Saturday, March 26, 2011

Taming Vet Bills

Taming Vet Bills
Times are tough. Many people are unemployed or under-employed.  With so many other things tugging at our pocketbooks we need to be sure that our fuzzy kids aren't left out when it comes to proper vet care.
Please note that the following info applies to any companions - dogs, cats, lizards, ferrets, etc..
Contents
  1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  2. Establish a relationship with your vet
  3. Get small health issues taken care of right away
  4. Get your pet spayed or neutered
  5. Get Pet Insurance
  6. Establish a savings account for your dog
  7. Establish credit
  8. When that big expense happens

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

It's an old cliche' but so very relevant in so many situations.  If you don't get a 30 dollar oil change every few months, you can wind up spending thousands to repair your engine.  If you don't get the proper preventative care for your pets, you could wind up spending thousands at the vet.

  • Get your pets vaccinated.  Parvo and distemper are awful diseases that affect many unvaccinated pets - especially puppies. Pet parents who have experienced these diseases can tell you that their dogs suffer greatly. Sometimes a pet parent can spend thousands of dollars at the vet and the dog still dies.  Those that survive can have life long complications - especially from distemper.  Vaccinations against Rabies, Parvo, Distemper are only needed once every one to three years (depending on the vaccine).  Luckily, these are not surprise or emergency vaccinations - pet parents can put away money specifically for these costs. Getting Rabies vaccinations is the law. This disease is transmittable to humans and can be fatal to humans and dogs. 

    • Puppies and kittens must get a series of shots by the time they are 16 weeks old. Talk to your vet about the schedule and please please don't let your pet on the ground or on the floor in public until he/she is done with shots.  Please don't let him/her out at the dog park, Petco, Petsmart, etc.. They can pick up diseases so easiy before they are done with shots.

    • note: For the more experienced pet parents -  I know there are some schools of thought about how often or even if vaccs are needed.  It's best to discuss the pros and cons with your vet. If you choose not to vaccinate your pet for health reasons then titer testing is a must to make sure your pet still has antibodies. But this is a discussion for another time. This post is about saving money. Titer testing costs several hundred dollars. Vaccinations are quite cheap in comparison.

  • Keep your pets on heartworm preventative each and every month.  Heartworms is an awful condition that is fatal if not treated.  Worms grow in the heart and cause all kinds of complications - eventually death.  Many dogs feel like they are choking as the worms fill up the heart.  Treatment for heartworms is basically poisoning.  Some dogs don't even survive the treatment.  Also the treatment is very expensive. Expect to spend 600 dollars or more for treatment depending on the size of your dog.  Heartworm preventative will cost about 10 dollars a month depending on the size of your dog.  That's about 30 cents day. Once again - not a surprise expense - something pet parents can prepare for.  

    • Dogs that are mostly inside still need preventative.  All it takes is one mosquito bite for your dog to become infected.

    • Also note: If you have never used heartworm preventative, get with your vet first.  An inexpensive test needs to be done to insure your dog doesn't already have heartworms; and certain breeds (collie type breeds) might have medical issues with certain brands of heartworm preventatives.


  • Keep Fifi's or Fido's weight in check.  Obese dogs and cats have the same complications as obese humans - heart disease, diabetes, joint issues, etc.. Keeping weight at an acceptable level will save on vet bills.  If you feed kibble, be sure it is a good quality kibble.  For a non biased review of your dog's food, check out http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com/.  You are are feeding other than kibble, be sure to be extra deligent in your research.  There are several great books available.  One is Dr. Pitcairn's New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.  Also be careful with dog treats.


  • Keep your fence in good repair. Replacing a board might cost 5 dollars.  Much cheaper than the 600 to 1,500 dollar vet bill you will incur if your dog gets out and gets hit by a car.  Fence only 4 feet high and your dog keeps jumping it?  If you can't afford a 6 foot fence right now, keep Fido inside until you can save up the money.  Sometimes no matter what you do, your dog will get out of the yard. Some of them are just that good. These dogs should only be allowed outside when they can be attended to.  These dog are not only in danger of causing you a huge vet expense but they could loose their lives, get lost or get stolen.  More info on escape artists here: Escape Artists. Additionally, even if your dog is not an escape artist, never take him/her out in public without a secure collar and leash.  Not only is this the law in most areas, but more importantly, any dog can get distracted and take off.  A dog running after a rabbit might not notice the speeding car coming in her/his direction.  

  • Please don't let your dog ride in the back of a pickup truck.  All it takes is that one time for your dog to jump out while you are speeding down the highway - huge vet bill or worse.  Not only could your dog get injured or killed but you might even cause a traffic accident.  Some folks might say that their dog has never jumped from the back of a moving truck, but my response is another old cliche' - "there is a first time for everything".  One example (of many I hear): A lady who was needing help finding a lost dog was telling me that her dog always walk down the street to go visit the neighbor's dog and "he always comes back".  A short time later, I received another call from a good Samaritan.  Her dog was found dead.  So the baby always came back - except for that one time that he was run over by a car.  You dog might always ride well in the back of a truck - except for that one time he sees a deer or a female dog in heat.  Restraining our dog in the back of the truck is a bad idea as well. The dog can try to jump out and hang herself.  Pet parents should also be extra careful about letting their dogs stick their whole head or parts of their body out of the car window.  They could jump out or get hit by flying debris.

Establish a relationship with your vet

Find a vet you like and go to him/her for all of your vet care needs.  If your pet gets injured or sick, your regular vet might be more willing to work with you on a payment plan.  Shot clinics are a great way to save money; but a yearly check up at your vet is a must  - not only for preventative care but to also establish that relationship.  Also, if a vet sees your dog, cat or rabbit regularly, he or she will be more attuned to your pet's needs and will be able to see health changes more easily. I get my dogs nails trimmed and anal glands expressed at the vet about once a month. Sometimes I go to my vet for nothing.  We just sit in the lobby and take treats.  This works for me for two reasons - 3 of my dogs are very shy and nervous.  I want them to get accustomed to the vet's office and I want them to know that going to vet's office doesn't always mean something bad.  And of course, it establishes that relationship. The staff there knows me and my dogs. 

Get small health issues taken care of right away 

So you see a tiny little bald spot on your companion. You don't want to spend 30 or 50 dollars or so for a vet visit for something so small?  Well think about what it will cost when the spot gets bigger and it's harder to treat. What if that little spot turns out to be sarcoptic mange - which is transmittable to humans.  Take care of small problems before they become big problems.  Not only is it much cheaper in the long run, but your baby will avoid needless suffering.

Get your pet spayed or neutered

This is a good idea for so many reasons - pet over population, health issues, etc.. A neutered pet might be less likely to want to roam. A 200 dollar spay surgery is much cheaper than taking care of 15 puppies or kittens - or worse. Some Mamas have complications during birth just like humans. The vet bill can be very expensive and your dog will needlessly suffer.  There are many low cost or even free spay neuter clinics in San Antonio. Two Hundred Dollars is probably about what you'd pay at a regular vet. For more info on low cost spay neuter, please se: http://fuzzychildren.blogspot.com/2010/03/low-cost-spay-neuter-vaccinations-in.html

Get Pet Insurance

Shop around and read the fine print.  Some deals are better than others. Some are not deals at all. Ask your vet for advice.  It will be easier to come up with 10 to 20 dollars per month for insurance rather than come up with 600 dollars for an MRI or X ray if something goes wrong.  We have medical insurance for humans - why not for our companions?

Establish a savings account for your Pet

Even if you only have a couple of dollars to spare, put it away for Rex.  If you don't have 2 or 3 dollars a month to put away, then start looking at what you can do without to come up with that amount (or more is better).  Eat out less, give up foods that aren't good for you.  If you smoke or drink alcohol - give that up.  Give up that cable or satellite TV.  Instead of going out to the movies or to a night club, socialize with people and other dogs at free dog walking meetups.
So times are tight and you've done all that already and there is still no money?  Look a little harder.  Nutritionally, a meal of beans and brown rice has about as much protein as streak.  And it provides plenty of vitamins, minerals and fiber. You can get about 10 or more servings out of a 50 cent pack of dried lentils.  Gave up meat, candy and pastries already?  Can you eat a little less food?  Many of us eat way more than we need.  Can you cut back on a snack a day for the health of your dog?

Establish credit

Just so you will have it for emergencies.  Don't use it to buy new clothes or a game station. If you haven't established credit yet or if you are trying to repair bad credit; then you might have to start with cash secured cards or department store cards. Buy some necessities with them (groceries, school clothes, etc..) to get your credit going - but be sure to pay them off right away. Don't even wait until the end of the month. Have the money to pay the bill before you use the card. For vet expenses, also look into Care Credit: http://www.carecredit.com/vetmed/

When that big expense happens

So, you've kept your dog, cat, rabbit, ferret, snake safe in your yard or on leash; you've kept Queen's weight to an acceptable level and fed her quality, appropriate food.  But a big vet bill still comes in and you are low on cash - what do you do?  Pay day loans are always a bad idea. But if you don't have credit established, then you might have to consider that.  Pawn something  - Jewelery, furniture, electronics, etc.. Anything that is worth less than your dog's life or health.  Which is everything.  If you spend time calling around to see which vet is the cheapest, the pet could be getting worse and the expense could be going up - not to mention your companion might be suffering.
So you've sold everything, you are hungry from lack of eating and you still can't afford the vet bill?
Charitable organizations are over taxed but give them a try -
Our companions do so much for us and ask for so little in return.  We should try our best to make sure they are safe, happy, and well.  For more info on vet expenses,  and for information on free or low cost spay/neuter vaccinations, please see:
For information on cutting back on expenses - The Tightwad Gazette is an excellent resource - don't buy it. Get it at the Library:
Other useful info on saving money
For more pet info see:

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