How to Care for Your Pet Without Going Broke
A vet's 6 tips on managing costs wisely and lovingly
As I look over my appointment schedule for the day, I mentally note that I’m set up for two patients to be dropped off for CT scans, one of whom will hopefully be immediately transported to an operating room, so surgery can be done to remove a large tumor pressing against the ribs.
There are five patients scheduled to receive chemotherapy, so I I’ll need to stop to meet with the oncology technicians and update them on the plan for the day. There’s one coming in for acupuncture with our rehabilitation service, and I quickly note the time of the appointment so I can be sure to stop in and say hello. There are two patients coming in the afternoon for a recheck of lab work, and one for a superficial skin biopsy.
You might assume I am a high-profile doctor for humans who spends my day treating the most unusual diseases in people with ease, expertise and confidence. In truth, I’m a veterinarian, who spends my day treating animals with cancer. It’s an exciting field to be a part of, but I do spend an excessive amount of time explaining to people that yes, it’s possible to treat cancer in animals, and yes, people will pay to do so.
The High Cost of Providing Quality Vet Care
Though the work I do could be considered inspiring and remarkable, it comes with a hefty price tag.
The cost of maintaining the advanced equipment I require daily to diagnose cancer in my patients, the laboratory contracts I rely on to offer my reliable results and the state-of-the-art treatments I need to have on hand to offer my patients can be extraordinary.
As such, I’m required to be cognizant of the need to offer owners options within their financial means, while simultaneously keeping their pet’s best interests in mind.
Superficially, pet ownership is rather simple. Humans provide for their pets' basic needs (food, water, shelter, activity and health care) and pets offer up unconditional love, companionship and, for many, a sense of family. Advances in veterinary medicine afford pet owners the opportunity to treat diseases previously considered incurable.
But there are many real issues to consider when we take a look at the cost associated with these options.
6 Financial Tips for Pet Owners
What can owners do to ensure they are providing their pets with quality veterinary care without burdening themselves financially to the point of creating debt or guilt? I have six pieces of advice.
1. Practice prevention. Veterinary medicine centers much on preventive options such as vaccination; heartworm, flea, and tick prophylaxis and deworming. These events generally occur during annual exams, which are recommended for all pets regardless of age, breed or gender.
Owners sometimes find it difficult to recognize the importance of these measures when it comes to the benefit for their pet’s health.
2. Consider habitat. Certain infectious diseases are more prevalent in certain geographical areas (Lyme disease and the Northeast, for example), or within certain demographic populations (e.g., outdoor cats are more at risk for contracting feline leukemia). Therefore, having a candid discussion with your veterinarian about your pet's specific risks could help tailor these annual exams to the needs of that particular patient.
3. Look into pet insurance. Pet insurance is one option that can help lessen the financial burden of health care. Plans can be purchased and tailored to the specific needs of a particular pet (or owner), and this can significantly reduce the financial burden placed on owners, especially when considering emergency situations or chronic diseases.
Plans may not cover pre-existing conditions, so many owners find they get the most benefit buying plans when their pets are young and healthy.
4. Get prescription drugs elsewhere. Prescription medications can often be purchased outside of the veterinary office either from "human" retail pharmacies or online ones. Just as with people , generic versions of medications for pets are cheaper than brand name.
Ask your vet if he or she knows of a less expensive source for prescribed drugs. You may need to call several pharmacies and explore options, but it could be well worth your time.
5. Find financial help. Several organizations offer financial assistance for owners demonstrating need. Owners may be eligible for grants or loans to help pay for care related to specific illnesses or even routine care.
Some veterinarians also offer discounts for senior citizens, owners who have multiple pets or those who have served in the military or emergency services (police, firefighters, EMTs, etc.).
It’s possible, too, that your veterinarian might offer a payment plan. It never hurts to ask!
6. Choose your pet's medical care carefully. There are certainly veterinarians who offer low-cost services, but I would urge owners to be cautious when selecting aspects of their pet’s health care based on cost alone. As with many things in life, the mantra of “you get what you pay for” is often true.
For example, the price of a surgery may be significantly cheaper at one hospital versus another, but is that because no pain medications are dispensed? Or because there is no monitoring of the patient while under anesthesia or when an IV catheter is in place during surgery? In those cases, skimping corners may alleviate cost, but puts the animal at more risk from complications or even death.
The best advice I can offer is to be honest with your veterinarian about your concerns and make a plan together that prioritizes recommendations for your pet’s health alongside your personal and financial considerations.