Your Next Trip to the Veterinarian Doesn't Have to Put You in the Dog House
certain Preventive care, free or discounted exams, and price comparisons can save you hundreds of dollars on pet expenses
If you have a pet, then you know that pets can be just as expensive as they are cute. Regular expenses, such as food, treats and toys, can add up quickly. But a surprise medical expense can put you in the dog house! But it is possible to keep your pets healthy and your veterinarian expenses at a minimum.
- Use preventive care to prevent unexpected illness.
- Take advantage of free or discounted exams and vaccinations.
- Don't vaccinate more than necessary.
- Hit up a mobile clinic!
- Shop around for price.
- Buy a voucher for spaying or neutering services.
- Look into vet schools.
- Use caution when staff try selling services before your pet is examined.
- Ask about financing options for major expenses.
- Consider pet insurance, especially if your pet is getting older or has a family history.
- Ask for a written estimate before getting treatment.
- Take the prescriptions to a pharmacy.
- Ask for discounts!
Preventive care services cost a fair bit of money, but they can say hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run. It's much cheaper, and healthier, to give your dog heartworm medication each month than to treat heartworm disease. So make sure that you are using the preventive services your veterinarian recommends. At a minimum, you should look into heartworm, flea and tick prevention.
Other preventive care may not seem as obvious, such as regular exercise, grooming, portion control, and tooth care. An overweight pet can quickly cause your wallet to lose weight, so feed your pet healthy portions and make sure there is plenty of exercise. Many people overfeed their pets, sadly. A ten pound dog, for instance, may only need one half a cup of food per day.
Teeth can be a major expense, especially for smaller pets with smaller mouths. Plaque quickly builds up on the tooth and gum disease can cause tooth loss and pain. Brushing your pet's teeth with a brush designed for them can greatly reduce this buildup and leave their mouths cleaner. Don't ever use people toothpaste on pets. The fluoride can quickly kill them.
Some veterinarians offer free or heavily discounted exams in an effort to get your business. Keep an eye out for offers like these, especially if you are thinking of switching doctors. There's also nothing wrong with getting a free exam at another clinic and then going back to your regular doctor, especially if your pet is pretty healthy. But if your pet has a lengthy history, you might want to stay with the same doctor.
Some vaccinations are given one per year. Others are given every three years. Make sure you know which ones are due when you have your pet vaccinated. It's too easy to have your pet vaccinated early if there's no record of the last vaccinations given, which means wasted money.
Some shelters and organizations will run special vaccination, microchipping or general wellness clinics. These can save you a lot of money. In any case, it's worth checking out.
The flashiest clinic might not necessarily be the best. We always tell people to take advertising into consideration with most products and services. A company that heavily markets carpet services, for example, has to make up for the high cost of advertising somehow. And that's usually in the base price of it's products and services. The same goes for veterinary clinics and hospitals.
All that possible advertising aside, you can use online rating sites to look up reviews to find a clinic that suites you. Fake reviews are sometimes a problem, but most of the reviews can be a good indication of price and quality.
Have several clinics in mind? Ask them all for a price list for their services and compare.
Many county animal shelters and SPCA organizations have special vouchers you can purchase for free spaying and neutering at participating clinics. The goal is to reduce the number of pets reaching the shelters. For example, a neutering on a male dog might cost about $275. But if you purchased a $57 voucher, you pay nothing or very little (an pre-op exam might be needed) at the time of the procedure. That's a lot of money you just saved!
Vet students need hands-on practice, so taking your dog to a vet school for services can often result in large savings. This is especially helpful if your pet needs a complicated treatment procedure, which is great experience for vet students. Depending upon the school, pet, and the particular need for training, a $10,000 procedure at your typical clinic might be less than $200 or even be free.
You have probably been to the local repair shop and had the staff try selling you a fluid flush before the mechanic even looked at the car. Alarm bells went off. Well, it's the same way with your pets. If you're at a new clinic and the reception staff are telling you that it's "time for a dental" or "time for preventive bloodwork," politely decline until you have a chance to have your pet examined. The doctor can advise you on whether the pet's teeth are in need or a cleaning or whether preventive bloodwork screening is really necessary.
Our pets' doctors are people just like us. They know that a major, unexpected expense can really add undue hardship to an already difficult situation, and often offer various financing options to help you get the services you need.
Like your own health insurance, pet insurance can save you a great deal of money on your pet's future medical expenses. Make sure to understand what is and is not covered by the plan you get. Some plans offer basic coverages for preventive care but exclude 'sick visit' exams. Others are more comprehensive, but cost more. Some cover only the cost of an exam if your pet is sick, leaving you to pay for medications, surgery, and more. Speaking with the doctor might be the best way to decide which options are best for you and your pet.
Are pet insurance and other 'pet plans' worth the money? It depends on the coverage offered and the services you need. Add up the costs of the services you typically get for your pet and see which would be covered at no expense under the plan. Sometimes the cost of your regular services can equal or even exceed the cost of one of the plans, making it a worthwhile investment.
Written estimates tell you roughly how much you'll spend on a given service or treatment. Don't hesitate to decline something that's too expensive or ask for a detailed explanation of the vet's recommendations. If you don't think something is necessary or is too expensive, take your estimate to another vet and ask what they can do to give you a better deal.
There's a markup on everything, and medication from your vet is no exception. In the vast majority of cases, you're going to pay much more to get medication from the clinic than if you filled the prescription at your local pharmacy or from a mail order pharmacy. Most typically medications are in-stock or easily obtained at 'people' pharmacies, and often for significantly lower prices if using a discount savings card.
When it's time to order your preventive medications, such as heartworm, flea and tick prevention, don't be afraid to shop online at mail order pharmacies. They usually have free shipping and big discounts, especially if you buy in bulk. Don't be afraid to ask your clinic to price match the medication. Some won't, but many will in order to get the business.
If you ask for a discount, there's a decent chance you'll get one. There's often a special that the clinic is running that can easily be applied to your bill.
Do you have more than one pet? Get them on the same schedule and ask about special rates for more than one pet. You may even be able to get a discount on your bill for referring friends and family to the practice. Even if it's not a regular practice, it doesn't hurt to ask for a free exam if you are bringing in new business.