Ontario pet owners cross border for cheaper vets

Some pet owners are flocking south of the border for pet care that fits into their budget, but one eastern Ontario veterinarian warns there could be a price to pay for cheaper pet care.

U.S. vets offer vaccinations, other pet health care at half price of Canadian vets

U.S. vets offer vaccinations, other pet health care at half price of Canadian vets 3:47

Canadian pet owners have started a new trend in cross-border shopping as they head to the United States for cheaper pet care.

The CBC spoke with the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, veterinary clinics in Canada and the U.S. and several customers that said getting vet care in the U.S. is a growing trend.

Veterinary bills in the U.S., on average, are significantly less expensive compared to Ontario prices.

CBC News followed Kate Hart as she took her four-month-old Siamese kitten, Mr. Jay Gatsby, on an hour-long drive from Ottawa to Ogdensburg, N.Y., for the last round of kitten vaccinations, plus the rabies vaccine.

The long-time cat lover calculated the various costs of the trip including gas, duty fees and the exchange rate, but she said it was well worth it.

Hart paid $57 US, or about $58.50 Cdn for the vaccinations, but she claimed Ontario vets quoted her the same service for anywhere between $100 and $175.

Mr. Jay Gatsby, a four-month-old Siamese kitten, had a round of vaccinations performed by a Ogdensburg, N.Y., vet. (CBC)

Hart, an Ottawa-based public servant, said her breeder turned her on to the Bridgeport Veterinary Clinic just south of the border.

"It went well. It was fast. It was easy. The cat was really calm, which is nice," Hart said. "He didn't even meow when he had his shots. He was a brave little boy."

Merle Robinson of Prescott, Ont., also takes her dog Brandy to the same clinic to save. She said it is even more common for people who live in Ontario border towns such as Prescott, Brockville and Cornwall.

"Even people I work with are bringing their cats over here and their dogs," said Robinson.

But one Ontario-based vet is concerned American vets could sacrifice pet safety while dropping their rates.

Dr. Lisa Ashdown, who runs the Beckwith Animal Hospital in Carleton Place, Ont., said pet owners should be cautious.

"For a clinic in the States to offer such low prices, they are usually sacrificing something at the expense of your pet's health," Ashdown said.

Dr. Lisa Ashdown claims care from American veterinarians, who offer cheaper services, is not up to par. (CBC)

Ashdown said her clinic is not losing business to American vets, but "one or two" clients have gone to the U.S. for care.

She also claimed the clients came back unsatisfied with their pets suffering from severe complications. She remembered one case where a pet had to fight for its life.

"The spay surgery actually ended up [that] the incision was so infected that we had to go in and perform another surgery, actually, and save that pet's life," Ashdown said.

Pet care an open market

CBC News reached out to a few American vets for an interview, including those at the Bridgeport clinic, but each refused to speak about the price difference.

The general consensus was that individual vets dictate prices and it is a buyer's market.

Ashdown says she has had to repair an open wound after a pet owner was returning from a procedure in the U.S. (CBC)

The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, which represents more than 4,400 Ontario vets, said it has not formally warned Canadians about vet treatments south of the border. It said pet owners could decide what is best for their pet, and Hart agreed.

"People will pay with their pockets with what works for them because our budgets are all tight right now, so we have to make those decisions for ourselves," said Hart.

New York State requires vaccination records and you could be stopped at the border if your pet is ill.

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