“He looked at me like I had three heads when I asked for some preventive advice,” recalls Juan Marquez, a Downers Grove resident who took his Boston terrier, Tiki, to a clinic to treat a skin condition. Marquez says the veterinarian failed to explain the diagnosis: “He simply wrote a prescription and sent us on our way.” The clinic’s assembly-line approach to treatment was an immediate red flag for Marquez, who never returned to that “dreadful place.”

Marquez’s story isn’t uncommon, which is why it is vital to shop around for a good, caring veterinarian: Your pet’s health, your hard-earned money—and your peace of mind—are all at stake. It might take some investigating, but great (and affordable) vets are out there. That’s why Chicago Consumers’ Checkbook is here to help. The nonprofit magazine (checkbook.org) evaluated 220 veterinarians across the Chicago metropolitan area, compiled more than 6,300 customer surveys, and narrowed down the list to 23 of the best.

When looking for a veterinary clinic—or deciding whether to ditch the current one—there are some serious questions to consider: Can you tour the facility? Is it easily accessible in an emergency? Does the vet give a thorough exam and take a thorough medical history? With any veterinarian, a strong feeling of competency and comfort is paramount in the exam room, but the reality check might be the price tag.

Some vets are much better priced than others. You can shop around and get a reasonable idea of price levels by simply making a few phone calls. Among the 220 clinics rated (see note on methodology below), Checkbook found huge disparities even with the most basic procedures:

• To neuter a 6-month-old, 30-pound dog, prices ranged from $115 to $690, with an average price of $243.

• To spay a 6½-month-old cat: a range of $119 to $292, with a $192 average.

• To clean the teeth of a 5-year-old, 65-pound dog: a range of $99 to $469, with a $241 average.

The chart this page also shows how the prices of the top 23 stacked up against the average prices for all the clinics evaluated. For example, at Beverly Hills Animal Hospital in Chicago, you could expect to pay $65 for services that, on average, cost $100 at all of the area’s clinics surveyed. All of the 23 clinics here had prices that were either below average or close to it.

Low prices are not the only way a vet can save you money. You want a vet who informs you about lower-cost care alternatives, offers preventive advice, and doesn’t do more than necessary.

Unfortunately, local vets didn’t score so well when it came to keeping medical costs down. Many clients surveyed complained that veterinarians pushed costly treatments that benefited their pocketbooks over owners’ pets. On average, clients gave veterinarians their lowest marks on this category of the survey. Some veterinarians did shine here—a few clinics received a “superior” rating on 95 percent of the surveys—but a number of clinics pulled in superior marks from only 30 percent of their clients.

As for Marquez, he finally found a vet worth keeping—Hobson Valley Animal Clinic in Woodridge. “They actually took the time to listen to me,” he says. “They seemed genuinely concerned.”

Health Insurance for Fido or Fluffy?

If you’re considering health insurance for cats or dogs, read the fine print. For example, one veterinary insurance policy charged a $305 annual premium, but imposed lots of potentially costly limitations, including:

  • a fixed reimbursement plan that might not cover the total cost of a procedure;
  • a $50 deductible for each accident or illness (rather than a per-year deductible);
  • no coverage of vaccinations and routine care—unless you pay an additional premium of $144; and
  • a maximum payout of $14,000 per year.

You must decide whether what you get is worth the price. Buying insurance to cover noncatastrophic expenses means you pay profit, sales costs, and administrative costs for an insurance company to process bills that you could pay yourself. You also add to your own paperwork. And you pay premiums to cover a pool of other policyholders, some of whom may be more wasteful—i.e., more prone to using excessive care—than you are. 

Name Address City Phone Percentage of customers who rated clinic "superior" for overall quality Amount you might expect to pay for care that would cost $100 at the average Chicago-area clinic
Aberdeen Animal Hospital 11 E. Golf Rd. Des Plaines 847-699-8387 87 $91
Animal Medical Center of Crystal Lake 41 S. Virginia St. Crystal Lake 815-455-0770 95 $99
Animal Medical Center of Itasca 220 Catalpa Ave. Itasca 630-773-2040 93 $77
Arlington Park Veterinary Hospital 2105 Hicks Rd. Rolling Meadows 847-934-1535 92 $96
Beverly Hills Animal Hospital 10359 S. Western Ave. Chicago 773-779-7790 93 $65
Camp McDonald Animal Clinic 2010 E. Camp McDonald Rd. Mount Prospect 847-296-1188 93 $100
Evergreen Park Animal Hospital 3000 W. 95th St. Evergreen Park 708-422-9007 89 $71
Forest View Animal Hospital 1744 W. Algonquin Rd. Hoffman Estates 847-934-0207 100 $77
Hobson Valley Animal Clinic 6720 Rte. 53 Woodridge 630-852-1995 93 $93
Howard Street Animal Hospital 715 Howard St. Evanston 847-475-1880 100 $75
LePar Animal Hospital 3811 W. 95th St. Evergreen Park 708-423-3200 88 $91
Mannheim Veterinary Hospital 2740 N. Mannheim Rd. Franklin Park 847-455-7387 97 $72
Markham Animal Clinic 3451 W. 159th St. Markham 708-339-4010 95 $92
Mayfair Animal Clinic 4314 N. Elston Ave. Chicago 773-478-1868 100 $105
Mokena Animal Clinic 9455 W. 191st St. Mokena 708-479-2811 89 $84
Mount Plaines Animal Hospital 888 E. Northwest Hwy. Mount Prospect 847-259-0330 91 $96
Mundelein Animal Hospital 650 N. Midlothian Rd. Mundelein 847-566-5750 95 $91
Oak Forest Animal Clinic 15701 S. Cicero Ave. Oak Forest 708-687-0110 88 $95
Park Animal Hospital 2540 N. Harlem Ave. Elmwood Park 708-452-7275 100 $63
Pulaski Animal Hospital 5424 S. Pulaski Rd. Chicago 773-735-2112 94 $90
Skycrest Animal Clinic 5301 Rte. 83 Long Grove 847-634-3538 96 $100
Village Animal Clinic 25W510 Geneva Rd. Carol Stream 630-690-9191 87 $99
Wauconda Animal Clinic 197 Thomas Ct. Wauconda 847-526-2727 100 $91

This chart lists 23 veterinary clinics rated highest among the 220 clinics evaluated in Chicago Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and at checkbook.org.

Checkbook asked area consumers to rate several aspects of their service experience “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior.” More than 6,300 surveys were compiled.  Each of the clinics listed was rated by at least 15 customers. The percentage of customers who rated the overall perfor-mance of a clinic as “superior” is given on our list.

To compare prices, Checkbook’s shoppers, without revealing their affiliation with Checkbook, checked prices on various procedures.

The list shows how each clinic’s prices compared to the average, which here is scaled to $100. For example, a clinic with a price of $90 on the table quoted prices 10 percent lower than the average quoted price.