Do pet surgery costs rival human surgery costs?

Matthew Keogh

Oct 20, 2021

There’s a belief among many pet owners that pet surgery costs exceed human surgery costs.

Which means you and your furry friend could have the same surgery, and their bill is bigger.

But is it true?

Well, we did some digging to find out the numbers; we’ve researched five common pet surgeries and the human equivalent to uncover the cost differences:

  • tooth removal
  • cataract surgery
  • ACL reconstructive surgery
  • cancer surgery
  • skin lesion surgery.

Methodology

Which pets are we comparing against humans?

For this comparison, we focused on Australia’s most popular dog and cat breeds – the Labrador Retriever1 and Ragdoll respectively.2

Where did we find these costs?

Human surgery costs are sourced from the Australian Government’s health.gov.au Medical Costs Finder (except where stated).3 Thanks to Medicare, surgeries in a public hospital as a public patient are free. Therefore, below are typical (median) costs for private patients in private hospitals when all specialists, procedure and other health provider fees are combined. Commentary surrounding human health, additional costs and recovery time is sourced from the Australian Government’s Health Direct website.

For pet surgery costs, we contacted three vet clinics per Australian state and territory to establish an average cost for each treatment. All vet clinics contacted were within a 20km radius of the state’s capital city.

For the amount typically covered by pet insurance, we applied the average cover percentage (up to 80%) of three comparable comprehensive pet insurance policies:

  • Prime Pet Insurance (Sovereign Accident & Illness)
  • Seniors pet Insurance (Top Cover)
  • Real Pet Insurance (Real Premium Cover)

This is based on half of the brands we currently compare but within the market there are in excess of 25 products, with various levels of cover, exclusions and conditions.

Our figures do not take into account excess payments. Commentary surrounding pet health, additional costs and recovery time is sourced from collective conversations with veterinarians.

N.B. Additional costs such as anaesthetist bills, rehabilitation fees and medications are included in the tables and will also vary from case to case. What’s more, the following costs are estimates only. Costs vary according to the size of the animal, type of procedure, the severity of the ailment, who performs the treatment and more.

Additional costs and recovery time:

  • Humans usually require general anaesthetic for tooth removal in day surgery. Post-surgery, you may need some pain relief medication like Panadol or something stronger. Healing time is one to two weeks, so you’ll require some time off work.
  • Dogs and cats are given a general anaesthetic (which is included in the costs) and some pain relief medication post-surgery. Like humans, dogs and cats require one to two weeks to recover.

The verdict: When it comes to pulling teeth, typically it’s more expensive for humans than dogs and cats.

 

Additional costs and recovery time:

  • Humans may require general anaesthetic for cataract surgery, but most have a local anaesthetic. After the procedure, you’re given eye drops and pain relief medication (if needed). A pad will cover the eye and you’ll need to avoid rubbing the area or strenuous activity for around two weeks.
  • Dogs and cats are put under general anaesthetic for the procedure and released the same day. With the aid of eye drops, the recovery time is generally two weeks.

The verdict: The average price of cataract surgery for dogs and cats surpasses human surgery costs – more than doubling human surgery costs in most states.

 

Additional costs and recovery time:

  • Humans: Post-surgery, humans require several months of physiotherapy to strengthen and rehabilitate the knee and surrounding muscles. Physio session costs will vary; however, extras cover can help ease these costs.
  • Dogs and cats generally take two to three months to regain full mobility. They don’t require any specialist physiotherapy treatment.

The verdict: Human ACL reconstructive surgery costs slightly more than the dog and cat surgery equivalent or substantially more if you reside in NSW and ACT. When you include human physio costs and time off work, the gap can widen even further.

 

Additional costs and recovery time:

  • Humans: Cancer patients may also require chemotherapy and radiation, but for this example, we’ll just focus on surgery. Anaesthetist costs start with a consultation fee of $45 and further anaesthetist costs will vary from case to case.4 Additionally, pain control and speed of recovery varies between patients.
  • Dogs and cats, like human cases, will be judged on their individual diagnosis to determine the best course of action. If that’s surgery, then most dogs and cats will recover in two to four weeks.

The verdict: Human cancer surgery costs far exceed pet cancer surgery costs.

 

Associated costs and recovery time:

  • Human healing time is two to four weeks. However, you should be able to return to work the next day. Painkillers can be used if prescribed by a medical professional.
  • Dogs and cats typically have blood tests before surgery to determine overall health. The recovery time is up to two weeks and further treatment may follow incidences of recurrence.

The verdict: It’s more expensive to remove a skin lesion from a human than a pet; it’s almost double the cost in some states.

 

The final leaderboard:

  • Tooth removal. Humans > Pets
  • Cataract surgery. Pets > Humans
  • ACL reconstructive surgery. Humans > Pets
  • Cancer surgery. Humans > Pets
  • Skin lesion surgery. Humans > Pets

Sources

  1. Most common dog breeds. Australian National Kennel Council limited national animal registration analysis 2010-2019. Accessed February 2021.
  2. Animal medicines Australia. Pets in Australia: A national survey of pets and people. 2020. Accessed February 2021.
  3. Health.gov.au. Medical Cost Finder. 2021. Accessed February 2021.
  4. Health.gov.au. Medicare Benefits Schedule. 2021. Accessed February 2021.

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