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How to Save Money At the Vet

Use these tips to lower your bill — without compromising your dog's health.

by Nancy Kay, DVM
May 1, 2009
French bulldog being examined at the vet via stethoscope
Rido / Adobe Stock

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Finding out that your dog is sick and needs expensive medical treatment is the worst. Of course, you want to provide your pup with the best care possible — but what if you can't afford it? These days, it can be tough with annual vet care for dogs costing between $700 and $1,500 a year (not including emergencies and medications).

The good news is there are ways you can save money at the vet while still giving your dog the care they deserve. Try these cost-saving tips:

1) Lay your financial cards on the table when talking to your vet.

Yes, this is difficult (discussing fleas is one thing — having a candid conversation about your bank account is a whole other ball game), but such a dialogue can open doors to options that make better financial sense. There is rarely only one way to diagnose or treat a disease, and regardless of your financial status, you’re entitled to an explanation of the risks and benefits of every single option.

2) Request a written estimate for veterinary services before they’re provided.

How else can you know if your bill will be $200 or $2,000? With an estimate in hand, you will avoid the element of surprise and won’t end up paying for things that are unnecessary. In no way does requesting an estimate reflect how much you love your dog; you’re simply being fiscally responsible.

3) Kick the once-a-year vaccine habit.

Some vaccinations, like parvo and distemper, provide a minimum of three years’ worth of protection once the puppy series has been completed. If your vaccine-reminder card suggests otherwise, call your vet to double-check.

4) Don’t neglect preventive health care.

Doing so could cost you more in the long run. For example, administering a heartworm preventive is less expensive for you (not to mention safer for your dog) than treating heartworm infection.

5) Feed your dog less.

Just like their humans, many dogs are overweight. Ask your vet if your dog is at a healthy weight; if they think your pet could lose a few pounds, try putting less food in their bowl. Not only will this new habit translate into cost savings, it will result in a healthier dog, and a healthier dog translates into fewer veterinary bills.

6) Be a savvy consumer of supplements for your dog.

Some supplement suppliers would like you to believe that your dog’s health is dependent on their products. Avoid being seduced by such ads. Talk with your veterinarian about which might be useful and buy only the ones they recommend.

7) Investigate options for paying your veterinary bills.

The clinic administrator may be willing to barter, or you could look into a line of credit that can be used to pay for veterinary expenses. They are as easy to apply for as a department store credit card, and they usually don't charge service fees or interest for the first few months. This may be financially advantageous compared to paying the bill via your usual credit card. Ask your vet hospital staff if they have an association with such a credit lender.

8) Consider investing in pet health insurance.

...Especially if you are inclined to take the “do-everything-possible” approach when it comes to your dog’s health. Most providers will reimburse 80 percent of your out-of-pocket expenses. Do the math and determine if, in the long run, medical insurance for your dog makes financial sense. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you are aware of the medical conditions (preexisting diseases, inherited disorders) that will be excluded.

9) Price shop for your dog’s prescriptions.

If the medication prescribed is a human drug, compare the human pharmacy price to what your veterinary hospital would charge. Big box or chain pharmacies purchase medications in bulk and can pass the savings on to you. For example, Costco prices are usually among the lowest, and some human pharmacies offer substantial AAA discounts for pet prescriptions.

For veterinary prescription items your dog receives on a regular basis (such as heartworm preventive, flea and tick control products, and prescription diets), you might find the best savings via online pharmacies (just make sure it's a reputable one). And yes, you'll still need your veterinarian’s authorization. You can ask for a written prescription and have it filled as you would your own, or you can contact an online pharmacy with your request and they will request authorization from your vet.

10) Explore all your options.

If you can't afford your dog, look into dog or breed-specific rescue associations, apply for a donation from a pet health assistance organization (a comprehensive list can be found at speakingforspot.com), or find a new, financially capable parent for your dog. Exploring your options might just save a life and will do wonders for your peace of mind.

Resources For Low-Cost Vet Treatment:

Paws4acure.org
Red Rover Relief
Paw Fund

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Nancy Kay, DVM