybe they are taking a CBCT scan 0.O

  4. MasterD says:

    Interesting breakdown on the bill for sure though…and I agree, very poor communication by the vet and/or the office staff.

  5. Rob says:

    Barter with the vet! Give him an estimate to let him see the value.

    Maybe you could get the X-rays on the cat! :)

  6. Mark Frias says:

    I had the opposite experience with my Rottweiler. She had a small benign grow removed from her tongue. Including anesthesia, it was less than $400! But that is a different comparison…doggie medicine vs. human medicine. My golden retriever on the other hand, different story. He had a cleaning and two extractions. I forgot the exact amount, but much more expensive than human dental fees. In my state of Massachusetts we only get $49 from Medicaid for adult prophies. It doesn’t get more undervalued than that!

  7. Nancy says:

    I work for a dentist (and read your blog all the time) and when my cat needed a cleaning I asked my boss if he would do it. “Are you kidding!” he said! He barters with the local Vet. The Vet gets free cleanings here and Doc’s cats get free cleanings at the Vets.

    So, my question is did you clean your cats teeth? or maybe just do the xrays and extractions??? LOL

  8. Liz says:

    Hello! I worked at a veterinary office for several years with a DVM who specialized in veterinary dentistry. I routinely assisted with dental procedures and dealt with financial decisions with clients regarding the procedures. $700 does seem to be excessive for a 2 year old cat. The pre-op and CBC is important, as your pet would be put under anesthesia. HOWEVER, since he is so young bloodwork should not be a requirement. I assume that they put the extractions on the estimate to cover their butts but forgot to mention that they may NOT be necessary. The x-ray fee seems overdone from what I am used to. In my experience, a dental cleaning on a two year old cat should be $350-$450. With no extractions I would expect the lower end. Any DVM worth their salt should provide a free dental exam and consultation with you to discuss your pet’s specific dental health and needs. They should also physically and verbally go over a treatment plan with ranges. All of our treatment plans had a range from best case scenario to worst case scenario to prepare the client for both options so they can prepare. Of course once a pet is put under anesthesia we find things you don’t see when they are awake, but it is the office’s responsibility to make you aware of that and not just shove an overly loaded treatment plan in your mailbox. That is such a poor example of how to provide good veterinary care and client care. I don’t blame you in the least for not following through with treatment, I wouldn’t have expected our clients to if I treated them like that.

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