Letting the cat out of the bag on veterinary scams

How I lost over half my savings by being uninformed on fear mongering

On Aug. 25, I began to lose over half of my savings.

But it wasn’t the result of a gambling problem or a bad investment, it was to the person who I thought was saving my cat’s life.

My veterinarian.

My vet charged me $850 in less than an hour and in a state of emotional distress, I paid it. My cat, Simon, was only one year old and never had any previous health problems, yet the vet said he was going to die. It took three more appointments and an additional $600 bill before I considered getting a second opinion. 

In the middle of medication trials, the restaurant I worked at unexpectedly closed. I was suddenly unemployed and still searching for answers, and my savings continued to disappear. 

It all started when I brought Simon in for a preliminary appointment the day before the fall semester began after I noticed him shaking, assuming it was a pulled muscle.

They asked my permission to run “a few blood tests” after testing his motor skills for roughly ten minutes, but before any results came back, they confidently told me Simon had kidney failure. 

I knew that was a death sentence.

I went home and waited for the inevitable call, spending the rest of the day crying. Yet when the test results came back, there was nothing wrong with him. Every single one of his tests came back normal. 

I returned days later for a follow-up appointment, but the team of veterinarians still did not have any answers for me on Simon’s illness. They sold me a cocktail of different medications throughout the month to address his tremors, but nothing worked. 

And while I now realize I should have been more assertive, I assumed these professionals were doing what was best for my beloved pet. I assumed we were all on the same page, and that Simon was facing some rare disease or genetic condition.

Yet after a month of stress and bills, it only took my newfound –– and current –– vet one appointment to diagnose and medicate Simon for under $100.

They diagnosed him with toxoplasmosis, a common disease which can be treated with a few rounds of antibiotic and statistically is experienced by 30-50% of domesticated cats, according to veterinarian Paul Allen.

Throughout my time working with this prominent Amherst clinic, not a single person could give me a straight answer on what routes they were taking with his diagnosis and treatment.

But after months of research and consultation, I realized I was wrong. There’s no excuse for the continuous misdiagnosis of a common disease by trusted medical professionals.

And this incident is not an isolated case across Amherst veterinary clinics.

I adopted Simon in August 2018 and wanted to give him the best care possible. I had made a 20-year commitment to this little orange kitten, and I was prepared to follow through with anything he might need. This included finding the best local veterinary office in the area. I scoured Yelp and Google reviews and even did a few drive-bys of all the different options nearby. 

To this day, the office I initially chose continues to uphold impressive scores from different rating sites. Yet scattered throughout the superficial, non-specific positive reviews from longtime clients is the same message: the staff pushed unnecessary treatments and significantly overpriced medications. 

It has been almost half a year since this ordeal, and I have not been able to regain the same financial security I had in the summer. I had to work three different jobs throughout winter break trying to dig myself out of credit card debt to cover the cost of vet bills. 

It’s time for people, myself included, to start protecting their finances from predatory situations. Everyone knows the self-serving stereotypes around car salesmen and lawyers, but it’s important to know that there are tactless individuals in every profession. This could happen to anyone, and for many pet owners it could lead to worse than just credit card debt.

And while I trust my current veterinarian, I’ll never allow myself to be uneducated or vulnerable again.

Samantha Vargas is the senior opinion editor and can be reached at Samantha.Vargas@UBSpectrum.com and on Twitter @SamMarieVargas.


Samantha Vargas is the senior features editor, an English/film studies double major with a minor in media study. She spends her free time finding shows around Buffalo and hanging out with her cat.