10 Ways to Save Money on Veterinary Expenses

VeterinaryIf you have a pet or are thinking about getting one, you know that they can be expensive. Lovable, but expensive. In addition to food and supplies, the biggest expense of owning a pet is likely to be vet bills. When they’re little they need lots of vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery. When they get older they are likely to need special care. Not to mention the routine physicals, vaccinations, and medications required to keep your furry friend (and you) healthy and free from parasites. The good news is that, while veterinary care can be expensive, there are some ways to save money at the vet without sacrificing Fido’s health.

Wellness plans

Some vets offer what they call “wellness plans” to reduce your out of pocket cost for care. In most cases you will pay a set fee per month and that fee includes most routine care and diagnostic procedures for the year. Anything not covered by the plan is likely to be discounted since you are a member of the plan. If you multiply that fee times twelve (to come up with a year’s cost) it is less, in most cases, than the cost would have been for those same procedures were you not on the plan. In other words, the vet is cutting you a price break because you’re paying him a little every month instead of all at once. These plans eliminate the shock of a huge vet bill because you’ve paid a little each month. However, you need to be certain that the plan does not include a bunch of procedures and examinations that you don’t need or want. Otherwise, you’re paying more than you need to and would be better off paying at the time of service.

Pet insurance

These policies function like human insurance in that you pay a premium each year and, when your pet has to go to the vet, you submit a claim to the insurance company and are reimbursed for all or a part of the treatment. These plans are a good idea if your pet is likely to have a lot of health problems (i.e., it is born with issues or is of a breed that it likely to develop problems). However, you need to read the fine print carefully because some plans exclude certain genetic conditions altogether, or exclude your pet if it is not covered by a certain age. There may also be lifetime limits on payments.

Compare veterinarians

When we first got our dog, we took her to a large veterinary chain that was close by and offered a wellness plan. We thought we were getting a good deal. However, after some questionable care forced us to find another vet, I started looking around and asking friends who they used. It turns out there was a great vet right under my nose who charged a fraction of what I was paying at the large chain. He also adapts his care to the individual dog’s circumstances rather than giving them every treatment and procedure available just because it’s on the plan. This has resulted in a big savings to me and a happier dog. It pays to look around and compare vets and their treatment philosophies.

Look for coupons and rebates

It sounds odd, but there are coupons available for vets. Each quarter we get a coupon mailer for our local area. My new vet always has a coupon in there for $10 off a yearly exam. I clip it and use it each year. I see coupons for other vets, as well, in places like the Yellow Pages, coupon mailers, Ad-Paks, and in the local paper. There is competition for your business and coupons are a way to get new customers. Rebates are also available for some medications. When we get our Heart Guard from the vet, he gives me a coupon for a $5 rebate each time I buy. You can only use the rebate if you buy directly from the vet. My vet sells these medications for less than the online sites, so I save even more. Ask if your vet has a rebate form for some of your medications.

Ask if there is a discount

Some vets give a price break to “established patients” that see that doctor repeatedly. My vet offers $10 off per visit because my dog has been to him more than once and is now an “established patient.” Ask if there is a discount for repeat clients. A vet may also offer discounts for referrals. It never hurts to ask.

Veterinary schools

If you live near a veterinary school, call and ask if they provide routine care. Many do and they allow the students to administer the physicals and vaccinations as practice. Their rates might be substantially less than a “regular” vet, but because the care is supervised by licensed vets, there is no lapse in quality.

Look into holistic care

A new trend in veterinary care is holistic medicine that relies less on drugs and traditional procedures and more on things like acupuncture, vitamin therapy, special diets, and other natural remedies. This may or may not be less expensive than traditional care (the absence of expensive drugs is what will save you money), but if you’re comfortable with this sort of care, it may pay to ask.

Try the mobile clinic

Many areas offer mobile clinics that provide basic care such as rabies shots, heart worm testing, and spay/neuter surgery for less than what a traditional vet charges. Many times these clinics’ costs are underwritten by the government or an animal protection organization, enabling them to charge substantially less than a regular vet. They are not the answer for everything your pet needs as most will not perform diagnostic procedures or surgeries, but they can be a less expensive choice for basic care and vaccinations.

Get a second opinion

As with a human, if your pet is diagnosed with something that is going to be expensive to treat or difficult to understand, get a second opinion. Another doctor may see something the first one missed or have a different treatment plan that will cost less. All doctors are different so if you feel like you’re being overcharged or want confirmation of a diagnosis, it never hurts to get that second opinion.

Know your pet and get informed about basic care

The biggest thing you can do to save money is to arm yourself with information. Become very familiar with your pet so that you know what’s normal and what isn’t. If your pet seems to be acting strangely, doesn’t seem to feel well, or you find a lump or bump that wasn’t there before, take it to the doctor as soon as you notice the problem. Just like with people, the sooner a problem is caught in a pet, the easier and less expensive it will be to treat. Also know how to perform basic care (or have it done regularly) to keep your pet healthy. Know how to brush it’s teeth, clip its nails, groom it, administer any medications it needs, and give it proper food and exercise. Just like with humans, daily care and hygiene is essential to keeping pets healthy and out of the doctor’s office. And know your breed. Many dog and cat breeds have genetic problems that are more likely to surface in those breeds. If you know what to look out for, you’ll be more prepared should that genetic problem manifest itself in your pet.

It is possible to save money on veterinary expenses. You want to keep your furry friend healthy for a long time and quality veterinary care is part of the plan to accomplish that. However, quality care and expensive care are not necessarily the same thing so arm yourself with information and seek out a vet that can give you the care you want at the price you can afford. Owning a pet is never “cheap,” but you can make it less painful.

Image courtesy of mendrakis

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11 Responses to 10 Ways to Save Money on Veterinary Expenses

  1. Traciatim says:

    Since many frugal tips are simply old ideas coming back again, I’d also have to point out the ‘Old Yeller’ method still works too.

    I know, I know . . . hate me as much as I hate pets.

  2. justme says:

    my Daughter in law spend so much at the vet for no reason whatsoever

    I was raised on a farm ,my DH on a Ranch so we basicaly know how to care for animals ourself
    the little animal hurt his toe I looked at it says yes it is black and blue he will hobble a few days the recover, she took him to the vet 75 dollars later you know what the vet said? exactly what I did

    4 days a go little creature hurt its shoulder I looked at it said its swollen ,not out of place it will heal up in a week or so keep him less active, so she takes him to the emergency vet (200$ ) they take xrays and send him home saying the same thing I did, except they told her to take him to the regular vet monday (40$) later she is told he will heal on his own 😉

    moral of this story
    save yourself some money and use common sense people !

  3. Courtney says:

    Be familiar with 24-hour vet clinics in your area and what they charge BEFORE you have an emergency. I know which one is closest and that they charge $100 for an after-hours visit, plus any additional expenses.

    Buy a pet first aid book. We keep ours in the pet toy bin so it’s handy. We own First Aid for Dogs by Bruce Fogle, which we purchased for less than $10, and it has saved us more than the purchase price already in vet visits. The book is organized by symptoms and tells you if you need to get to a vet NOW, if you can wait 24 hours or a few days, and if/how you can care for the injury or illness yourself. Extremely useful!!

  4. Recritique.com says:

    You would be surprised in the differences in vets. Some are very much more than others. I would shop around and ask before going in. We pay more for our vet but we like him. I know for a fact that other vers are less. And tell your vet you are shopping around

    Restaurant Coupons, Freebies and More.

  5. sunjun says:

    Getting a pet can be really expensive. It is better really to just not get one especially if you don’t have the extra time and money to take care of it.

  6. swimgirl says:

    Must disagree! We live near a vet school. They don’t charge any less, and worse, they recommend every possible test and procedure there is. Everyone I know who has ever taken an animal there ends up with a ridiculously large bill, sometimes for something minor. The Vet School is set on offering treatments that are sometimes experimental, BUT OFFER A CHANCE TO SAVE YOUR DOG’S LIFE. It’s a scam. Get an estimate in writing.

  7. leslie says:

    I agree that vet schools are NOT less expensive. They are a great resource for problems that are above and beyond your regular vet and often the only place to get specialized treatment. But they are at least as expensive as the vet down the street and generally more expensive. Believe me…I speak from experience.

    Also, pet insurance is generally not a good deal. Consumer Reports did an article on it a while back. The conclusion was to put the money you would spend on a premium in a savings account and just use that to pay for the vet bills.

  8. Rose says:

    We looked into pet insurance, but didn’t like the terms, so we started a savings account for our dog at ING. This is one of the best things we’ve done. We only put $20 a week in, but even that small amount, over time, has helped offset the costs of regular visits, and not-so-regular operations. Best of all, the money is all ours, so if we don’t use it, we can put it towards our next pup.

  9. Diane says:

    I love the idea of an ING account for dog expenses! I have an ING savings acct so I can just add a sub-account for that purpose. We lost our 15 yo English Cocker in July, so we’re researching and looking for a dog or puppy now. That would give us a head start on the expenses.

    As for saving on vet expenses, in Louisiana each parish sponsors an annual Rabies vaccination day for dogs and cats @ $7. per pet.

    Also, you can save money (particularly if you have more than one pet) by purchasing vaccines at the feed store and giving them yourself. Any nurse or vet tech can teach you how to do this if you’re not too squeamish – I’ve done it for years.

    I bathe and groom my own dogs. After the initial cost for grooming equipment, there’s little expense involved. If you can’t groom the dog yourself I’d recommend getting a no-groom breed.

    You can also brush your dogs teeth and use a dental pick to remove plaque between vet cleanings. Anytime your pet must have anesthetic for another reason, take advantage of that chance to have the teeth cleaned as well – saves money and stress on the animal.

    Lastly, I agree with justme on not running to the vet for minor problems. I don’t take my kids to the doctor every time they get a bruise, so I definitely don’t do it with the pets! If it’s not truly an emergency, watch and wait… use your judgement.

    An excellent reference book is the “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” – on Amazon for $20.99 new.

  10. Renee says:

    When you get into the chronic conditions and are doing treatments at home, ask for the vet to write a presciption for things such as sub-Q fluids. My vet was charging 15.00 per bag (used once a wk.) Sam’s Club Pharmacy charged less than 2.00 for the same bag! Another vet in the area was charging 60.00 per bag. UNBELIEVABLE! Information is POWER and the difference between being able to treat a disease or being forced to euthanize.

  11. Molly says:

    Be sure to crunch the numbers with those “wellness” plans… as far as I can see they are designed to fleece rather than save. I know they are probably meant well, but you pay up front quite a bit IMO for services that are not necessary.

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