In 2017, pet owners in the US spent approximately $69 billion on pet care, which has grown from the $66 billion spent in 2016. Those numbers keep rising. This is due, in part, to an increase in the number of home with a pet. It’s also because of rising pet care costs, now that there are more, and better treatments available for pet guardians. A good deal of these costs, however, have also developed out of a misunderstanding about how vet bills work. In Part One of this series, we focused on myths about vet billing and how to differentiate between vet who upsell and overcharge, versus rising costs, like inflation and quality vet care. Today, we’ll take a look at payment options and preventative care. While it’s important that Fido or Puss-In-Boots get the best care possible, this doesn’t have to mean going broke.
Veterinary care is no trivial expense, and while pet health care doesn’t cost quite as much as human health care, bills add up. And most pet guardians underestimate what they will need to spend on their cat- and canine-companions. Luckily, there are great ways to significantly save money and still provide the best possible life for our fur-babies. Consider pet insurance. When we invest in pet insurance, we invest in our pup’s and kitty’s future well-being.
The entire vet bill is due at the time of appointment.
We’ve all seen the signs. The ones in Arial Bold font parroting some variety of “Payment Due at Time of Service.” For those of us with moths in our wallet, these signs can be pretty intimidating. And, the person at the front desk will do his or her best to reinforce them. It’s their job. While this makes it seem like full payment is the only option, there can actually be a bit of wiggle room. Whether or not that wiggle real estate is available to us, however, is a matter of trust. Earning the vet’s trust means keeping all our animals up to date on vaccinations, going to all annual visits, and going to the same vet for all appointments. After a while, the vet office may be willing to work out an installment plan when our pet’s health takes a sudden nosedive. As long as the arrangements are made in advance, and the care of the animal is clearly a priority, many vets will work with their clients. Plus, keep in mind, there’s no way we can know if our vet is one of them unless we ask.
Negotiating and Financing: If our vet agrees to an installment plan, it’s time to have an honest chat. Every vet is different and the terms they lay out can vary widely. While some will only allow short repayment terms between a few days and a week, others are more than willing to give you a couple months to make things right. Some practices will penalize those who miss a payment with a high-interest rate, while others will require those paying in installments to apply for Care Credit financing. In the end, the terms of the installment plan are entirely up to the vet.
The vet’s suggestion is our only option
It’s a vet’s job to suggest what’s best for our animal, not necessarily what’s cheapest. If something they suggest is out of our price range, we can always ask about other options. For example, while surgically repairing a cat’s broken leg might run us $2,500, and is likely to fail, an amputation might run just 20-percent of that. While that sort of wallet-busting situation will only come up once in an animal’s lifetime, if at all, asking about other options can save us money on everything from prescriptions to lab tests to follow-up care.
Cutting Prescription Costs: Thanks to the rise in online pet pharmacies, generic and low-cost prescriptions are more widely available than ever. It is okay to ask our vet to keep a prescription on file so that online prescription sites can call to verify and then mail our prescriptions to us. This also means we can shop for generics. If asked outright, many vets will even be able to suggest reputable websites for guardians to use. We explore online pet pharmacies in more detail here, “How to Ensure You Don’t Get Swindled by an Online Pet Pharmacy.”
Shopping Around: Whenever it's safe for our pet, treatments that are not time sensitive can be shopped. This includes treatment for allergies, vaccinations, and mild skin conditions. We can call around to different vet clinics and offices to find less expensive options. We just need to be aware that a lower price can result in a lower quality experience. So, it’s important to check references, Yelp, testimonials, and credentials before signing that dotted line. It’s also advisable, and often less expensive to explore premium, all-natural pet remedies for allergies, pest control, hot spots, and supplements.
Taking my pet to the vet once a year is enough.
Being proactive about veterinary issues is one of the best ways to save on medical expenses. Regular contact with a vet can often stop a minor issue from becoming a major one. After all, it’s a lot easier to pay a $30 office visit than $300 or more for a round of heartworm treatment. Here are three things every pet parent should do to lessen the chance of their dog or cat having to undergo an expensive procedure:
- Spaying and Neutering: When asked about the benefits of spaying and neutering, American Humane said, “Spaying females prior to their first heat cycle nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer and totally prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer. Neutering males prevents testicular cancer and enlargement of the prostate gland, and greatly reduces their risk for perianal tumors.” That’s on top of preventing those pregnancy care bills.
- Pet-Proofing the Home: While this should be done before we bring an animal home, it can be easy to let things slide. We need to make sure that toxic plants and dangerous foods are kept out of our pet’s reach. Follow these links for a list of dog-safe plants and plants that are toxic to cats. And here are Part One and Part Two of safe table scraps and people foods for dogs and cats. This means making sure that those Hershey bars and grapes are always out of Fido’s reach. We also need to double check that all medication and cleaning supplies are kept under lock and key. Lastly, we should always remember to take a toy away before it becomes a choking hazard.
- Having Regular Wellness Checkups: Prevention is always cheaper than treatment. We need to take our pet to every one of their wellness exams and ensure that our pet is covered by a flea and heartworm preventative. It’s also vital that our dogs and cats get their vaccines as scheduled. A failure to do so can result in a rabies diagnosis.
Now that we’ve got a better understanding of vet costs, we can walk into the office with our heads held high and our empty wallets at the ready. If costs become too much, just remember that it never hurts to ask for a less expensive option or a repayment plan. The worst thing our vet can say is no. In a later article, we’ll be exploring a few myths about the vet profession itself.
Also, don’t forget, pet insurance is a very real option. When we invest in pet insurance, we invest in our pup’s and kitty’s future well-being.
“Ten States with the Heftiest Vet Bills” MoneyTalks News
- “Cutting Pet Care Costs” ASPCA
- “Deduct Pet-Related Expenses on Your Tax Return” Forbes