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10 Tips For Saving Money At the Vet

Ways to lower your bill — without compromising your pet’s health.

by Nancy Kay, DVM
Updated February 14, 2022
French bulldog being examined at the vet via stethoscope
Rido / Adobe Stock

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Finding out that your pet is sick and needs expensive medical treatment is the worst. Of course, you want to provide your dog or cat with the best care possible — but what if you can’t afford it? These days, it can be tough with annual vet care for pets 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 pet 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 with your vet 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. Also, while pet insurance might not make sense when your pet is healthy, you’ll be thankful for it if/when your dog or cat falls ill.

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 pet — 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 or kitten 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 will cost you way more in the long run, trust us. Preventative care — annual exams, blood work, vaccines, spaying/neutering (dog / cat) , dental care (dog / cat), and generally staying on top of every limp, lump, and bump — is far more affordable than treating a progressed illness. For example, administering a heartworm preventive to your dog (or outdoor cat) is less expensive for you (not to mention, far safer) than treating heartworm infection.

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5. Feed your pet less.

Many dogs and cats are overweight. Ask your vet if your pet is at a healthy weight. If they think your pet could lose a few pounds, try cutting back, splitting meals into smaller portions, or switch to a healthier diet. Not only will this new habit translate into cost savings, it will result in a healthier pet, and a healthier pet translates into fewer veterinary bills.

6. Be a savvy consumer of supplements for your pet.

Some supplement suppliers would like you to believe that your pet’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 like CareCredit. 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. Invest in pet insurance.

Especially if you are inclined to take the “do everything possible” approach when it comes to your pet’s health. Most providers will reimburse 80% of your out-of-pocket expenses. If you do the math, you’ll likely find that medical insurance for your pet makes financial sense in the long run. 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 pet’s prescriptions.

If the medication prescribed is a human drug (like Prozac for pet anxiety) 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 do your due diligence and make sure it’s a reputable one — there are tons of dangerous knockoffs online (i.e. don’t buy heartworm preventatives on Amazon). 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 for affordable vet care.

Access to affordable veterinary care can be a challenge for many pet owners, particularly those living in areas without many veterinary clinics. Some veterinary clinics and local shelters maintain an emergency fund to help pet owners who find themselves in an urgent situation with their pet. Your community may also have a low-cost options for spay/neuter surgeries, vaccines, or other diagnostic needs. Your local shelter can help you find any available 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, as a last resort, rehome your pet with a financially secure family. 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

Nancy Kay Author

Nancy Kay, DVM

Nancy Kay, DVM is a board-certified specialist in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. She was a recipient of AAHA’s Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award and is the author of Speaking for Spot.